The Documentary: A Canadian Icon That Strives To Remain Relevant.

Author:Bennie, Isme
Position:What's Up Doc?

Canada has a world-class reputation for its contribution to the documentary world, going all the way back to 1926, when the National Film Board of Canada's first film commissioner, John Grierson, coined the term.

In the following decades Canada has continued to draw the world's attention to the doc. It has Toronto's Hot Docs Cinema, which seats 600 and is the only venue of its size and scope in the world that's solely dedicated to documentaries. Canada is also the home of Hot Docs, one of the world's largest documentary festivals, which is usually held in late April and early May in Toronto. (The Festival also owns the Hot Docs Cinema.)

Despite this, documentary production in Canada has actually been declining for more than a decade, reported Michael McMahon, president of Toronto-based Primitive Entertainment Inc. The Documentary Organization of Canada (Doc Org), a Toronto-based organization that provides advocacy, research, and support for its members, also confirmed this decline.

In a 2011 commissioned report, Doc Org found that television documentary production reached a peak in 2006-2007, but dropped 21 percent by 2008. Since then, it has been dropping off as both market conditions and consolidation have reduced the number of opportunities for exhibition. It found that one-offs suffered the largest losses, as broadcasters shifted to more promotable series and mini series.

But private sector broadcasters have not abandoned the documentary completely. During the 2016-2017 broadcast year, Bell Media commissioned 71 hours of independently-produced documentary programming for its large array of channels, committing more than C$13.4 million in license fees and triggering more than C$43.7 million in documentary production. Television is its business, and its programs must attract audiences. An example from Bell Media is the new documentary from Banger Films, Long Time Running, about Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip.

Peter Raymont, president of Toronto-based White Pine Pictures, compared Canada's documentary output to that of the U.K., France, and Germany. He finds Arte, a public Franco-German TV network that broadcasts hundreds of hours of documentaries, "extraordinary." But Arte is supported by a large audience base. Canada is geographically huge, but its population is small, spread out, and less than that of the state of California.

Hot Docs president Chris McDonald pointed out two countries with significantly smaller populations than...

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