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The Walt Disney Company is asking the Canadian government to redefine guidelines that determine what makes a film or series “Canadian.”

What’s going on? The Canadian federal government is currently considering Bill C-11, an act to amend the current Broadcasting Act, which will redefine the requirements for an audiovisual production to qualify as “Canadian content.” The wording of the bill is causing a stir, with parties in favor of and opposed to the current vocabulary in the bill arguing their cases.

Why does it matter if a film or series is ‘Canadian’? Whether or not a film or series is considered Canadian under the new bill will impact how financial aid is distributed to productions and what kinds of tax breaks those films and series are eligible for. The would-be law, in its current form, newly requires that streaming platforms promote Canadian content and support it financially, much the same way that traditional broadcasters are already required to do. This means that international streamers could potentially be required to invest more in “Canadian” content, however that ends up being defined.

Why Disney thinks Turning Red should be considered Canadian? Speaking with the Canadian Senate committee in charge of the bill last month, Walt Disney Co. vp of global public policy David Fares asked that Parliament reconsider what makes a film or series “Canadian,” and that the country create a more “flexible” definition. Disney’s argument is that some of its productions which were made in Canada, with a Canadian cast and crew, featuring narratives that take place in Canada, don’t qualify under the current rules because Disney is based in the U.S. In one example, Fares used Pixar’s Turning Red to argue that because that film features a Canadian-set narrative, a Chinese-Canadian protagonist who lives in Toronto, a Canadian voice actress in Sandra Oh, and a Canadian director in Domee Shi, it should qualify as a Canadian film. Other examples of “Canadian” Disney content cited by Fares were Barkskins and the upcoming Washington Black.

Fares also argued that Disney has a longstanding “special relationship with Canada” which has seen the company invest around $3 billion in the country across six recent features and 18 tv and streaming series, as well as a physical footprint in the form of ILM and Disney Animation studios in Vancouver.

His argument is that it doesn’t make sense that Disney shows, films, and specials with strong Canadian ties don’t qualify as Canadian under the new bill, while shows produced outside of Canada and featuring non-Canadian narratives do qualify because the property rights belong to a Canadian company.

Why others say Turning Red shouldn’t be considered “Canadian content”? The Canadian Media Producers’ Association argues that the financial aid and tax breaks available to Canadian productions should benefit Canadian companies, regardless of narrative content or where a film is made, rather than letting that money flow out of Canada.

“It’s great when a novel by a Canadian author becomes a hit tv series,” said Canadian Media Producers Association CEO Reynolds Mastin in the Canadian paper The Globe and Mail. “But if the tv rights to that series are owned by a U.S.-based company, and the profits flow out of Canada, that project shouldn’t be defined as Canadian content.”

This is also a concern of Canadian politicians, like senator Paula Simons (Alberta), who told Fares during a Senate committee hearing in Ottawa on September 15:

It is true that Disney is spending an extraordinary amount of money on production in Canada and employing thousands of Canadians. I think that is a terrific thing for our film industry and for Canada’s international cultural profile. It is also true, however, that Disney insists on owning the intellectual property in large part, which means that Canadian independent producers and directors don’t have as much chance to leverage the opportunities that your platform provides.

During that same meeting, when senator Julie Miville-Dechêne (Quebec) pressed Fares about whether Disney had ever shared any intellectual property rights with Canadian producers, the Disney executive was evasive and ultimately did not provide a single example when Disney had shared IP rights with a Canadian producer.

What’s at stake? Fares hinted that it would be in the best interests of the Canadian government to reconsider their definitions, saying, “We hope to invest further in Canada, and a flexible regulatory regime will allow us to maximize those future investments.”

To some that may sound like a threat, to others a bribe, but the truth is that if international companies can access financial incentives in Canada, they’ll be more likely to invest there. But, if a Canadian filmmaker telling a Canadian story does so while working in a California studio with California-based artists, should they benefit from incentives designed to help the relatively less affluent Canadian media companies? And when the profits from that film go to the U.S. studio which produced it, how does Canada benefit?

And if global studios and streamers can’t benefit from incentives and rebates in Canada, might they look to other territories with looser guidelines for future productions? Fare’s comments seem to indicate that anything is possible.

Pictured at top: Turning Red

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