Two of Canada’s major film bodies, the National Film Board (NFB) and Telefilm Canada, released updates for equity and diversity targets this week. These pledges preceded the announcement of Suzanne Guèvremont’s appointment as the new Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson of the NFB. Last week, the DOC Institute released a report citing a disparity in reporting and data collections regarding Canadian creators who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. (As Crown Corporations, the NFB and Telefilm Canada cannot currently collect personal information under the Privacy Act, unless it pertains to programming.)
“Through the creative works it produces and distributes, the NFB affirms its role as a catalyst—a role that’s essential to the vitality and intelligence of our civil, cultural, scientific and economic society,” Guèvremont said in a statement from the Board. “Our cultures and our Canadian values—whether expressed implicitly or explicitly—influence our thoughts and our behaviours, and form part of our collective heritage. It is with great pride, enthusiasm, and humility that I undertake this mandate. The Canadian landscape is changing, the means at our disposal for creating content are constantly evolving, and so are audience behaviours. I’m very much looking forward to meeting all the teams across Canada, and to working with them in pursuit of our goals.”
Prior to passing the torch to Guèvremont, former Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson Claude Joli-Coeur released a statement in which he stood by the Board’s track record under his tenure and reiterated the organization’s commitment to achieve targets set in its strategic plan for 2020-2023 and its 2021 plan for equity, diversity and inclusion. The NFB drew criticism recently that it is struggling to meet its equity targets, particularly for Black creators. In the absence of data, the Vancouver-based Racial Equity Screen Office (RESO) had to assess creator credits at the NFB by performing image searches for artists’ names. The DOC Institute’s aforementioned report echoed this finding. The November 23 NFB release summarizing Joli-Coeur’s departure noted that the Board will begin collection for date on racial identities in the next fiscal year.
DOC Calls for More Action to Fight Systemic Racism
With the changeover in leadership at the NFB, the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) congratulated Guèvremont on her appointment and called upon her to ensure that the Board delivers upon its EDI commitments. In a statement, DOC noted that the implementation of a data collection plan was only one of 23 targets to see action. DOC also noted that a key change had to be the increase of diverse appointments in new positions and vacancies.
“The Documentary Organization of Canada also calls for an increase in Executive roles across the screen sector for Indigenous, Black and racialized leaders and where these are new positions, for these roles to have the appropriate authority, budget, and staffing to not only make an impact but to set up these new offices and employees for success,” noted DOC’s release. At a panel at Reel Asian Film Festival in Toronto last week, participants discussing the DOC Institute’s report stressed the need for candidates who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour to advance in leadership positions to ensure meaningful change.
DOC also identified four points of the NFB’s EDI plan in need of critical attention: implementing a structure of governance as pertains to EDI, establishing an annual action plan with measurable targets, providing quarterly reports that are conducted independently, and publishing an annual audit and report to the public that addresses progress.
“Many organizations that finance documentary films have made commitments toward decolonization and to dismantle systemic racism within their operations, their leadership, and the way they support filmmakers,” added DOC in a statement. “Two essential elements in this work are a clear vision for why this must be done, that is deeply shared at every level of the institution; and transparency. Public information about who is being financed and how equity plans are being implemented are key to our sector’s transformation to dismantle systemic inequalities. DOC sees this work as essential to carrying out our mandate to advocate for an equitable, sustainable environment for documentary production and to strengthen the sector within the broader cultural industry.” DOC, which is Canada’s largest advocacy group for documentary, has a membership of over 1100 industry peers. Nearly half of them identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Colour.
Telefilm Canada Releases EDI Action Plan
Earlier this week, Telefilm Canada released its own EDI action plan for fiscal years 2022-2024. The plan committed to data collection and to the creation of methodologies that encourage self-identification in order to ensure a wider pool of information. Telefilm also committed to using said data to reflect upon benchmarks and targets.
Telefilm pledged to ensure a diverse pool of financing recipients and set clear numbers and targets to achieve. These goals include 15 projects in the whole program at the development level where at least 50% of the producers are Black. In the General Stream, the action plan committed to supporting 15 projects in the development program where at least 50% of the writers are Black or Persons of Colour.
For Indigenous creators, Telefilm pledged $4 million per year for projects submitted to the Indigenous Stream in the Development, Production, Talent to Watch, and Theatrical Documentary programs. It also reiterated its commitment to gender parity for said programs.
The action plan also sought to facilitate the accessibility and discoverability of works by diverse creators. Telefilm committed to supporting a minimum of 25 film festivals that focus on equity and inclusion. The action plan also noted vows for mentorship and training.
“We know that a more representative industry depends on creating diverse access for communities seeking equity,” said Francesca Accinelli, Interim Executive Director & CEO of Telefilm Canada, in a speech at the organization’s annual public assembly this week.
“Moving forward, we must further our progress by including a more intersectional approach, to better support gender diverse individuals, as well as Indigenous women, and Black and women of colour, and women living with disabilities,” added Cathy Wong, Vice President of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion and Official Languages at Telefilm during the assembly. Wong noted that over 150 organizations and equity seeking groups submitted to a survey regarding best practices in authentic storytelling. New protocol reviews to strengthen authentic storytelling were also listed among the commitments of the EDI plan.