The American Film Institute, just turning 20 years old, has sent a lengthening list of creative talents into film making, including David Lynch ("Blue Velvet"), Randa Haines ("Children of a Lesser God") and Paul Schrader ("Mishima"), among many others.
The AFI's success has not escaped the Canadian-born producer-director Norman Jewison ("In the Heat of the Night," "A Soldier's Story"). Jewison, who now divides his time between Los Angeles and a farm near Toronto, where he produces ambrosial maple syrup, has become the prime mover in the formation of the Canadian Centre for Advanced Film Studies, modeled on the AFI, the British Film Institute and other national post-post-graduate operations.
At a luncheon in Los Angeles earlier this week, Jewison and his co-chairman, Garth Drabinsky of Cineplex-Odeon theaters, gave a progress report on the Canadian Centre.
The plans were announced only last November, but the center has already acquired a site: Windfields, the 22-acre estate of the Canadian philanthropist E. P. Taylor at North York, Ontario. Taylor, who owned the famous thoroughbred Northern Dancer, now lives in the Bahamas.
The center takes occupancy of Windfields in October and will be ready to receive its first 12 residents, as they will be called, in January. Unlike the AFI interns, they will pay no tuition, but they will have to be financially self-sufficient for their two years at the center.
The financing of the center is also well-launched. A $500,000 donation from the Charles Rosner Bronfman Foundation was announced at a gala premiere of Gordon Pinsent's "John and His Missus" in February. At the same event, the Canadian minister of communications, Flora MacDonald, presented just over $1 million in checks from the federal government.
There has already been help as well, Jewison says, from the provincial and local governments. Following the AFI example, the center will also have a program of screening and other events for its support groups.
But at the luncheon, Jewison and Drabinsky were also making a pitch for American film industry support for the center. Slightly tongue in cheek, Jewison pointed out that the American industry has always had a strong Canadian connection.
"If Jack Warner's traveling-salesman father hadn't moved to the United States from London, Ontario, there would've been no Warner Bros. studio. If Louis B. Mayer had been successful as a junk dealer in Nova Scotia, he wouldn't have become head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer."
He ran a litany of Canadian-born film personalities, from Mary Pickford, Marie Dressler, Buster Keaton and Ruby Keeler to a present generation that includes Donald Sutherland (chairman of the center's board of directors), Christopher Plummer, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Margot Kidder and Michael J. Fox, and such directors as Arthur Hiller and Ivan Reitman. He could have added himself.
"The U.S.," Jewison told his audience, "will profit as much as Canada will, because excellence in film making is what every studio, distributor and exhibitor is after: movies that people see."
The center will seek what it calls mature Canadians, which is to say candidates who already have some relevant experience under their belts. Among the 500 applications already received are some from young film makers who have a credit or two to their names.
He also has, Jewison says, a gratifying list of volunteers for his faculty.
"Other countries have made it happen. If the Australians can make films that dominate the world market, so can we. Who knows--maybe there's a 'Crocodile Dundee' lurking in the backwoods of Chicoutami."
There are significant differences, of course, not least in the geographic isolation of Australia, the proximity of Canada. The secret of the success of Australian films over the last two decades has been that indigenous Australian story material, from "My Brilliant Career" to "Breaker Morant," has proved to have universal appeal.
But with the general exception of its French-language films and a handful of others, the Canadian product has said Hollywood louder than it has said Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Edmonton. The border-straddling results have too often, in a phrase, been neither here nor there.
One hope for the center is that it will encourage the creating not simply of a sleeker international product but of films exploring distinctly Canadian themes and concerns. The United States and the world audience have a vested interest in that, too. As the best, and most local, Canadian and Australian films have proved, there is nothing like a look at our seeming differences to remind us of our common dreams.
Jewison has no doubt of this. "Feature films drive television and all media," he said at the luncheon. "They reflect the country, sometimes reveal the truth its artists have discovered. They create a country's myths, celebrate its victories and its heroes and sweep across borders into the minds of others. The importance and scope of movies, television and videocassettes today is overwhelming. All of this industry is driven by talent, and all of us must do what we can to build that inventory of talent."