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Canada Screens our homegrown talent

First Weekend Club partners with NFB on video service
Guy Maddin
Canada Screens new on-demand, online video library features films such as Keyhole by Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin. Maddin’s first digital work won the Best Canadian Film Award at the 2011 Whistler Film Festival.

Scrolling through the video-on-demand selection on the Canada Screens website, you'd be forgiven if you hadn't heard of a lot of the titles.

Most Canadian films receive a limited theatre release and, with video rental stores nearing extinction and most online streaming services offering little by way of Canuck content, even the proudest inhabitants of the Great White North may be unaware of the homegrown cinematic talent that surrounds them.

That's precisely why the First Weekend Club, in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada, introduced Canada Screens, a new on- demand service that allows anyone with Internet access to watch Canadian feature films at

Lynn Valley resident Anita Adams is the executive director of the FWC, a non-profit organization that has been supporting and promoting Canadian movies since 2003.

"Our mandate is to build audiences for Canadian films and the reality is that a lot of Canadian films - most Canadian films - open in Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal," she explains. A handful will open in smaller markets such as Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg or Victoria, she says. "Beyond that, Canadian films don't get a theatrical opening and those theatrical openings are the only places people really get a chance to see a Canadian film." Launched on April 16, Canada Screens currently has about 50 titles ranging from new releases (David Cronenberg's Maps to the

Stars) to French Canadian fare (Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar) to a healthy assortment of Michael Dowse titles (Goon and Fubar, to name a couple) all available to rent for $3.99 to $5.99.

In a unique twist, the Canada Screens movie library has been carefully curated by a dozen notable Canadian filmmakers and actors such as Paul Gross, Zoie Palmer and Atom Egoyan, each of whom have put forward their own top movie picks.

"A lot of people, they just don't know Canadian films, but they may know Jason Priestley or Tatiana Maslany or Sarah Polley - they recognize these names and recognize them as talented filmmakers and actors," Adams says. The celebrity recommendations add a personal touch that Adams hopes will be more helpful to viewers than a computer- generated "if you liked this, you might like these" kind of referral system.

Canada Screens has been five years in the making. After a few disappointments getting the project off the ground, a chance encounter in France last year got things back on track. Adams attended a trade show in Cannes where she connected with Deborah Drisdell, a former NFB director, who was looking for content partners. A couple of months later, the two met for a glass of wine in Paris at Café de Flore (which, incidentally, is the title of a 2011 Canadian film by Jean-Marc Vallée) to iron out the details. Entertainment distribution company eOne soon came on board, offering Canada Screens access to its extensive catalogue of Canadian content.

"After five years of trying to do this, all the elements fell into place and here we are," Adams says.

Currently, the available movie titles on Canada Screens are geo-blocked outside the country, but Adams hopes to introduce the on-demand service to international markets within the next year or so. She expects the library of on-demand films to grow based on curator suggestions, and older titles will be added as they are digitized, but there are no plans to expand the collection exponentially.

"It's very selective. We are a boutique service. We're not trying to be Netflix by putting thousands of titles online. We're being slow and deliberate about the films that we want to have here."

Asked to name her personal favourite Canadian film, Adams is hard-pressed to pick just one.

"The F Word, Edwin Boyd, The Trotsky," she rattles off quickly, "those are some of the first titles that pop into my mind."