- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Oct 1989, p. 53-61
- Valenti, Jack, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The speaker's stated theme is: "Whichever society has a nourishing reservoir of skilled and talented young people with a mystical knowledge of the humand condition and a firm grasp of dramatic narrative, that society will be inhabited by a film industry of singular value. There is no other pathway to the creation of great films and television programs. …" A detailed discussion of this theme includes many remarks about the special relationship between Canada and the United States, and many comparative comments on the film industry in each country. The issue of government intervention. The Toronto Centre for Advanced Film Studies as an answer to government intervention. Building your industry on talent. A discussion and review of "problems" regarding American domination in Canada in the film and television industries. Illustrations of positive U.S. participation in Canada's cultural industries. Encouraging statistics and examples of Canada's achievements.
- Date of Original
- 19 Oct 1989
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- Jack Valenti President and CEO, Motion Picture Association of America
THE CINEMA FUTURE BELONGS TO THE TALENTED AND THE SKILLED AND CANADA'S FUTURE IS BRIGHT
Chairman: Sarah Band, President
Honoured guests, members of the Head Table, members of The Empire Club, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure for me to introduce Jack Valenti.
But before I address his accomplishments, let me make a few remarks to Mr. Valenti. We were very glad when you accepted our invitation Mr. Valenti, but as soon as it was known, we had a flood of phone calls which told us we had invited as guest an atrocious rascal.
You will be glad to know we had as many calls telling us you were an avenging angel.
Mr. Valenti, in Canada epithets and accolades as serious as these are usually for our political leaders. l make this explanation to you to say, you are welcome sir, no matter which hat you choose to wear today.
In Mr. Valenti we have a leader. During the Second World War he flew bombers. He earned his country's Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with four clusters. I suspect this is where he first encountered flack. He is certainly no stranger to it now. He holds a Masters degree in Business Administration from Harvard. He formed a successful advertising agency and left it to serve President Lyndon Johnson when he took office. His service to the White House ended when he became the leader of the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Motion Picture Export Association of America.
He has served these two organizations with distinction through the smooth, easy, and turbulent times of the motion picture industry. When he took the associations under his wing, movies were just that-movies. Now they appear to be everything from tiny-screen wonders, to stadium-filling extravaganzas. His is the trade association which is the voice and advocate of the industry in a hundred countries throughout the world. Mr. Valenti is no stranger to the challenges of the times. Nor has he turned his back on his association's mandate to eliminate trade restrictions; to draft international treaties; to fight for copyrights, and even lobby foreign legislatures. Mr. Valenti, you have said that you want nothing more than a free, open and fair marketplace where your stories on film and tape can compete honestly and fairly with all others. We hear your request, and we look forward with great anticipation to hearing you speak;
Ladies and gentlemen; Mr. Jack Valenti.
Mr. Jack Valenti:
Today I come to you directly from Washington D.C., the entertainment capital of the world. I visit with you as one who is preeminently and persistently fascinated by the world of Canada--particularly the Canadian political cockpit, and the writers, film makers and film artisans who reside in this land.
Norman Snider's engaging narrative, The Changing of The Guard is, as well you know, a mesmerizing account of the January 1983--September 1984 election struggle in Canada. Snider recalls how a prominent Canadian politician described one of his colleagues. "He looked like the driver of the getaway car." I am afraid that is how a good many Canadians would describe me. And yet, the more I read about Canada, the more I visit this land, the more I am drawn to the beguiling and riveting political and creative arena in this country inhabited by some remarkable men and women. I have read over the years a number of books in which myth, challenge, and reality all collaborate to illuminate a picture of Canada. It is a portrait that most Americans would find both exciting and revelatory. I am a fan of Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies, as are so many Americans. Their prose is melodious.
No one who reads those two giants can resist their magic. Incidentally, I pay them the highest compliment of which I am capable: I buy their books at full retail price.
Canadian politics and Canadian business are to me as a honey pot to a bear. I merrily absorbed Peter Newman's accounts of The Canadian Establishment, The Acquistors, The Establishment Man. I have poured over Ron Graham's OneEyed Kings as well as Richard Gwyn's The 49th Paradox. I explored the political tracings of Christina McCall Newman's Grits. Not too many Americans have the vaguest idea of what a Grit is or where the name came from. Most Americans think it is a new breakfast food, possibly a welcome substitute for oat bran. If anyone in this audience is puzzled as I was about the origin of the designation Grits, I draw your attention to page 45 of Peter Brimelow's book, The Patriot Game which I happily devoured. There you will find the answer. So you see, I have this day enlarged the knowledge of perhaps a few of you in this room.
It is one of those uncommonly whimsical acts of nature and humanity that we share a slash across a map of North America, from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. It is what Mr. Churchill, some sixty years ago, described as "that long frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, guarded '+ only by neighbourly respect, and is an example to every country and a pattern for the future of the world". I add to Mr. Churchill's graceful allusion a prayer that God will always give this geographic fortuity a special, loving care. Which is why Canadians and Americans must be especially attentive to each other's needs and anxieties.
My theme today is a simple one. It is this. Whichever society has a nourishing reservoir of skilled and talented young people with a mystical knowledge of the human condition and a firm grasp of dramatic narrative, that society will be inhabited by a film industry of singular value. There is no other;' pathway to the creation of great films and television programs. There is no short cut. There is no canon of fate that can intercede. There is no parliamentary mandate which can intercede.
Why then, if this is so, do so many countries try to invest their future in coarse regulations and artificial restrictions, all of which are barren of skills? Because, alas, there is a trampoline film theory that bounds and leaps from country to country. That theory declares that if a nation's government can build a fence around the local cinema industry, exiling or hobbling other creative works that come from beyond their border, that local industry will, by some elaborate collaboration with a divine osmosis, develop a massive attraction for local audiences. This theory depends for its life on the belief that political leaders can command great films to be made. That this theory has been amply discredited does not seem to shrink the delusion. The fact is that no heavily restricted cinema industry has ever lifted itself to world class quality. None. Films are not sausages or canned goods. They are neither bedsprings nor steel girders. Each film is unique, unlike all other films. Every time a creative group makes a new movie they create an enterprise that never existed before.
I cannot speak knowledgeably about the Canadian Parliament. But I can convey to you without any peradventure of a doubt that the American Congress is incapable of intervening in the creative or the distribution or marketing process of the film industry. The film arena is girdled round by a fragile webbing which baffles intercession by anyone except those who have special skills. When you buy a film company all you get with purchase is a library of already-completed films and a delicate, easily shatterable relationship with creative producers, writers, directors, artisans, and agents. The only warrant to the future is the ability of the people managing the enterprise. Each night these managers take home with them, in their brain and within instincts, most of the assets of the company. Which is why otherwise intelligent business barons are confused and vexed by what they find in this brittle world of the cinema. They don't teach this kind of management at the Harvard Business School. Nor, I daresay, at McGill or the University of Toronto.
Canada's answer to this flawed theory of government intervention is the Toronto Centre for Advanced Film Studies. It may well be the single most important step this nation has' ever taken to fortify its creative future. For in truth Canada has asserted its faith in its gifted young men and women. Norman Jewison, one of the world's finest film makers, the Centre's founder, and a Canadian to his core, has set this nations' cinema on the right compass course, heading upward on an ascending level of quality recognizable on every continent. The second twelve residents at the Centre, soon-to-beproducers, screenwriters, directors, are the beginning of what will become a wave of cinematographers, art directors, composers, editors and production experts. These are the talents that must be deployed if something is to be created that is fine enough to grab hold of audiences, and for a brief moment, enchant them.
In my conversations with members of the European Community, I have offered up to them the example of Canada and the Toronto Centre. I have said that in the United States, almost every truly accomplished film maker of this generation is a graduate of one of the great film schools in North America. These young men and women, the Spielbergs, the Lucases, the Coppolas, have learned their craft. They have gotten into their bones the essence of story telling on film and tape. They understand how to enthral audiences. Making a superior film is so very hard to do, which is why so few truly worthy films are exhibited anywhere. The craft of film making is the most difficult of the art forms to learn and in which to achieve greatly.
I have said, again and again to my friends in Europe, build your industry on talent. It is the only suitable seedbed from which can spring that which is creatively graceful, as well as durable. It is the cinema's only continuing resource. Do what , Canada is doing, I say, do what the U.S. did some years ago. '~ Organize one or two or three first calibre film schools. 'Encourage talented young people. Let them learn and widen and grow. Then you will have something far more spacious than shakily anchored artificial rules and regulations which have never produced a single good movie anywhere in the world. The European Community, two weeks ago, took a step backward. Over the strenuous objections of some of its members it voted for restrictions on television programming. It is a decision which has no connection to reality. One of the European Commissioners candidly admitted the vote was totally political. What this admission reveals is the vacancy between a goal of a robust competitive TV programming industry and the means to achieve that goal. How lamentable it is that what was done is not what ought to have been done.
Fine, you may be thinking, that's easy for you to say, Mr. Valenti, but let's stay close to home. Your film industry dominates us. You come in, take everything and leave nothing. Let me respond to that thought which is near the surface of things in Canada. First, the cinema is not insular. It is global. That is a realism that cannot be ignored. When Parisians or Romans or citizens of Toronto, Rio or even Wichita Falls, Texas, go to the movies, they don't say, "tonight let's go to a Canadian movie, or a French movie or an American movie." Not at all. What they do say is "let's go see a really good movie tonight." And to hell with who made it or its origins. That is the way the real world operates. Moreover, in Canada it is the Canadian move-goer who is the final arbiter of what movies he or she likes or doesn't like. I am afraid no prime minister, no president, no Congress, no Parliament can force citizens to watch something they don't want to see. In this country, as in all others, the consumer is king. All creators of visual entertainment must place their faith in the consumer. When a film maker, or a government, defies that truth, their future is put to hazard.
Second, when a producer is ready to start a movie that he or she prays will excite global audiences, that producer reaches out to the finest talent that can be attracted. Perhaps a Canadian director, a British writer, a French actor, an Italian actress. Which country they were born in has meagre value compared to the skills they bring to the production. Talented movie people are peripatetic. They go where the production is being shot.
Third, in the past five years member companies of the Motion Picture Export Association of America have added to the well-being of the Canadian economy. We have in that time contributed some two billion Canadian dollars to this marketplace. In one year, 1988, exclusive of monies derived from MPEAA member company products by Canadian wholesalers and retailers of Home Video material, TV stations advertiser income and cable systems income from pay-TV programs, the MPEAA companies contributed some one-half billion dollars to the Canadian economy in that single year. In 1988 for every dollar taken in at a Canadian theatre exhibiting an MPEAA company film, the theatre owner retained 53 cents. Between 1984 and 1988, MPEAA films' share of the Canadian theatre box office amounted to some $617 million. In those same five years, our total expenditures in Canada for prints, advertising, salaries paid to Canadian employees, operation expenses, film production costs, and Canadian taxes represented 99 percent of our Canadian revenues. According to the latest independent research, the video cassette industry in Canada, at retail, has reached $1 billion in annual revenues. MPEAA companies' revenues are 20 percent of that total.
In 1988, MPEAA companies financed 44 productions in Canada: movies, TV programs, pay TV material. Well near one a week. In fact, British Columbia and Toronto have hotter production schedules than the vast majority of communities in the United States. This generates a tremendous amount of work for Canadian film craftsmen, income for Canadian families. I offer this arithmetic to you in an affectionate recounting of precisely what we are doing in Canada, and how we provide the Canadian economy with jobs and revenues. I can assure you that Film Commissions in 40 of the 50 states of the Unites States hunger for the film and TV production that we have assembled on Canadian soil with Canadian artists and craftsmen.
In the years 1986 through 1987, Canada produced an average of 34 films. Like those in the U.S., some were very good, some were average and some were not so good. Because we produce many more films in the U.S. than Canada, our box score of good to bad is worse than yours. Within your country you have bred some of the best artists in the world: Superb actors like Donald Sutherland, Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, William Shatner, John Candy, Leslie Nielsen, Genevieve Bujold, Rae Dawn Chong, Chris Makepeace, Al Waxman, Lloyd Bochner. Your roster of directors takes a back seat to no land: Norman Jewison, Ivan Reitman, Lorne Michaels, Norman McLaren, Gilles Caries, David Cronenberg, Denys Arcand, Sandra Wilson, Daryl Duke, Bob Clark. Your producers are among the best: Robert Lantos, Andre Link, Rene Malo, Peter O'Brian, Peter Simpson, Jon Slan, Pierre David, Harold Greenberg.
Films like "Jesus of Montreal", "The Gate", "The Tadpole and the Whale", "Decline of the American Empire", "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing", "Care Bears", and many others are shining examples of cinema skills ascending to the highest level of quality.
And so I end as I began, a fascinated student of Canadian history and politics, an admirer of Canada's talented directors, producers, actors, some of whom are close and loving friends of mine. Most of all I am overjoyed at the birth of the Toronto Centre for Advanced Film Studies. It is sure to be the creative reservoir for your free and competitive landscape, from which you will draw a generation of skilled story tellers. Some of them will take wings to electrify and enchant audiences all over the world.
The Toronto Centre will do more for your national pride, as well as your fiscal ledgers, than all the trade barriers which can be devised. This Canadian nation, and all who live in it, is the single best neighbour, friend, ally and trading partner that the U.S. has or will ever have. It is in both our long term best interests that we hold fast to each other for we need each other. At times we may quarrel, we may disagree but, in the end of it all, we must embrace each other in trust and affection. Which is precisely the spirit in which I come among you on this day.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Nona Macdonald, Director, Canadian Stage Company and a Past President of The Empire Club of Canada.