Concerned about the measures envisaged by the National Film Board (NFB) to modernize its Assistance to Independent Cinema of Canada (ACIC) program, a coalition of filmmakers is calling on Commissioner Suzanne Guèvremont so that the federal agency backs down on its plan to transformation, which could end the program in its current form.

This federal aid program essentially allows independent filmmakers to have access to the NFB’s editing rooms – and its technicians – when they are available.

Fiction, documentaries, experimental films, animated films, short and feature films: over the past 50 years, the ACIC has enabled independent Canadian filmmakers to make around forty films annually, according to the Save the ACIC Coalition. His letter is signed by more than 500 filmmakers – including Denis Villeneuve, Léa Pool and Philippe Falardeau – producers, distributors and other members of the film industry.

For independent filmmakers, the fees to pay are minimal, around 10% of the cost of post-production services.

For example, renting a room for $380/hour comes to $38/hour. A boon for filmmakers who often do not have access to huge budgets. This program notably allowed Quebec filmmakers Marianne Farley and Vincent René-Lortie to make their films Marguerite and Invincible… both nominated for Oscars over the last five years.

A win-win, tells us documentary filmmaker Sylvain Lspérance, head of the Coalition. “The editing and mixing stations are there anyway. So it’s better to have sound mixers, colorists, etc. work with people like us than to leave them in the studios waiting for the NFB to arrive with a production. It is in this cooperative spirit that the program was designed. »

In doing so, the NFB earns approximately $100,000 in revenue annually, according to Mr. Lspérance.

A program at almost no cost for the NFB, therefore, which still injects $140,000 annually into the ACIC in order to help Canadian filmmakers who do not have access to its editing rooms. A filmmaker from Winnipeg, for example, who does not have access to NFB editing studios, could until now be reimbursed a portion of his post-production costs.

But now, the new management of the ONF would recommend several changes in order to “modernize” the aid program. La Presse contacted management for details of these changes, but the ONF did not wish to explore the matter further at this stage. “We are reviewing the ACIC program and considering ways to improve it. Nothing has been decided to date,” Director of Communications and Public Affairs Lily Robert wrote to us.

But according to the Coalition, several avenues are being considered. First a name change, the aid program would be renamed “Echo”, “a name that means absolutely nothing”, according to the Coalition of filmmakers. This new structure, which would no longer help Canadian filmmakers who do not have access to the NFB’s editing rooms as is currently the case, would bring together French- and English-speaking productions, which would have the consequence of ” diminish the place of Francophones within these programs”, fear the members of the Coalition.

But the changes that most worry the Coalition touch the very foundation of the program. Independent filmmakers would no longer have access to editing rooms, denounces the Coalition. Instead of paying 10% of the post-production cost, the NFB would offer colorization services, mixing and mastering of films free of charge. In return, the federal body would require that the films be offered on its platform.

“An obligation like this does not take into account the agreements that we could have with distributors or television broadcasters,” says Sylvain Lspérance astonished. It’s like a cheap co-production with the NFB, without the name, even though that is not the objective of the ACIC. So, it’s a form of takeover. We would also be orphaned from the editing rooms, which goes completely against the program. »

As for the annual budget of $140,000, it would disappear, according to what Sylvain Lspérance learned during discussions with NFB management. Despite this, Lily Robert assures us that the NFB “will continue to support around forty projects annually.”

Finally, the choice of projects eligible for the program, today based on the filmmaker’s roadmap as well as on the financing of the project by public institutions, would now be made according to three criteria: their feasibility, equitable representation of cultural diversity , regional and gender, and finally, what alarms the Coalition the most, according to the editorial line of the NFB’s programming.

“For us, this last criterion is a radical loss of the independence that the ONF aid program has always had,” deplores Sylvain Lspérance. This is a fundamental attack on what ACIC has always been about. »

But for the NFB management, it is about making the current program more equitable. According to Lily Robert, the goal is to make it more accessible to underrepresented filmmakers since, she tells us, “currently, less than 15% of filmmakers from diverse or Indigenous communities benefit from this program.” An element that the Coalition does not dispute, moreover.

A first meeting between the Save the ACIC Coalition and the general director and head of programming of the NFB, Richard Cormier, took place on April 15, but according to Sylvain Lspérance, the NFB management did not taking into account the concerns expressed by independent filmmakers. She accuses management of acting without consultation. He speaks of a “dialogue of the deaf”, hence this public outing.

“Honestly, we don’t understand where management is going with these changes,” he says. We asked questions, we received partial answers, we were not told everything. We have the impression that we take up too much space in the organization chart and that we are a blot on the freedom we have when we make the films that we make. This is what we understand. »