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Now is the time

A conversation with Julie Roy, Executive Director and CEO of Telefilm Canada

Julie Roy knows Canada’s film production sector like the back of her hand. With nearly 20 years of experience at the National Film Board (most recently as Director General of Creation and Innovation), the acclaimed producer was a shoo-in as Telefilm Canada’s new Executive Director and CEO, a role she took on in April 2023. Her appointment comes at a time of great change, excitement and (as always in this industry) uncertainty in the sector, but she’s undaunted by the challenges ahead—and inspired by this country’s glowing reputation on the international scene. “People are watching us, and they are interested in us,” says Roy. “Now is the time to strategize for the future.”

You’ve been at Telefilm Canada for a few months now. What has been the biggest surprise?

During my time at Cannes, I was captivated by Telefilm’s well-established reputation abroad with international funders, like Eurimages and New Dawn, as well as with organizations like Centre national du cinéma and Screen Australia, among others. Also, witnessing firsthand the rapport that Telefilm has forged with Canadian producers and talent gave me great delight. I am fascinated by the exemplary status that Canada and Telefilm’s reputations hold across the globe. People are watching us, and they are interested in us. This extraordinary web of connections that Telefilm possesses fosters invaluable exchange networks, allowing us to tackle shared challenges in our respective countries. Together, we can work on the evolution and transformation of the audiovisual industry.

You enjoyed a long career at the National Film Board. What learnings from the NFB can you apply to your role at Telefilm?

As a long-standing supporter of filmmakers and a champion of the creative process, I carry a profound appreciation for its intricacies. Through my extensive experience as a producer, executive producer and Director General of Creation and Innovation, I’ve learned the art of decision making. This delicate exercise requires honesty, respect for artists, and the courage to stand by our choices. Working in public service entails significant responsibilities, such as managing public funds with prudence and setting exemplary standards. Rigour and competence are paramount. My various roles at the NFB also taught me that as a public organization, we wield considerable influence within the industry. It is important to use this influence wisely. In recent years, I actively championed our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, firmly believing in the power to effect change from a position of influence. This wealth of expertise and learning is valuable to Telefilm. I envision Telefilm as an influential leader, with a robust plan to fulfil our goals on EDI along with our commitments to environmental responsibility. The time for collective action and tangible impact is now.

Audience viewing habits have evolved rapidly in the past five years. Streaming services and the pandemic have contributed to a marked decline in theatrical viewing. How does Telefilm balance funding for theatrical release and helping filmmakers meet audiences where they are—which is often at home on the sofa?

Audience habits will always continue to evolve. We have seen movies continue to find success theatrically, with BlackBerry, Riceboy Sleeps and Brother all winning over audiences. The film 23 décembre received the Golden Screen Award for the Canadian film that brought in the biggest box office in 2022, and films like Cette maison have found a home on the Criterion Channel following a successful theatrical run.

Telefilm has a responsibility to adapt to changes and to continue to develop and modernize its practices and policies. This is also true for discoverability. We’re mindful that each film has its own avenue for finding an audience. And we may need to redefine what we understand as a measure of success around audiences.

No matter the screen we prefer, film possesses its own distinct language and artistic expression, separate yet complementary to television. Let us embrace and celebrate the diverse content available to us.

What role does Telefilm have in creating opportunities for producers and filmmakers who come from backgrounds that have traditionally been underrepresented in Canada’s feature film industry?

Telefilm has been focused on breaking down barriers for producers and filmmakers from historically underrepresented backgrounds at all career levels. We are aware that the entire career trajectory needs to be accounted for, not just emerging talent. Telefilm has been evolving how it allocates funding and mindful of where underrepresented communities need more support.

We also introduced new Key Performance Indicators as funding targets into Telefilm’s overall project pipeline to better support projects from underrepresented communities in all our portfolio and promotion programs. These were established by using data collected from last year’s funding applications, to determine focus areas that would benefit from meaningful targets. It’s ever evolving, and our team is always looking for new ways to partner with organizations in order to maximize the success of producers and filmmaking talent from across the country.

C-11 was recently passed into law, and regulations are being written as we speak. How do you hope these legislative and regulatory changes can invigorate this country’s feature film production sector?

Bill C-11 marks a time of opportunity for our industry. It presents new possibilities for our continued collaboration in championing the role of independent producers and joining forces with industry partners with a unified goal of ensuring Canadian content and its creators thrive.

With its established infrastructure, industry trust and expertise, Telefilm is well positioned to support the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. Should additional funding become available to enhance the promotion and growth of the Canadian audiovisual industry, particularly for feature films, Telefilm is poised to play a pivotal role.

At the Banff World Media Festival this summer, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez remarked that Telefilm, the Canada Media Fund and the NFB should evolve and collaborate to serve the broader sector. What could that look like?

I strongly believe in cultivating a true spirit of collaboration within our industry. I am excited by the potential of our collective endeavours in the coming weeks, months and years. To navigate the new frontier successfully, it is important that we meet regularly as sister agencies.

It is both a privilege and a responsibility to take part in these fundamental conversations. And above all, we must place the needs of the industry at the heart of these conversations.

This moment is decisive for the audiovisual sector. Now is the time to strategize for the future.