Canadian Independent Film Series

Rob Cosgrow and Chris Dwyer

Rob Cosgrove and
Chris Dwyer

(If anyone has knowledge of the present whereabouts of CIFS, Rob Cosgrove, or Chris Dwyer, please please contact with information...we lost them..)


Movies, or Film, as the intelligencia would rather refer to them, are a powerful social force. Unfortunately, those who look at this medium as an art form are buffeted by the media's obsession with skyrocketing production costs and revenue. Within the industry, the marketing of a movie is driven as much by the twin towers of investment and revenue, as it is by any of the esthetic parameters by which to judge what is in fact an art form.

The box office seems to be the whipping post for artistic freedom in film, and the U.S. seems to be the major forum in which this abuse is demonstrated. It is not possible to separate a movie like "Titanic" from the economic juggernaut of its film studio, and view it simply as a film. Who cares if the necklace (which Barbara Walters seems to think actually starred in the film) worn by the sentimental old woman in the submarine was modeled after one worn by princess Di?

The most basic way of appreciating a film is through its enjoyment: Did it stimulate me in any way? Or, in other words, did it leave me with a feeling of disappointment, or did it leave me breathless with my nipples poking through my T-shirt? Let's face it, large amounts of money will only stimulate the audience if it's ending up in their own pockets.

So with the major studios in America busy stroking their. .uh. wallets, Smelterchurch went to Canada to find it's first interview within the film industry. Namely, we went to The Canadian Independent Film Society, for a discussion a but the status of artistic merit in a world seemingly dominated by Hollywood. We spoke with Rob Cosgrove, the founder of the C.l.F.S. We also spoke with Chris Dwyer, who assists him.

C.L. What is the artistic mission of the CIFS?
ROB: The mandate of the CIFS is simply to actively champion the future of Canadian flimmaking through long term support and development, specifically through the ongoing screening and promotion of emerging Canadian filmmakers and through interactive educational forums. The Canadian situation seems to be antithesis of what is happening today in the UK, where the broadcasters have supported first-time feature film directors with original visions for many years. In fact, Channel Four's mandate verbally states first-time directors are their first priority. Now the British film industry is reaping the dividends from that short and long-term investment. The Full Monty, a clearly British film, competed head-to-head with Hollywood and had great success in America. Actor Ewan McGregor has recently brought together several investors to create a new British mini-studio that will complete ten British features per year, to start, with full intention of again taking on Hollywood head-to-head, and I predict with further success.

Recent years have shown a surge in the popularity, publicity, and marketability of Independent films in the United States. This is in large part due to organizations such as SUNDANCE in creating a venue for these films to be shown. Do you feel there has been a similar movement in Canada in recent years?
CHRIS: I think in Canada we're seeing small pockets of film groups springing up around the country. New festivals and co-ops are surfacing every year, fortunately some last and some don't. I think that in the terms you're speaking, I would honestly and humbly have to say that if there is such a movement happening in Canada, the CIFS is the best example of it. I bet you that in 20 years you're going to see Canada as a fierce competitor in the Hollywood market.
ROB: I suppose there has been a similar movement in Canada on a much smaller scale. Sundance is a huge springboard to success for indie features that are selected for the American-only competition. And then there's also Slamdance which can apparently do the same (and even the third one Slumdance which was also apparently a success.) Canada does not have an equivalent. The Toronto International Film Festival is a very large and successful public festival that focusses on filling seats for high profile international films, and generally not on promoting Canadian films to the world or to Canadians, or generally taking chances on emerging Canadian film talent. The Vancouver Festival, although featuring more indigenous product than TEFF, apparently does not attract very much attention from potential distributors. And I'm not sure how great a job the festival in Montreal does in promoting Canadian films to Canadians.

Is the CIFS receptive to films made by marginalized segments of society?
ROB: We are open to all Canadian filmmakers without prejudice or particular bias. The only programming limitation thus far has been our focus on narrative or story films, and even then we are very flexible. That is, we will showcase experimental or even documentary-styled narrative films or videos.
CHRIS: Of course the CIFS is receptive to marginalized influences. These combined groups make up half our population. Although we haven't come right out and labeled a show "women films only" or "the hottest gay films this side of the border," (yet) we do regularly show films of ALL nature.

The dominance of Hollywood over the worldwide film market has been pitched by the major production and distribution companies in the US How do you feel about this?
ROB: My understanding is that Hollywood dominates not only through annual excessive expenditure on marketing, promotion, advertising for each film, but also on a powerful foreign trade lobby, particularly as seen in Canada whenever Canadians attempt to gain some control of their own domestic screens.
CHRIS: When Hollywood came up here in the "20's and monopolized the exhibition venues, they had pretty much taken claim over our population as their domestic market. In 80 years, this hasn't changed. Colourful posters, television, radio, ah media is geared towards Hollywood movies. Where other countries have come to charge Hollywood admittance to their own markets, they've taken that money and put it into their own film industries. But Canada has left its doors wide open. Hollywood is here to stay, no matter how bad their movies get or how much better international films get. All we can do is give them a run for their money provide that intelligent alternative that gets Billy, Rick and Mary's dollar over seeing Titanic for the thirteenth time.

What are your thoughts on the prevalence of what is widely believed to be a single genre or formula behind the movies these "major" US film companies are producing?
ROB: I think that the problem with Hollywood is not only its preoccupation with genre films, but also it's reluctance to take some creative risks. It seems to me that ever since the blockbuster success of Star Wars, Hollywood has attempted simultaneously with each new film to both create a major "blockbuster," and to do so without taking any chances whatsoever. So the result has been the recycling of more and more mundane ideas, or the mimicking of the last minor success. The result is a great many expensive, boring films. It seems Hollywood's only hope is to cram the productions down our throats with huge expensive marketing campaigns, hoping for quick box office profits without much regard to the potential of box office longevity. Of course, this is great for independent producers who now have more opportunity than ever before to compete head to head with a stagnant Hollywood. If Hollywood returned to its tradition of creating morally ambiguous films (as last seen on a large scale in the 1970s), it would be dangerous and even more dominant than it is today. I still believe Hollywood makes the best films. It just happens that right now they're batting very very very low. "L.A. Confidential" is an example of a great Hollywood film. The heads of studios used to be fum-loving tyrants who took chances and loved the craft of filmmaking Now Hollywood is apparently controlled by talent agencies who put together "packages" without an eye to proper casting processes, and by studio heads with business backgrounds who lack both passion and vision and are unwilling to greenlight films that take chances for simple fear of losing their jobs.


Interview by Casey Landrum. Photo used from C.I.F.S. website, by permission.