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Weekend warriors 

Meet a group of Canadian cinephiles dedicated to keeping our own movies in our own cinemas. Carsten Knox joins the First Weekend Club.

Seeing a genuinely Canadian film was one of the real pleasures of the Atlantic Film Festival. The CBC keeps telling us we want to see our own stories told, but there is precious little evidence of that at the multiplex. Aside from the booming homegrown film industry in Quebec, Canadians just don’t seem to be in any hurry to see their own movies. Less than five percent of the films that show in cinemas across the country are Canadian.

Like almost everywhere else, Canada is under Hollywood’s boot heel, but unlike Germany or France, our cinema doesn’t benefit from a cultural content umbrella that protects and fosters the industry. We have Canadian content rules for music, for broadcasting on radio and television, but we haven’t forced legislation on film. The reasons are twofold: first off, Canadian filmmakers aren’t unemployed. There’s no lack of Canadian film infrastructure, as local film technicians, actors and craft service people are working hard for the American industry that comes here to save money. The second reason is people love Hollywood. Whether the product is good, bad or mediocre, no one provides a happy ending like they do.

Anita Adams disagrees that we’re less interested in movies we can call ours. She is the executive director and founder of First Weekend Club, an organization that helps promote Canadian films.

“A lot of people don’t know about Canadian movies,” she says from Vancouver. “The marketing is so limited, they don’t stand out.”

Adams will admit there is probably some bias towards Canadian films, that the stereotype is they’re all dark, bleak, with low production values. But she insists if more people were aware of Canadian products, more would go to see them.

She and her group hope to make it happen. With chapters in cities across the country, the goal of the First Weekenders is to build audiences through email and word of mouth, to get as many people as possible to see Canadian pictures on their opening weekends—David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence opens Friday, Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies drops October 7—thus extending the film’s release and potential for success. Members are informed of what is opening in their area and encouraged to spread the word amongst friends, getting them out early. Membership is free.

Adams founded the now-3,000-member strong Vancouver chapter in February 2003, having been an actor and imagining what film fans could do for raising awareness of Canadian movies. Largely funded by Telefilm, the First Weekend Club will support any film that is produced by Canadian creative and financial interests, to operate as an adjunct to the marketing plan already in place.

“We do work with distributors, we contract our services of the grassroots marketplace,” says Adams.

On the subject of a more affirmative governmental effort to regulate Canadian content on the big screen, Adams is of two minds. While admiring the success of the Korean industry that established a screen quota 10 years ago and is now producing world-class cinema, she is cautious about suggesting such a thing would work here.

“A colleague has petitioned the government to do something,” she says. “I agree with it, but I have a bit of trepidation of the government getting more involved.”

In the meantime, the club is growing. Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto have branches, and Ottawa and Montreal will soon follow suit. On a recent visit to Nova Scotia, Adams made preliminary contact with the Linda Joy Society and the Atlantic Film Festival in the hope of building relationships in Halifax.

Adams also thinks its essential to establish a Canadian star system, something that is happening slowly. In an effort to accelerate the trend, she is quick to engage in the First Weekend Club’s manifesto—to recommend a few Canadian productions hopefully coming soon, and sticking around longer than a week. “It’s All Gone Pete Tong opened across the country,” she notes. “Ill Fated and Sabah will be opening later.”

Adams may be onto something, if the opening night of the 25th Atlantic Film Festival is anything to go by: three simultaneous screenings of Halifax filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald’s new feature 3 Needles, including the gala, were sold out.

Toronto native David Cronenberg’s a history of violence opens friday.

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