NFB chair reappointed amid concerns from filmmakers about funding structure - InfoNews

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NFB chair reappointed amid concerns from filmmakers about funding structure

Claude Joli-Coeur has been reappointed government film commissioner and chair of the National Film Board of Canada amid a dispute between the organization and a group of directors about its budget expenditures. Joli-Coeur is seen in a 2014 handout image.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-National Film Board, Panneton-Valcourt
June 30, 2019 - 10:30 AM

TORONTO - Claude Joli-Coeur has been reappointed government film commissioner and chair of the National Film Board of Canada amid a dispute between the organization and a group of directors about its budget expenditures.

On Thursday as Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced Joli-Coeur's mandate renewal for another three years, a group of more than 250 freelance directors who call themselves ONF/NFB Creation raised concerns over the reappointment.

"The National Film Board is in crisis," Oscar-winning filmmaker Chris Landreth said in a statement from the group.

"Only a small portion of the NFB's government allocation now goes to making films, which translates to fewer works produced and fewer opportunities for artists and filmmakers."

ONF/NFB Creation alleges that "in the past 16 years, there has been a 56 per cent decline in funding for films, while spending in administration, marketing and executive salaries has steadily risen." The group says that spending includes a 21 per cent increase on non-filmmaker salaries, and a 45 per cent increase on institutional, legal and human resources services.

In an interview, Joli-Coeur disputed the claim about fewer works produced, noting that when it comes to managing their resources, the NFB's core mandate "has been to make the biggest allocation as possible to production."

"Over the last five years the number of productions that we've been doing has been increasing," Joli-Coeur said Friday by phone from Montreal.

In the NFB's next annual report he says the organization will declare 88 productions for 2018/19 — an increase from 72 productions in '17/18. The two years prior also saw 67 and 43 projects respectively.

Joli-Coeur noted that the NFB has faced a couple of steep budget cuts since the mid-1990s and allocates "a fair amount of money to distribution," which he feels is essential to helping their films reach the public.

Joli-Coeur also pointed to the NFB's annual report of 2017-2018, which has been audited by the auditor-general of Canada.

According to the report, in 2018 50 per cent of the approximately $72-million budget went to production: $36 million on audiovisual production, another $25 million on distribution (titled in the report as "accessibility and audience engagement"), and $11 million on "internal services."

This year, out of a budget of $67 million, roughly 50 per cent went to production, Joli-Coeur said.

"So unfortunately that's the biggest misunderstanding between us and that group. They wrote to our board, they met with the minister's office, basically coming back all the time with those figures. And what can we say? The figures we are using are the official ones."

Oscar-nominated Vancouver animator/director David Fine, who is quoted in the ONF/NFB Creation statement, said in an email to The Canadian Press that the group's information "comes from internal NFB sources who know for sure that actual budgets have reduced."

"(The NFB) accounting also includes many internal admin costs when they tabulate production spending," said Fine, whose 2018 NFB animated short "Animal Behaviour," made with Alison Snowden, got an Oscar nomination.

"In fact, the most reliable gauge is money spent outside on directors and animators and filmmakers, and that's the telling number which has gone down considerably over the years."

Joli-Coeur said the NFB disagrees with the way the ONF/NFB Creation has culled its financial information, noting "at the end of the day we should just use the audited financial reports."

"I'm a public servant, so I'm not someone who has something to hide or to make bigger personal profit or things like that," said Joli-Coeur, who was first appointed government film commissioner and chair of the NFB for a term of five years in December 2014. He took over when Tom Perlmutter stepped down.

"At the end of the day I'm just using what is the basis of all the public accounts."

Joli-Coeur and ONF/NFB Creation have been in discussions for two years, and while his "door has been always open," he feels they've reached a "dead end."

In its statement, the ONF/NFB Creation said "it appears that the whole process has been stonewalled."

Joli-Coeur's plan to move forward on the issue is to meet with NFB creators in each region — as well as associations including the Documentary Organization of Canada, the Directors Guild of Canada, and l'Association des realisateurs et des realisatrices du Quebec — this fall after launching the NFB's strategic plan.

"That group (ONF/NFB Creation) is a regroupment of some people but they don't have an official status," Joli-Coeur said.

"So now I'd like to engage the discussion with the established organizations that are key to the documentary world and animation sector in the country."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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