Telefilm restoration project to bring influential Canadian films into digital era

·4 min read

TORONTO — Telefilm and several of Canada’s other leading film organizations are working together on a new project that will dust off homegrown cinematic gems for the digital generation.

More than 10 Canadian films, including English- and French-language fictional narratives, documentaries and shorts, are part of a restoration effort that will see each digitized to a high-definition industry standard that's suitable for theatrical screenings and ready for streaming platforms.

The effort, which is being called Canadian Cinema – Reignited, started taking shape last year after a conversation between Telefilm executive Francesca Accinelli and "Comic Book Confidential" documentarian Ron Mann bemoaned how some of the country's seminal movies were "starting to disappear" in the digital era and risked being lost to time.

Many older Canadian films have never received a proper digital transfer, leaving them to languish on old video cassette transfers from the 1980s and 1990s, or in a low-quality "standard definition" format that falls below the expectations of streaming giants such as Netflix.

Some Canadian films have been cleaned up with significant 4K restorations that ensure they'll live on for decades. David Cronenberg's controversial "Crash," Don McKellar's apocalyptic drama "Last Night" and John Greyson's AIDS musical "Zero Patience" were all refreshed by various film organizations in recent years.

Smaller titles fell by the wayside, however, particularly some that were deeply influential to generations of filmmakers but lacked commercial heft.

After talking with Mann about the state of Canadian film, Accinelli reached out to colleagues at Telefilm, dug into archives and scoured her contacts to encourage more support.

She said the Telefilm board approved funding last December. Part of the hope was that restored Canadian films could give cinemas across the country something new to show as they welcomed audiences back after COVID-19 closures.

"It's an opportunity because there weren't many Canadian films that could shoot last year," said Accinelli, who is Telefilm's vice-president of promotion, communication and international relations.

"The desire (to restore more Canadian films) has always been there, but I really feel that the pandemic afforded us that opportunity."

The partnership with Hot Docs, the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma and the Toronto International Film Festival, gave each institution the authority to select titles they felt should be restored.

Accinelli says many of them showcase underrepresented voices, including women and Indigenous filmmakers and other minority groups.

Hot Docs officials chose three documentaries by filmmakers Holly Dale and Janis Cole: "P4W: Prison for Women," a 1981 film profiling female inmates at a Kingston, Ont., penitentiary; "Hookers on Davie," about Vancouver's sex work industry released in 1984; and "Calling the Shots," a 1988 time capsule examining women's roles in the film industry.

The Festival du Nouveau Cinéma picked "West of Pluto" ("À l'ouest de Pluton"), a 2008 drama following 12 Quebec high schoolers coming of age directed by Henry Bernadet and Myriam Verreault, and "The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge" ("La moitié gauche du frigo"), a pseudo-documentary released in 2000 about an unemployed Quebecois engineer who agrees to be the subject of his friend's film project.

The latter film was the first feature of Philippe Falardeau, who went on to garner an Oscar nomination in 2012 for "Monsieur Lazhar" and directed Reese Witherspoon in 2014's "The Good Lie."

"The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge" recently turned up on Netflix Canada in a transfer that was struck about two decades ago when DVDs were the peak of image resolution. It now looks grainy and pixelated, illustrating one reason why older Canadian films need to be upgraded for today's high-definition televisions.

"It's very important to digitize those titles for them to have a second life on different platforms," said Nicolas Girard Deltruc, executive director of the Montreal festival where he plans to screen both movies in October.

"Of course, if you work on (restoration) and digitalization it's very important to see the final results on the big screen."

Telefilm says each film will have a theatrical run and eventually be made available to broadcasters and streaming outlets.

Additional titles in the restoration project will be announced in the future.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

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