Distributor FAQ: Canadian Filmmakers’ Distribution Centre

What is the Canadian Filmmakers’ Distribution Centre (CFMDC)?
The CFMDC is Canada’s oldest artist-run organization and it helps give underground and independent filmmakers a greater profile through exhibitions. It also helps to generate revenue through distribution for them.

Do you only distribute the work of Canadians?
Not at all. Predominantly, the 1,600 film title collection of the CFMDC is by Canadians, but we have films from Australia, Japan, Turkey, Germany, France, and of course, the United States.

What types of works do you distribute?
Everything. We specialize in short Canadian experimental works and films dealing with gay and lesbian issues. But we also have animation, documentary, drama, and experimental works that range from 30 seconds to feature length.

What distinguishes you from other distributors?
In North America, only the Filmmakers Co-op in New York is older than us. We definitely have the largest experimental film collection in Canada and one of the largest world-wide. We specialize in the distribution of short experimental films.

Who is CFMDC?
The CFMDC consists of three full time staff and a part-timer. This includes Barbara Goslawski, experimental film officer; Naomi McCormack, current interim executive director; and me. We also have a bookkeeper who works part time.

Where do CFMDC’s operating funds come from?
The CFMDC is financed by all three levels of the Canadian government: federal (the Canada Council for the Arts), provincial (Ontario Arts Council), and municipal (Toronto Arts Council), as well as from the sales and rentals of members’ films.

How, when, and why did CFMDC come into being?
The CFMDC was conceived in 1967 in conjunction with Canada’s 100th birthday. Montreal, the largest city in Canada in 1967, was hosting the world’s exposition fair. With the world coming to Montreal and Canada to celebrate its 100th birthday, the Canada Council for the Arts did an outreach program to the provinces. They gave out funds to the provinces, which in turn gave this money away to those individuals and groups that would promote Canadian culture and heritage.

Four Toronto experimental filmmakers—among them David Cronenberg and Lorne Michaels (executive producer of Saturday Night Live)—applied for a grant to create the CFMDC. It was necessary to create the CFMDC due to the explosion of experimental cinema in this country; therefore a “permanent home” was created to store this volume of cinema, and screenings became more accessible for the filmmaker and clients.

How many works are now in your collection?
Close to 1,600 different film titles.

Unofficial motto and driving philosophy:
Live to Give (unofficial). Give to the filmmaker and the client the best service we can possibly provide.

How are business decisions made at CFMDC?
We have policies in place that the staff implements. These state that clients who wish to exhibit works from the CFMDC must pay film rentals plus full shipping. Any other issue that may arise with no policy in effect is decided either by the executive director and/or the artist-run board of the CFMDC.

How would you describe the differences between distributing fine art or experimental media in Canada and distributing the same type of work in the United States?
Not much, to be honest. Either the client is interested in exhibiting the experimental work or not, regardless of country of origin. The only item I can think of is that titles that are uniquely Canadian sometimes have a harder time in the United States since some of the issues may not be understood by an American audience.

What would people be most surprised to learn about CFMDC?
People are definitely surprised by the founding fathers (see above).

Best known titles in CFMDC’s collection:
Wavelength by Michael Snow (experimental) and Twisted Sheets by Chris Deacon (lesbian).

Other films and filmmakers you distribute:
Joyce Wieland (Rat Life and Diet in North America); Stan Brakhage (Dog Star Man); Mike Hoolboom (Frank’s Cock); Garine Torossian (Girl From Moush); David Rimmer (Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper); and the early works of feature filmmakers such as Patricia Rozema, John Greyson, Jeremy Podeswa, and Bruce McDonald.

Upcoming titles to watch for:
The Living Room by Michael Snow, which opens with the wall completely bare, then all of these objects return from the dead with the clothes of the standing pregnant woman, who then does a strip-tease. A new feature film from Mike Hoolboom is also coming out soon.

How are most the films in your collection financed?
Through the government granting agencies, private foundations, filmmakers’ credit cards, and, for the lucky ones, through Mom and Dad.

What drives you to acquire the titles you do?
We have an open policy. We refuse no one who asks for distribution from us provided his or her film does not promote any hate crime.

How is your collection organized?
It is organized though form: experimental, drama/narrative, documentary, animation. We do have separate catalogues from the main one such as a gay/lesbian catalogue and a catalogue of films made by women only.

What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?
It really depends on the film. Experimental works are marketed through various cinematheques worldwide and other clients who are friendly to this type of cinema, queer titles to the lesbian and gay film festival circuit, and so on.

Where do CFMDC titles generally show?
Anywhere—from broadcasters to film festivals to universities to repertory theaters to community centers on a world-wide range.

How do educators and community members find out about the titles you handle?
We send out an e-mail press release to our clients announcing recent additions to the collection and also announce titles by word-of-mouth. Our web site—which includes our catalogue—has also helped considerably.

Describe your relationship with the makers you represent:
Once revenue is generated through distribution, a CFMDC “account” is set up for the filmmaker. We release the royalties to the filmmakers twice a year. Most of the filmmakers are absent from the CFMDC. We never see some of them. This is due to the fact that once a filmmaker has finished a film, he or she hands it over to a distributor while the filmmaker starts working on a new production.

Biggest change at CFMDC in recent years:
Cuts to our grants from the province of Ontario. Because we have a conservative party in control of Ontario, artists and artist organizations have seen grants to the arts cut dramatically over the past six years.

Most important issue facing CFMDC today:
Financing. Because of the cuts to our provincial grant, we now have to generate more revenue than ever through distribution.

Where will CFMDC be 10 years from now?
In a new location with a collection that will probably exceed 2,000 titles.

Other distributors which you admire:
Desi del Valle at Frameline Distribution in San Francisco (she’s pretty much a one-woman show and does a great job) and the Filmmakers’ Co-op in New York (CFMDC is based on their co-op structure).

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.

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