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Telefilm raises $14 million in private donations for Canadian filmmakers

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TORONTO - Telefilm Canada has raised more than $14 million in private donations for Canadian filmmakers — a first in the federal agency's nearly 50-year history.

The bulk of the new money came from Bell Media and Corus Entertainment, who contributed $8 million and $5.7 million respectively to Telefilm's Talent Fund under the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's tangible benefits policy.

"We're very pleased with the support of Bell Media and Corus Entertainment on this initiative," said Telefilm executive director Carolle Brabant in an interview.

"That was the goal of the Talent Fund, to have the private sector support even more this very important industry in Canada. We're very, very excited with the response we got."

Under the tangible benefits policy, companies that buy television or radio assets must pay a percentage of the purchase price toward programs that will benefit the entire system.

When Bell Media acquired Astral Media last year, the CRTC ordered it to spend some $246.9 million over the next seven years on a variety of arts initiatives, including supporting Canadian filmmakers.

Telefilm, the Crown corporation in charge of promoting and developing the Canadian film industry, launched the Talent Fund in 2012 to encourage private investment. Money raised will go to both emerging and established filmmakers for new projects.

The agency announced the total donation amount to date on Thursday at a meeting of the fund's advisory committee in Toronto. Its goal is to reach $25 million by 2017.

In 2012, the federal government slashed subsidies to a trio of arts agencies — Telefilm, the National Film Board and CBC — by 10 per cent over a period of three years. The $10.6 million cut forced Telefilm to tighten spending on documentaries and dramas at the time.

However, Brabant said Telefilm's push for private donations was not connected to the federal budget cut.

"(The Talent Fund) is not going to be replacing our parliamentary appropriation that we get from the government. It's helping us to do a little bit more, and at some point maybe a lot more, to support emerging talent as well as established talent," she said.

Diversifying funding sources has been a part of Telefilm's corporate plan since 2011 and plans for a private donation fund were announced a month before the Conservatives unveiled the cuts in 2012.

Brabant said the idea for the fund emerged after extensive consultations with film industry professionals who felt the agency should do more to promote private investment.

There is no separate process for filmmakers to apply to the Talent Fund — Telefilm's operations team will decide which films will be supported by the fund, as is the case with other projects funded by the agency.

The fund's advisory committee is made up of eight business and community leaders from across the country, including David Aisenstat, president and CEO of Keg Restaurants and Dr. Anil Gupta, medical director of clinical cardiology of Ontario's Trillium Health Centre.

The private sector has long been looking for a direct way to support Canadian film, said the fund's advisory committee chair Hartley T. Richardson.

"There really hasn't been an obvious entity, or fund in this case, that you could direct your support to," he said. "We're looking to change that and create this joint public-private partnership."

Richardson, a prominent Winnipeg businessman and CEO of James Richardson & Sons Limited, added that it was vital to inform Canadians about the value of cinema to the economy.

The film and television industry supported nearly 128,000 full-time positions and generated $7.6 billion in gross domestic product for the Canadian economy in 2012-2013, according to Telefilm.

"This is about is getting the information out, getting people aware in the business community and the broader community at large just what an economic impact this has, how many jobs it creates, the opportunities it's providing for youth," Richardson said.

"It's important in bringing recognition to Canadian talent and in doing so to Canada — on the world stage, not just the North American stage. It's really a win-win situation."

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