Who would have thought that L’écrivain public—a show denouncing austerity measures at the expense of the population—would have achieved such far-reaching success? Celebrated locally, the series was also acclaimed in New York, Bilbao, Seoul and Buenos Aires. Our local story of compassion and devotion shows how important it is to share our realities. Right now, the climate emergency isn’t our only problem—we’re also facing a cultural emergency.
Last fall, I was a speaker at the World Conference of Screenwriters in Berlin. I came home deeply shaken by the experience. Everywhere in the world, public television broadcasters are under siege and being silenced by Netflix. Some ventured to say that national cultures are doomed to disappear within the next two years. If the BBC, whose public funding is much better than ours, is expressing concern, then we have every reason to be worried.
Nobody expected things to change so fast. In my late 20s, I was a director for Politiquement Direct on MusiquePlus; who would have thought this wonderful melting pot of culture, art and essays would disappear so quickly? At Radio-Canada, just a few years ago, there was an entire floor dedicated to sociocultural shows, and another devoted to variety shows. Que reste-t-il de nos amours? Nowadays, we have far too many specialty channels, which represent niches that are losing popularity. In the past, a television season would have up to 39 episodes, but over time, that number decreased to 26, then 13, and today, many screenwriters create no more than six. We have moved from documentary series to one-time documentaries; from television theatre to reality TV, without actors or stories to pass on to future generations.
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Skeptics of “cultural change” will argue that there have never been so many television programs. Does this include junk TV? Yes, documentaries, fictional series, and variety shows are still being made, but do people actually watch them? Our culture is melting like the Arctic pack ice, engulfed by American productions.
How can we bring our series to new audiences? When I teach at UQAM or visit high schools as a guest artist, too many students admit to being on YouTube and Netflix. Over the years, I have seen awareness of local productions steadily decrease. We lack the ever important discoverability needed to promote and disseminate our content, since we do not have the financial means of the big tech companies. Our governments are also to blame for neglecting to enforce standards on foreign digital corporations, which are still free from any regulations as I write this. The few Canadian series and films that make it onto these platforms are buried among tens of thousands of other works, and often suffer from comparisons given their lower budgets.