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It is not a secret that Canadians aren’t typically fans of our own cinema. We want to like it, but somehow we just don’t. The problem is, many Canadians don’t know when they’re watching Canadian film, let alone a good one, despite the fact that we continue to make more films that rival those of Hollywood every year. With our collective Canadian perception of English language films being so predominantly negative, what hope can their possibly be for the Canadian film industry?

Enter Sharon Corder and Jack Blum, two veterans of the Canadian film industry who wanted to open the country’s eyes to the world of great cinema we create and they thought there was no better place to start than with our kids. Together they founded REEL CANADA, an organization that takes Canadian films into Canadian schools with events that really get teens excited. The REEL CANADA catalogue has a wealth of age appropriate Canadian films that are interesting, innovative and exciting, and the best part of the event is that students get to program the movies they want to see.

Blum and Corder have been running REEL CANADA festivals in schools since 2005, often bringing filmmakers and special guests to enhance the experience. Since their first festival they have expanded into educational resources and English as a second language programs as well. Most importantly, they provide all these services free of charge to schools, something that is a fundamental part of the REEL CANADA model.

Name: Sharon Corder

Occupation: Artistic Director, REEL CANADA

Describe your job in 10 words or less:

I’m responsible for the overall direction of the organization, including programming.

Describe what led you to this job:

I was dismayed at the lack of general awareness of the wonderful films this country has produced, a condition – it seemed obvious to me – caused by a lack of access to those films through the commercial distribution system. A logical place to start correcting that problem was with the teenage audience that is the hardest to reach in the Hollywood-dominated marketplace, and the logical way to reach them was our educational system. We’ve recently expanded the program to include newcomers to Canada. We founded REEL CANADA to address these problems, and the results have been extremely rewarding.

What do you like best about your job?

The best part is seeing how excited our audiences get as they discover not only the country’s cinema but also its unique culture, often for the first time.

What’s the most challenging part about your job?

Two aspects are extremely challenging: first, navigating an incredibly large and complex education system and finding ways to tailor events to the needs of individual schools. Second, trying to work with the busy schedules of our filmmakers to get as many as possible out to our events in person (or even via Skype) to talk to the audiences after the screenings.

Describe a “typical” day in programming a REEL CANADA event:

There’s no such thing. Although there are common factors, every single event is unique because every school is a different community with its own needs and demands: rural, urban, unusually diverse, economically challenged, ESL, francophone, aboriginal, etc. – each of these present different challenges. Also, different teachers and principals have varying abilities to organize and execute the demands we place on them. So, “typical” is just not a word that applies.

Why do you think it’s important for REEL CANADA to exist?

Honestly, I believe that if we don’t nurture and explore new ways of reaching audiences in this country – like REEL CANADA – we soon won’t have a film industry to celebrate. We will never be able to compete head on with the billions of dollars Hollywood can throw at promoting their products.

What do you think the biggest misconception about Canadian film is?

Depends on who you’re talking about. New Canadians have very little conception at all. The feedback we get from high school audiences varies: either they’ve never thought about the idea of Canadian film and don’t realize that virtually all the films they see come from a different country, or they have an idea that Canadian films are badly made (the phrase “shaky camera” seems to come up with some regularity), boring or “arty” and pretentious. The vast majority are delighted to find out how wrong those misconceptions are.

Tell us your favourite Canadian film or filmmaker:

I admire so many of our filmmakers, both fiction and documentary. One of the great pleasures of my job is getting more familiar with Québécois cinema. My own tastes run all the way from a film like Bernard Emond’s All That Your Possess to  Michael Dowse’s Goon, and certainly going back to include classics like The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Mon Oncle Antoine, etc. I’m digging myself into a hole here because the more films I mention that more I realize I’m leaving out. The REEL CANADA catalogue includes all the films I love that we can show to high school audiences. And there’s a whole lot more, equally beloved, that we can’t! My own personal quirk: I adore pretty well anything made by the NFB in the 1950s and ‘60s.

What aspect of Toronto would you immortalize on film and why?

Practically any of its wonderful history, so badly ignored. In fact, with my partner Jack Blum, I have researched and been developing a major project based on the worst natural disaster in Canadian history – the Great Heat Wave of 1936, which killed 150 people in Toronto alone and hundreds more across the province. The more we delved into it, the more fascinated we became by what we discovered – gambling, Chinese Opera, eccentric millionaires and a host of characters as colourful as any from Richler’s Montreal. Unknown as it is, any of it would be great on film.

Movie snack: sweet or savoury?

Both.

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