Local filmmaker Michael Sparaga was looking to come up with some extra material for the DVD release of his feature film debut, the independently produced superhero flick Sidekick. Instead, he found a whole new movie.
Sparaga took Sidekick on a cross-Canada tour in April 2006 and, while traveling across the country, decided to ask people about their views toward Canadian film on the whole. What he found opened his eyes and formed the basis for a new project, Maple Flavour Films, which is slated to premiere at the 2008 Canadian Filmmakers Festival next week.
“I went out and asked people what they thought about Canadian English-language film and I kind of expected everyone to say that they hate Canadian movies,” he said. “Across the country, what I kept hearing, though, was people saying they really liked them.”
While that came as a surprise to the North Toronto writer/director, the discovery came with a very large – and very unfortunate – catch.
“When I pressed people further about Canadian films, most people didn’t even know one,” Sparaga said. “Why say you like something if you don’t know any?”
As a filmmaker himself, the news was obviously unsettling to Sparaga, who found Canadians’ lack of knowledge over their own film industry daunting.
“I actually wouldn’t have cared if people were saying negative things about the industry,” he said. “If people are bad-mouthing something, at least they’re talking about it.”
Sparaga has some ideas as to why Canadians are so often oblivious as to the films being produced in their own country. The problem, he said, stems from Canadian filmmakers’ own opinions as to what makes for a ‘Canadian’ movie, and how that differs from the tastes of the general public.
“Hollywood concentrates on (drawing audiences of) young boys, but we declare ourselves more of an art house country,” he said. “The thing is, the big, wide release movies in the U.S. finance their production of independent films. We don’t have that; we’d rather say, ‘At least we didn’t have to sink to making The Mighty Ducks.'”
Sparaga said his solution is for Canada to start funding and producing more films that are, if not big-budget blockbusters, perhaps more a form of entertainment for entertainment’s sake. While he enjoys a profound art house film as much as anyone, Sparaga acknowledges the need to meet audiences halfway.
“You can’t deny what the public is saying, and if you look at box office, it’s pretty clear what they’re saying,” he said. “Unlike most of the world, we fund our country’s films through our tax dollars. The industry should give people what they’re paying for and not just (cater to) niche groups.”
While Maple Flavour Films takes various facets of the Canadian film industry to task, it stops short of pointing fingers. Rather than laying the blame at the feet of distributors, producers or funding agencies such as Telefilm, whose mandate is to develop and promote the Canadian audiovisual industry, the movie is more an in-depth investigation into the industry.
“I don’t want this to come across as me making fun of something when it’s hurting or kicking something when it’s down,” he said. “I don’t want people to think it’s an attack on Canadian filmmakers or on Telefilm. Telefilm developed my superhero movie, and they’re developing my Bigfoot action movie.”
If anything, Sparaga hopes to help uncover and tackle some of the issues that have led to Canadian films sagging in popularity even locally. To that end, the film’s premiere will spark a panel discussion featuring top industry professionals and moderated by noted Canadian film critic Richard Crouse.
Considering that Sparaga has screened Sidekick to sold-out audiences across Canada, he is surprisingly anxious about his latest venture, perhaps because it will premiere before many of the Canadian film industry’s movers and shakers.
“I’m nervous as hell, and when I was talking to Richard (Crouse) about it, he said, ‘I’ve done panels before, so don’t worry,'” Sparaga said. “So great, now I only have to worry about the world premiere of my film, not about the hour afterward.”
Maple Flavor Films will premiere at the Carlton Cinemas, 20 Carlton St., at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26 as part of the Canadian Filmmakers’ Festival. For more information on the film, visit www.grindstonemedia.com. For tickets to the screening or information on the film festival, visit www.canfilmfest.ca.
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