Saturday, March 1, 2008

'The Tin Drum' Revisited

One of my earliest memories of a cultural and political controversy where I felt compelled to pick a side was when the Ontario Censor Board (later re-named the Ontario Film Review Board) banned the critically acclaimed German film 'The Tin Drum' for a single scene implying oral sex by a minor.

The fallout from that decision resulted in a radical restriction of the powers of censorship boards across the country and a general shift in the perception of Canada, both inside and outside of the country, from that of a nation of prudes to a country where freedom of expression and creativity was actively encouraged. The result has been a flowering of unique, challenging and provocative film and television productions that have been recognized and lauded around the world. In many ways, Canada has become the 'HBO' of North America.

This is what progressives refer to as "progress".

This is what religious conservatives refer to as "Canada's rapid descent into decadence and Godlessness".

Thanks to Charles McVety of the Canada Family Action Coalition, most people are now aware of the implications of Bill C-10 and the true intentions of the related 'update' of the Heritage Ministry guidelines that would result in a return to the kind of censorship we used to have here in prudish Ontario. If you haven't been keeping up, writer Denis McGrath over at Dead Things on Sticks has done some excellent coverage and analysis.

It should be pointed out that the specific clause in Bill C-10 that has caused so much anguish among both progressive bloggers and pretty much everyone in the Canadian entertainment industry is, on its face, completely innocuous. Out of a 600+ page income tax amendment bill, all it says is this:

(3) The definition "Canadian film or video production certificate" in subsection 125.4(1) of the Act is replaced by the following:

"Canadian film or video production certificate" means a certificate issued in respect of a production by the Minister of Canadian Heritage certifying that the production is a Canadian film or video production in respect of which that Minister is satisfied that

(a) except where the production is a treaty co-production (as defined by regulation), an acceptable share of revenues from the exploitation of the production in non-Canadian markets is, under the terms of any agreement, retained by

(i) a qualified corporation that owns or owned an interest in, or for civil law a right in, the production,

(ii) a prescribed taxable Canadian corporation related to the qualified corporation, or

(iii) any combination of corporations described in subparagraph (i) or (ii); and

(b) public financial support of the production would not be contrary to public policy.

Hardly surprising that it passed by the House and the Senate without anyone connecting the dots.

It's that "public policy" provision that's the real kicker, because it just so happens that the Heritage Ministry has a rather detailed and draconian set of guidelines for establishing what might be against "public policy" all drawn up and ready to go. Worse, it allows Heritage and Justice to withdraw a certificate and thus disqualify a production for tax credits even after production is well underway - meaning that investors could suddenly find their investment to be not such a good investment after they've already committed and spent the money.

The chilling effect this would have on all Canadian film and television productions - not just the naughty ones - would be utterly devastating.

Happily, the true import of this seemingly innocuous bill has finally surfaced above the fold and made the nightly news, largely due to Charles McVety's inability to conceal his glee at what he considers a vindication of his anti-smut, anti-homosexuality agenda. The Governor General's office has been inundated with calls and emails, and the bill is now back in Senate committee for another look.

If you would like to encourage them to slam this loophole shut, please contact the senators from your province. And while you're at it, toss off a note to the Heritage Minister, and maybe join the Facebook group as well.


MORE COVERAGE: Even the Globe & Mail's Margaret Wente thinks this is a bad idea. I especially enjoyed this passage:

We may just have to say goodbye to sex, violence, and Viggo Mortensen cavorting with Russian gangsters in the nude. Instead, we'll have to settle for "films that Canadians can sit down and watch with their families in living rooms across this great country," as Conservative MP Dave Batters put it. David Cronenberg will be reduced to shooting remakes of Anne of Green Gables. Juno will be recast as the heartwarming tale of a plucky girl who realizes that if she has premarital sex with her boyfriend, she'll go to Hell. As for Young People Fucking, a new movie coming soon, forget about it. It will have to be reshot as Young People Starting an Abstinence Club.

(H/T to we move to canada, where you can find more text from the editorial in case you, like me, can't get past the !@#$% G&M firewall.)

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