Cinema of Canada

This article primarily discusses the English-language cinema in Canada. For information on French-language cinema in Canada, see also Cinema of Quebec.
Cinema of Canada

SilverCity Richmond Hill Cinemas
Number of screens 2,831 (2006)[1]
  Per capita 9.5 per 100,000 (2006)[1]
Main distributors Warner Bros. 18.2%
Fox 17.1%
Alliance 12.8%[2]
Produced feature films (2008)[3]
Fictional 65 (86.7%)
Animated -
Documentary 7 (9.3%)
Number of admissions
  Per capita 3.1 (2010)[4]
Gross box office (2011)[5]
Total C$1 billion
National films C$27.9 million (2.8%)

The cinema of Canada or Canadian cinema refers to the filmmaking industry in Canada. Canada is home to several film studios centres, primarily located in its three largest metropolitan centres: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Industries and communities tend to be regional and niche in nature. Approximately 1,000 Anglophone-Canadian and 600 Francophone-Canadian feature-length films have been produced, or partially produced, by the Canadian film industry since 1911.

Notable filmmakers from English Canada include James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta, Thom Fitzgerald, John Greyson, Clement Virgo, Allan King, Michael McGowan and Michael Snow. Notable filmmakers from French Canada include Claude Jutra, Gilles Carle, Denys Arcand, Jean Beaudin, Robert Lepage, Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée, Léa Pool, Xavier Dolan, Philippe Falardeau and Michel Brault.

The cinema of English-speaking Canada is heavily intertwined with the cinema of the neighboring United States: though there is a distinctly Canadian cinematic tradition, there are also Canadian films that have no obvious Canadian identity (examples include Porky's and Meatballs), Canadian-American co-productions filmed in Canada (including My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the Saw series); American films filmed in Canada (including the Night at the Museum and Final Destination films, among hundreds of others); and American films with Canadian directors and/or actors. Canadian directors who are best known for their American-produced films include Norman Jewison, Jason Reitman, Paul Haggis and James Cameron. Cameron, in particular, wrote and directed the highest and second-highest-grossing films ever, Avatar and Titanic, respectively.

Canadian actors who achieved success in Hollywood films include Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer, Donald Sutherland, Jim Carrey and Ryan Gosling, among hundreds of others.


Evangeline - first feature film in Canada; made by Canadian Bioscope Company

The first films that were shot in Canada were made at Niagara Falls; Lumière, Edison, and Biograph all shot there in 1897. James Freer is recognized as the first Canadian filmmaker. A farmer from Manitoba, his documentaries were shown as early as 1897 and were toured across England in an effort to promote immigration to Manitoba.

The first fiction film, Hiawatha, the Messiah of the Ojibway, was made in 1903 by Joe Rosenthal and the first Canadian feature film, Evangeline, was produced by the Canadian Bioscope Company in 1913 and shot in Nova Scotia.

In 1917, the province of Ontario established the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau, "to carry out educational work for farmers, school children, factory workers, and other classes." The Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau followed suit in 1918.

The Cinematograph Films Act 1927 established a quota of films that had to be shown in British cinemas that would be shot in Great Britain as well as nations in the British Empire that stimulated Canadian film production. However the Cinematograph Films Act 1938 mollified the British film industry by specifying only films made by and shot in Great Britain would be included in the quota, an act that severely reduced Canadian film production[6]

In 1938, the Government of Canada invited John Grierson, a British film critic and film-maker, to study the state of the government's film production and this led to the National Film Act of 1939 and the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada, an agency of the Canadian government. In part, it was founded to create propaganda in support of the Second World War, and the National Film Act of 1950 gave it the mandate "to interpret Canada to Canadians and to other nations." In the late 1950s, Québécois filmmakers at the NFB and the NFB Candid Eye series of films pioneered the documentary processes that became known as "direct cinema" or cinema vérité.

Federal government measures as early as 1954, and through the 1960s and 1970s, aimed to foster the development of a feature film industry in Canada; in 1968 the Canadian Film Development Corporation was established (later to become Telefilm Canada) and an effort to stimulate domestic production through tax shelters peaked in the late 1970s (see Meatballs below).

Contemporary production and distribution

As in all cinema, the line between broadcast and cinema continues to be blurred in Canada as the means of production and distribution converge.

A typical Canadian film production is made with money from a complex array of government funding and incentives, government mandated funds from broadcasters, broadcasters themselves, and film distributors. International co-productions are increasingly important for Canadian producers. Smaller films are often funded by arts councils (at all levels of government) and film collectives.

The National Film Board of Canada is internationally renowned for its animation and documentary production. More recently it has been criticized for its increasingly commercial orientation; only one third of its budget is now spent on the production of new films.

Much of Canada's film industry services American producers and films driven by American distribution, and this part of the industry has been nicknamed "Hollywood North".

The major production centres are Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. In 2011, Toronto ranked third in North America, behind only Los Angeles and New York City, in total industry production;[7] however, for several years previous, Vancouver's industry outputs exceeded those for Toronto.

Alliance Atlantis (acquired by CanWest Global Communications in 2007) is the major Canadian distributor of American and international films and in 2003 it ceased to produce films (and almost all television) to focus almost exclusively on distribution. Lions Gate Entertainment has also become a major distributor in recent years.

Distribution continues to be a problem for Canadian filmmakers, though an established network of film festivals also provide important marketing and audience exposure for Canadian films. The major festival is the Toronto International Film Festival, considered one of the most important events in North American film, showcasing Hollywood films, cinema from around the world, and Canadian film. The smaller Vancouver International Film Festival features films from around the world, and festivals in Montreal, Sudbury (Cinéfest), and Halifax (Atlantic Film Festival)—among other cities—are also important opportunities for Canadian filmmakers to gain exposure among film audiences. Very often, however, a Canadian film's largest opportunity to achieve a significant audience comes from negotiating television carriage rights with a broadcaster such as CBC Television, TMN/Movie Central or Showcase.[8]

Problems in the Canadian film industry

Of all Canadian cultural industries, English-Canadian cinema has the hardest time escaping the shadow of its American counterpart. Between the marketing budgets of mainstream films, and the largely US-controlled film distribution networks, it has been nearly impossible for most distinctively Canadian films to break through to a wide audience.[8] Although Canadian films have often received critical praise, and the National Film Board has won more Academy Awards than almost any other institution (for both their animation and documentary work), in many Canadian cities moviegoers do not even have the option of seeing such films, as they have poor distribution and are not shown at any theatres. One This Hour Has 22 Minutes sketch parodied an Atom Egoyan-like director whose films had won numerous international awards, but had never actually been released or exhibited.

Almost all Canadian films fail to make back their production costs at the box office. For example, Men With Brooms made CA$1,000,000 in its general domestic release, which by Canadian standards is fairly high. However, it was made on a budget of over CA$7,000,000. French-Canadian films, on the other hand, are often more successful—as with French-language television, the language difference makes Quebec audiences much more receptive to Canadian-produced films. In most years, the top-grossing Canadian film is a French-language film from Quebec. (See also Cinema of Quebec.) By comparison, Australian films, made in a country with a smaller population than Canada's, more frequently make their money back from the domestic market. Many do comparatively better; the best known example is Mad Max, made with the then unknown Mel Gibson, and with a budget of A$350,000, and which made A$5.6 million in its domestic release alone.

Although many Canadians have made their names in Hollywood, they have often started their careers in Los Angeles, despite Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal being thriving filmmaking centres in their own right. Some actors or directors who have started their early careers in Canada include: David Cronenberg, John Candy, Lorne Michaels, Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Mike Myers, Ivan Reitman, Derek Harvie, Seth Rogen, Eugene Levy, Tom Green, Scott Mosier, and Paul Haggis. However, despite these successes, several actors have favoured moving to Los Angeles to further pursue their careers.

Canada's difficulties in the film industry are often difficult to explain. The following explanations have been proposed for why Canadian films and television have often failed completely to find an export market:

Case Studies: Porky's and Meatballs

For many years the most successful Canadian film of all time at the Canadian box office was Porky's; it was produced by a Canadian team (though directed by an American and shot in Florida), but only with one of the major American studios backing distribution. (Porky's record was widely reported as broken in 2006 by the bilingual police comedy Bon Cop, Bad Cop, but that assessment does not take inflation into account. Porky's still retains its status as the most successful Canadian film internationally.)

Meatballs makes an excellent case study on common criticisms of the Canadian film industry. Produced and shot entirely in Canada on a budget of CA$1,600,000, it was a tremendous hit, one of the most financially successful Canadian films of all time.

As with Children of a Lesser God, although it takes place in a summer camp, there is nothing recognizably Canadian about the location or the characters, except for a Montreal Canadiens sweater.

The starring role went to American comedian Bill Murray in his earliest featured film role. The chief love interest was played by Canadian Kate Lynch, who won the Genie Award that year for Best Actress. The casting of Americans in the "Tax-Shelter Era", as well as today, often caters to an American audience. However, it provided Murray with his breakout role, which quickly led to major roles in Where the Buffalo Roam, Caddyshack, and Stripes.

Almost all of its box office gross was in the United States, where it took in US$43,000,000. It received a much more limited release in Canada. Despite its success, the sequel, Meatballs II, was made in the United States with a largely American cast. It was quickly forgotten, along with its Canadian produced follow-up, Meatballs III. None of the sequels even reached US$6 million in general release.

However, in 2010, Resident Evil: Afterlife grossed more than $280 million at the box office internationally and nearly $7 million domestic, making it the most successful production in Canadian film history.[9][10][11]

Current developments

The Department of Canadian Heritage gave Telefilm Canada more funds in 2001 to help develop the Canadian film industry, with the goal of having Canadian feature films obtain five per cent of the domestic box office by 2005.[8] Telefilm divided this between English films then capturing four per cent of the market and French films at 12 per cent. At first, the new initiative did not seem to be making much progress: at the end of 2003, English films represented only one per cent of the domestic box office, while French films made up 20 per cent. The overall goal of the Canada Feature Film Fund now is to have Canadian feature films capture five per cent of the domestic box office by 2006, one year behind schedule. It is now 2014 and they have not met their goal.

According to Telefilm Canada, From Script to Screen, the two-year-old feature film policy created to improve the success rate of Canadian films, is seeing results. Before the initiative, the market share for Canadian films was 1.4 per cent and is now 3.6 per cent. Furthermore, the French-language cinema accounts for 20 per cent of the market.

In recent years, there has been a cultural resurgence in Canada's aforementioned documentary stream. Films exploring Canada's identity and role on the world stage have become popular. Due to a political and social split between their American counterparts, Canadian independent documentaries have begun garnering a cult status. Current examples are Mark Achbar's award winning and top grossing Canadian feature documentary The Corporation, and Albert Nerenberg's underground hit Escape to Canada. These films not only nurture homegrown talent, inspiring local industry but also creating a unique voice for Canada itself.

In 2015 two Canadian co-productions, partly funded by Telefilm Canada, have been nominated for Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards: Room and Brooklyn.[12]

Notable films

For all the industry's challenges, quite a few Canadian films have succeeded in making a cultural impact. Some of the most famous or important Canadian films include:

See Also:


Canadian film tends to be more director-driven than star-driven, and have much more in common with the European auteur model of filmmaking than with the Hollywood star system. The most famous Canadian film directors are very often the real star power of their films, more so than the actors they cast.

Notable Canadian film directors include:

Name Lifetime Notable works as Director
Paul Almond b. 1931 Isabel  »  The Act of the Heart  »  Journey
Denys Arcand b. 1941 La maudite galette  »  Réjeanne Padovani  »  Le déclin de l'empire américain  »  Jésus de Montréal  »  Les invasions barbares
Frédéric Back b. 1924 Tout rien  »  Crac  »  L'homme qui plantait des arbres  »  Le fleuve aux grandes eaux
Jean Beaudin b. 1939 Jeux de la XXIe olympiade  »  J.A. Martin, photographe  »  Cordélia  »  Le matou  »  Being at Home with Claude
Louis Bélanger b. 1964 Post Mortem  »  Gaz Bar Blues
Charles Binamé b. 1949 Eldorado  »  Le coeur au poing  »  Séraphin: Heart of Stone  »  Maurice Richard
Phillip Borsos 1953–1995 The Grey Fox  »  Bethune: The Making of a Hero
Michel Brault b. 1928 La lutte  »  Pour la suite du monde  »  Entre la mer et l'eau douce  »  Les ordres  »  Les noces de papier
Donald Brittain 1928–1989 Memorandum  »  Volcano  »  Paperland  »  The Champions  »  Canada's Sweetheart
Gary Burns b. 1960 Kitchen Party  »  waydowntown  »  Radiant City
Gilles Carle 1928–2009 La vie heureuse de Léopold Z  »  La vraie nature de Bernadette  »  La mort d'un bûcheron  »  La tête de Normande St-Onge  »  Les Plouffe
Marcel Carrière b. 1935 La lutte  »  Pour la suite du monde  »  Avec tambours et trompettes  »  O.K. ... Laliberté  »  Ti-mine, Bernie pis la gang...
Jack Chambers 1931–1978 Circle  »  The Hart of London
Denis Chouinard b. 1964 Clandestins  »  L'ange de goudron
F. R. Crawley 1911–1987 The Loon's Necklace  »  Newfoundland Scene
David Cronenberg b. 1943 Videodrome  »  Dead Ringers  »  Naked Lunch  »  Crash
Fernand Dansereau b. 1928 Astataïon ou Le festin des morts  »  Faut aller parmi l'monde pour le savoir  »  Doux aveux  »  La brunante
Xavier Dolan b. 1989 J'ai tué ma mère  »  Les amours imaginaires
Georges Dufaux 1927–2008 À votre santé  »  Au bout de mon âge  »  Les jardins d'hiver  »  Gui Daò - Sur la voie  »  10 jours...48 heures
Christian Duguay b. 1957 Screamers  »  The Assignment  »  Joan of Arc  »  Hitler: The Rise of Evil
Atom Egoyan b. 1960 Speaking Parts  »  Exotica  »  The Sweet Hereafter  »  Felicia's Journey  »  Ararat  »  Chloe
Robert Favreau b. 1948 Les muses orphelines  »  Un dimanche à Kigali
Thom Fitzgerald b. 1968 The Hanging Garden  »  Beefcake  »  3 Needles
André Forcier b. 1947 Bar Salon  »  Au clair de la lune  »  Une histoire inventée  »  Le vent du Wyoming
Beryl Fox b. 1931 One More River  »  Summer in Mississippi  »  The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam  »  Saigon: Portrait of a City  »  Last Reflections on a War
François Girard b. 1963 Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould  »  The Red Violin
Jacques Godbout b. 1933 YUL 871  »  Kid Sentiment  »  La gammick  »  Deux épisodes dans la vie d'Hubert Aquin  »  Alias Will James
John Greyson b. 1960 Zero Patience  »  Lilies  »  The Law of Enclosures  »  Fig Trees
Gilles Groulx 1931–1994 Golden Gloves  »  Le chat dans le sac  »  Où êtes-vous donc?  »  Entre tu et vous  »  24 heures ou plus...
Claude Jutra 1930–1986 Les mains nettes  »  À tout prendre  »  Wow  »  Mon oncle Antoine  »  Kamouraska
Ron Kelly b. 1929 The Open Grave  »  The Gift  »  The Last Man in the World  »  Waiting for Caroline
Larry Kent b. 1937 The Bitter Ash  »  Sweet Substitute  »  When Tomorrow Dies  »  High  »  Mothers and Daughters
Allan King 1930–2009 Warrendale  »  A Married Couple  »  Who Has Seen the Wind  »  Termini Station  »  Dying at Grace
Wolf Koenig b. 1927 City of Gold  »  The Days Before Christmas  »  Glenn Gould: On & Off the Record  »  Lonely Boy  »  Stravinsky
Roman Kroitor b. 1927 Paul Tomkowicz: Street-railway Switchman  »  Universe  »  Lonely Boy  »  Stravinsky  »  Labyrinth
Jean-Claude Labrecque b. 1938 60 cycles  »  La visite du général de Gaulle au Québec  »  Les smattes  »  Les vautours  »  La nuit de la poésie Trilogy
Arthur Lamothe b. 1928 Bûcherons de la Manouane  »  Poussière sur la ville  »  Le mépris n'aura qu'un temps  »  La conquête de l'Amérique
Micheline Lanctôt b. 1947 L'homme à tout faire  »  Sonatine  »  Deux actrices
Ryan Larkin 1943–2007 Syrinx  »  Cityscape  »  Walking  »  Street Musique
Jean-Claude Lauzon 1953–1997 Piwi  »  Un zoo la nuit  »  Léolo
Caroline Leaf b. 1946 The Owl Who Married a Goose  »  The Street  »  The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa  »  Two Sisters
Jacques Leduc b. 1941 On est loin du soleil  »  Tendresse ordinaire  »  Le dernier glacier  »  Trois pommes à côté du sommeil  »  La vie fantôme
Jean Pierre Lefebvre b. 1941 Abel Trilogy  »  Les maudits sauvages  »  Les dernières fiançailles  »  Avoir 16 ans  »  Les fleurs sauvages
Robert Lepage b. 1957 Le Confessional  »    »  Possible Worlds  »  La face cachée de la lune
Richard J. Lewis Whale Music  »  Barney's Version
Arthur Lipsett 1936–1986 Very Nice, Very Nice  »  Free Fall  »  21-87  »  A Trip Down Memory Lane  »  N-Zone
Colin Low b. 1926 The Romance of Transportation in Canada  »  Corral  »  City of Gold  »  Universe  »  Circle of the Sun
Guy Maddin b. 1956 Careful  »  The Heart of the World  »  The Saddest Music in the World  »  Brand Upon the Brain!  »  My Winnipeg
Francis Mankiewicz 1944–1993 Le temps d'une chasse  »  Les bons débarras  »  Les beaux souvenirs  »  Les portes tournantes
Bill Mason 1929–1988 Paddle to the Sea  »  The Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes  »  Blake  »  Death of a Legend  »  Cry of the Wild  »  Song of the Paddle  »  Waterwalker
Bruce McDonald b. 1959 Roadkill  »  Highway 61  »  Dance Me Outside  »  Hard Core Logo  »  The Tracey Fragments
Michael McGowan b. 1966 Saint Ralph  »  One Week
Norman McLaren 1914–1987 Begone Dull Care  »  Neighbours  »  Blinkity Blank  »  Rythmetic  »  A Chairy Tale  »  Mosaic  »  Pas de deux
Deepa Mehta b. 1950 Sam and Me  »  Fire  »  Earth  »  Water  »  Heaven on Earth
Peter Mettler b. 1958 Scissere  »  The Top of His Head  »  Picture of Light  »  Gambling, Gods and LSD  »  Petropolis
Robert Morin b. 1949 Requiem pour un beau sans-coeur  »  Yes Sir! Madame...  »  Quiconque meurt, meurt à douleur  »  Le nèg'  »  Journal d'un coopérant
Allan Moyle b. 1947 The Rubber Gun  »  Pump Up the Volume  »  New Waterford Girl
Vincenzo Natali b. 1947 Cube  »  Cypher  »  Splice
Don Owen b. 1935 Nobody Waved Goodbye  »  Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen  »  Notes for a Film About Donna & Gail  »  The Ernie Game
Pierre Patry b. 1933 Trouble fête  »  Caïn  »  La corde au cou
Peter Pearson b. 1938 The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar  »  Paperback Hero
Pierre Perrault 1927–1999 L'Isle-aux-Coudres Trilogy  »  L'Acadie, l'Acadie  »  Un royaume vous attend  »  La bête lumineuse  »  L'oumigmag ou l'objectif documentaire
Clément Perron 1929–1999 Jour après jour  »  Taureau  »  Partis pour la gloire
Jeremy Podeswa b. 1962 The Five Senses  »  Fugitive Pieces
Sarah Polley b. 1979 I Shout Love  »  All I Want for Christmas  »  Away From Her
Anne Claire Poirier b. 1932 De mère en fille  »  Les filles du Roy  »  Le temps de l'avant  »  Mourir à tue-tête  »  Tu as crié: Let me go
Léa Pool b. 1950 La Femme de l'hôtel  »  Anne Trister  »  À corps perdu  »  Mouvements du désir  »  Emporte-moi  »  Lost and Delirious
David Rimmer b. 1942 Surfacing on the Thames  »  Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper  »  Canadian Pacific  »  Al Neil: A Portrait  »  As Seen on TV  »  Local Knowledge
Patricia Rozema b. 1958 I've Heard the Mermaids Singing  »  White Room  »  When Night Is Falling
David Secter b. 1943 Winter Kept Us Warm  »  The Offering
Donald Shebib b. 1938 Goin' Down the Road  »  Between Friends  »  Heartaches  »  Running Brave  »  The Climb
Yves Simoneau b. 1955 Les yeux rouges  »  Pouvoir intime  »  Les fous de bassan  »  Perfectly Normal  »  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
John N. Smith b. 1943 First Winter  »  Train of Dreams  »  Welcome to Canada  »  The Boys of St. Vincent  »  Dieppe
Michael Snow b. 1929 Wavelength  »  <---->  »  La Région Centrale  »  Rameau's Nephew  »  Presents  »  So Is This  »  See You Later
Robin Spry 1939–2005 Flowers on a One-Way Street  »  Prologue  »  Action: The October Crisis of 1970  »  One Man
Lynne Stopkewich b. 1964 Kissed
Ralph L. Thomas b. 1939 Ticket to Heaven  »  The Terry Fox Story
Jean-Marc Vallée b. 1963 Les fleurs magiques  »  Liste noire  »  Les mots magiques  »  C.R.A.Z.Y.
Denis Villeneuve b. 1967 Un 32 août sur terre  »  Maelström  »  Next Floor  »  Polytechnique  »  Incendies
Clément Virgo b. 1966 Save My Lost Nigga Soul  »  Rude  »  The Planet of Junior Brown  »  Love Come Down  »  Poor Boy's Game
Anne Wheeler b. 1946 A War Story  »  Loyalties  »  Bye Bye Blues  »  Angel Square  »  The War Between Us
Sandy Wilson b. 1947 My American Cousin  »  My American Boyfriend  »  Harmony Cats

Notable Canadian expatriate directors who are or have worked primarily in Hollywood include:

See also Category:Canadian film directors.



See also

Further reading


  1. 1 2 "Table 8: Cinema Infrastructure - Capacity". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  2. "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  3. "Table 1: Feature Film Production - Genre/Method of Shooting". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. "Cinema - Admissions per capita". Screen Australia. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  5. "Table 11: Exhibition - Admissions & Gross Box Office (GBO)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  6. Druick, Zoë Projecting Canada: Government Policy and Documentary Film at the National Film Board McGill-Queen's Press MQUP, 22 Feb 2007
  7. "Film and Television Industry: 2011 Year in Review" (PDF). City of Toronto. 2012-09-01.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Canadian film scene still waiting for happy ending". Toronto Star, September 24, 2010.
  9. OBTD|
  10. The|
  11. The Globe and Mail|
  12. "Oscar nods give Canadian films Room, Brooklyn a second life". The Globe and Mail, January 14, 2016.

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