Super 8 Filmmaker John Porter, Toronto, Canada
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All films & videos exhibited or
distributed must be classified
The Chair (Mr. Shafiq Qaadri): I would now invite our next presenter, Mr. John Porter, if he is in the room. Mr. Porter comes to us in his capacity as a private individual. Sir, I remind you that you have approximately 10 minutes in which to offer your presentation. Please be seated. If there is any time remaining, it will be evenly distributed amongst the parties afterward for questions. If you might identify yourself, you have 10 minutes. Please begin.
Mr. John Porter: Thank you for allowing me to speak. My name is John Porter. I have been a filmmaker in Toronto for 37 years, but I have never worked in the film industry. I consider myself to be a fine artist, like a painter, but one who works in the medium of personal film. My films are personal because, like paintings, they are made by one person. I perform all the tasks: writing, acting, directing, photography, editing and financing. Financing is easy because, like paintings, my films cost about $50 each, so I'm able to make many each year, just like a painter. I've made 300 films, each one just a few minutes long, about as long as some people look at a painting. I show my films in art galleries and film festivals and I have received arts grants, including from the Ontario Arts Council.
Most fine artists produce work primarily as a form of expression, not to make a profit. We would like to earn a living from our art, but that is secondary. We produce to suit ourselves and then hope to find an audience. Most artists must earn a living and finance their work by taking regular jobs like driving a taxi, waiting tables, teaching or arts administration. I was a letter carrier for five years and a bicycle courier for 10 years and I get occasional work teaching and publishing, in addition to my artist's fees and grants.
My films cost so little to make because I make and show them on silent 8mm and Super 8 film, the old home movie formats before video. I don't like video and I choose to not use it, in the same way that an oil painter chooses to not use acrylic paint or watercolour, or a stone sculptor chooses to not use wood.
Last week, the Toronto Star published a full-page article about Super 8 film enduring as an art form, and I am quoted extensively in it. This is a photograph of me performing in one of my films in 1981. I have provided copies of this article for you.
One thing that makes Super 8 film inexpensive is that you can exhibit the same roll of film that was in the camera without making a copy, just like video. It's not a negative, as with larger film formats; it's a positive or reversal image, like 35-millimetre slides. It's the camera-stock film. It's the original, one-of-a-kind film, just like an original painting, and I prefer to exhibit my originals, just like a painter. They look better than any copy. So I don't make copies, partly to save money. I would rather spend money making new films than copies of old ones. Showing the original film also allows it to be exhibited just hours after shooting it, like an improvised performance.
So I handle my fragile, precious, original films with great care, usually preferring to travel with them and oversee the projecting, and never sending them away to strangers with strange projectors. I do not submit my films for classification to the Ontario Film Review Board, and none of my fellow film and video artists do, which means that all of our screenings are either illegal and underground, so we can't publicize them very much -- and in fact we can't talk about them in some circles -- or they are automatically classified as Restricted, regardless of the content of the work. Anyone under the age of 18 cannot attend. But my films are perfect for all ages, and I have done screenings for children. Children like my films and I like having children in my audience.
I have been protesting Ontario's film classification laws since 1979, when the review board began requiring the classification of personal film and video art such as mine. In 1983, I was devastated to see my 9-year-old nephew turned away from a solo screening and performance of my films at an art gallery in Peterborough, Ontario, where he lived, because my films had not been submitted for classification. He was disappointed and confused, wondering what was wrong with my films that he wasn't allowed to see them. He never got another chance to see his uncle's show, and now that he is living permanently in Dublin, Ireland, he may never get another chance. The Ontario government took that one special family occasion away from us forever, and I will never forgive them for that. Since then, I have been passionately consumed with fighting this law, as you can see.
It continues to break my heart, witnessing many other such incidents at public screenings over the years. Other film and video artists bring young family members to their own screenings, but are turned away even though the films are appropriate. This hurts even more when I see that my artist friends who work in other art disciplines, like painting, writing, music, dance and theatre, are not required to submit to forced prior classification of their work. It's discrimination. I have done nothing wrong. I have never been in trouble with the law. What have I done to deserve being treated by my own provincial government like a convicted pornographer on parole? I'm required to check with my local review board before I'm allowed to show my films to children. lt's degrading, and my only crime has been that I chose to work in film or video. Out of respect for myself, my family and my life's work, I can never accept this law.
I said that I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council, but since the incident with my nephew in 1983, I stopped applying for Ontario grants. I felt that Ontario was rewarding its film and video artists with one hand and slapping us on the wrist with the other. It's paternalistic and I don't want your support under those conditions.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Porter. We have approximately two minutes. Mr. Kormos, if you might begin.
Mr. Kormos: Mr. Porter, your submission, after hearing from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, adds to the increasingly compelling arguments to not support Bill 158. New Democrats opposed it on second reading. I am intrigued by the proposal by Judge Juriansz in his Glad Day decision -- his contemplation of yet one step further from, let's say, Manitoba, to which he made frequent reference -- and that was the category of unclassified, which then is caveat emptor. You'd better be satisfied that you have a reasonably good idea of what's in it before you take your seven-year-old kid. The onus is upon you. If film classification is truly to be about merely consumer advice rather than backdoor censorship, we have to have the classification of uncategorized, otherwise it becomes censorship by the requirement of classification.
Section 7 will be ruled unconstitutional by the court.
If you have any doubt about what the Court of Appeal will say, think
about this. Judge Juriansz is now on the Court of Appeal, so that should
give you some idea of where the Court of Appeal is going to be. But
the next stage is to challenge the requirement that the film be submitted
for classification. If it's truly consumer advisory, there wouldn't
be a requirement because there would be the class of caveat emptor.
There is nothing in this bill that says it's going to be against the
law to sell a XXX movie, you know, Debbie Does Dallas -- I'm dating
myself -- to a kid, never mind SpongeBob SquarePants or whatever the
name of that particular character is.
Mr. Porter: I'd like to add that I would like to see in the act, and not in the regulations, which can be changed more easily, a category for unclassified films. People can choose not to submit for classification, and that is a warning to parents or anyone going out to screenings of an unclassified film: beware. All we would lose by not getting a classification is extensive commercial distribution, which we're not that interested in and wouldn't get anyway.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Porter, for your testimony.
The Chair: I would now invite our next presenter, Ms. Linda Feesey, who is the president of Pleasure Dome. Ms. Feesey, please introduce yourself to the committee. I'd remind you that you have approximately 15 minutes in which to offer your deputation. If there's any time remaining, it will be distributed evenly among the parties. Please begin.
Ms. Linda Feesey: Good morning, members of the justice committee. I am Linda Feesey, president of the board of directors of the Artists Film Exhibition Group of Ontario, which presents film and video programming under the name Pleasure Dome.
Pleasure Dome is a non-profit, artist-run organization. We are one of over 100 film and video festivals and exhibitors spread over the province who are dedicated to screening artists' film and video to the public. The films and videos we present are independent, non-commercial, local and international, contemporary, historical, experimental, innovative, short and feature length, all made by artists to be viewed in the context of larger historical trends within the production of art worldwide. We believe that our programming is being inadvertently subject to the legal implications of Bill 158. The Theatres Act is designed to govern the commercial film and video industry, not independent media arts.
Pleasure Dome consists of one paid program coordinator, 12 volunteer board members who are the programming collective, a computer, a Super 8 film projector, a DVD player and some cords. It is financially supported by three levels of government through the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. Founded in 1989, Pleasure Dome is one of the oldest media arts exhibitors in Ontario. We program 20 events in a year-round screening series, and I want to stress that each event is unique.
Pleasure Dome is an important contributor to the independent media arts in Ontario. We nurture the development of Ontario curators and their critical writing. The 12 members of the programming collective choose work and themes for each show. They write program notes and curatorial essays.
Pleasure Dome has published five books on media art and individual artists. Pleasure Dome nurtures the further development of Ontario artists. We pay to present their work to the public. Through commissioning grants, we pay for the creation of new works and their dissemination. We often bring artists to Toronto from within Canada and abroad to discuss their work, and we pay for their travel. We provide a forum for a dialogue with the international film and video community, so that our audience can evaluate contemporary, theoretical and aesthetic issues.
Pleasure Dome's principal audience is Toronto's ever-expanding
film and video community. Also, the student body at a number of media
arts programs, including OCAD, Ryerson University, University of Toronto,
York University and Sheridan College, are all part of Pleasure Dome's
The intent of Bill 158 and the current Theatres Act is to govern the exhibition and distribution of commercial film and video, and its measures are not appropriate for independent media art. The film and video artwork created and exhibited by our community is non-commercial and intended for cultural purposes. We request that our sector be written out of the Ontario Theatres Act. This would be a better solution than the current regime of exemptions in the regulations and more in keeping with last year's judgment, Regina v. Glad Day.
Pleasure Dome -- this is our policy -- does not submit its film and video programming for prior approval by any censoring bodies. Bill 158 effectively renders our screenings illegal. We do not submit works for classification because it is a form of prior restraint that infringes on our charter right to freedom of expression. We are ideologically opposed to censorship in any form.
There are also practical considerations. As stated in the Ontario Superior Court judgment, prior approval is a financially and administratively burdensome practice. This is especially so for our type of administratively thin organization, not to mention discriminatory, as other art disciplines are not required to submit their work for prior classification. It is an unnecessary and costly administrative burden to Pleasure Dome, because we exhibit works only once and usually show many short films at an event. Often the work of a touring international artist is brought directly to the screening, so there's no window of time for prior approval.
The regulations attached to the previous Theatres Act
provided exemptions to art galleries, libraries, educational institutions
and festivals if they posted a sign restricting admission to those 18
years or older. We object to any kind of age restriction on our audience.
Much of the work is appropriate for educating all ages in the arts,
yet the law prohibits access to younger audiences for the sectors exempted
in the regulations. Programmers and curators are well-educated, responsible
citizens who are capable of self-regulating and are in the best position
to make decisions about access to the work. An interest in art is a
process of intellectual development that starts in childhood or adolescence.
No one who chooses to be an artist or art historian sees their first
painting at age 18. Also, books, paintings and other cultural products
are not subject to prior approval.
Now I'd like to show you an example of our work, of something that we've shown. It's a commissioned piece by artist Judith Doyle. She's also a teacher at OCAD. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring the one that I did cite, because it's in the PAL format, which is European. You're going to see something on the history of the moving image and also some great footage shot in our own Beaches neighbourhood.
The Chair: How long is this video?
Ms. Feesey: I'm not sure. You can cut it off if we're going over.
Ms. Feesey: That's the end.
The Chair: We've got one minute remaining, and we'll start with the government side. No questions? Mr. Martiniuk?
Mr. Martiniuk: No questions.
The Chair: Mr. Kormos, one minute please.
Mr. Kormos: Don't go away, please. I'm curious as to why you place exemptions first and then you sort of say, "Maybe an unclassified provision."
Ms. Feesey: That would be our second choice.
Mr. Kormos: Why wouldn't you go full blast into proposing a category of films that have not been submitted for classification? Would you rather have an exemption, or would you rather have this broader category of film not submitted for classification -- without any presumption of it being adult material? The first submitter today was the fellow who was involved, presumably, in the distribution of adult movies -- because again, the church choir singing could be a film not submitted for classification, as readily as something one of your colleagues produced.
The Chair: You have just about a minute, Ms. Feesey, please.
Ms. Feesey: I think what we'd like to see is somehow to have the law written so that it just does not address our sector at all, because we're non-commercial. If it can be written just to cover things that are within the industry, within commercial venues, that would be the first choice. Is that possible?
Mr. Kormos: Anything's possible. It's a matter of political will. I get you, but I don't know.
Ms. Feesey: But our second choice is the unclassified category for our type of non-commercial artist, educational film and video.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Feesey, for your deputation, as well as the film.
ARCCO NewsFlash: ADVOCACY ALERT - ACT
To all non-profit arts organizations and individuals
in Ontario who support film or video:
Please send your own version of the attached letter, signed by you and / or your organization, to your MPP - a link to their email addresses can be found below - and especially to Minister of Consumer and Business Affairs, Hon. Jim Watson, as soon as possible. Please adapt it to suit you in any way. (For example, individual supporters will need to change the "we are"s to "I am").
Organizations are strongly encouraged to request meetings with Minister Watson and / or his Executive Assistant, which can be better. Please feel free to contact Roberto Ariganello (director at lift dot on dot ca) or John Porter (416-532-5129) with any questions or for assistance. Please pass the sample letter and this covering letter to anyone else. The more supporters, the better! Thank you.
We are an ad hoc coalition of artists and Board / Staff members of non-profit media arts organizations in Ontario, most of them member organizations of the Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA). On March 7th, 2005, two of us met with Rosario Marchese, who is the NDP Culture Critic and MPP for Trinity-Spadina, which includes more non-profit arts organizations and artists than any other Ontario riding.
- Roberto Ariganello, Executive Director,
Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT), and Alternate
Board Member, IMAA, Ontario Region.
Ontario MPPs contact information is available here.
The Government of Ontario is currently debating Bill 158 (the new Film Classification Act) in its third and final reading, and we are writing to you as concerned members of Ontario’s non-profit arts community. This community includes many film and video festivals, production co-ops, distribution centres, artist-run galleries and independent artists. Many of them are funded by the Ontario Government, and represented by the national Independent Media Arts Alliance (IMAA) or provincial Artist-Run Centres and Collectives of Ontario (ARCCO). We were eager to see how the Government would respond legislatively to the Ontario Superior Court decision of April 30, 2004 which struck down the existing law.
Regrettably, Bill 158 does little to ease our concerns. The scope of the law effectively renders most public screenings of non-profit film and video illegal, because a vast number of non-profit media arts organizations are required to submit works for classification. As stated in the Ontario Superior Court Judgment, this practice is financially and administratively burdensome for these already over-worked organizations, not to mention discriminatory, as other art disciplines are not required to submit their work for prior classification. Many organizations across the province simply cannot submit work because of their geographical distance from the Review Board in Toronto, because the work is one-of-a-kind or fragile, or because it is brought at the last minute by the touring artist.
A Regulation in the old Act exempted Government-funded film and video festivals, visual art galleries and libraries, alleviating the need to submit work for classification, but in exchange for restricting admittance to people 18 years of age or older, regardless of the content of the work. Unfortunately, such a Regulation prohibits the non-profit arts community in their attempts to promote film and video art to Ontario youth and children.
The film and video art work created and exhibited by our community is primarily non-commercial and intended for cultural purposes. A vast majority of the work is appropriate for arts education programs and all ages, yet the law prohibits access for these audiences. Programmers and curators are well-educated, responsible citizens who are capable of self-regulating, and are in the best position to make decisions about access to the work. What training in contemporary media art do the people at the Film Review Board have?
So far the debate from all sides in the Legislature on Bill 158 has been entirely about the film industry. Nobody has spoken on behalf of the non-profit arts community. We demand to be heard.
We call for public consultations with the aim of amending Bill 158 as currently drafted, in order to remove non-profit media art from the Film Classification Act altogether, or to create an "Unclassified" category in the Act, not in the Regulations. To allow for these consultations, we also call for the government to request the three month extension of the bill’s deadline offered in the Judgment.
ARCCO April 14 2005 NewsFlash Credits