Founder and Festival Director
Canadian Film Fest
Bern Euler, Founder and Festival Director, started the Canadian Film Fest out of frustration from not being able to easily access Canadian movies in theatres. He made it his mission to help promote, celebrate, and market this country’s films. After holding a short film festival in 2003, he managed to generate interest from various industry and corporate professionals to put on a much bigger event – hence the birth of the Canadian Film Fest. His almost unhealthy love for movies and love of the Great White North drives him to make his dream of elevating Canadian culture a reality. Bern also works as an editor and has cut 3 feature films, various shorts and numerous corporate videos.
Interview conducted on 03/06/2017 (Telephone Interview)
throwdown815: Just to start off, how long has the festival been going on for?
Bern Euler (Canadian Film Fest): This will actually be our 11th year of the festival, and we've had two iterations of the festival. We went from 2004-2008, but when the economy nose-dived in 2008, sponsorships just dried up, so we went on hiatus for a bit. Came back in 2012, and since then, especially with the help of social media, we've been growing a lot, every single year.
td815: Okay. And who actually started the festival? Was it a government initiative or more of a grassroots initiative?
BE: No, it was just me. I thought, oh show some movies, throw a party, how hard can that be?
td815: That's pretty amazing! But what prompted you to start the festival?
BE: Honestly, it was just not being able to see any Canadian movies in the movie theatres. I just thought it was ridiculous. So I just wanted to help out, and I was trying to get into the industry myself, as a writer and as an editor or whatever. I wanted to meet people as well, but mostly just to show off our movies.
td815: Right. And is organizing the festival a full time job for you?
BE: No, this is a part-time job. It's full-time when I'm doing it, but right now it's like a half-a-year job.
td815: And just in terms of other film festivals that are similar to the Canadian Film Festival, you know TIFF has their top ten kind of screenings series every year. What makes the Canadian Film Festival unique compared to maybe some other festivals that have a bit of overlap with the content or type of films.
BE: What we're doing here is only showing Canadian movies as you know. We do shorts and features. We do parties of course, because every festival has to have some good parties. So we throw some great parties. And we also have the industry series. The industry series is a big reason why we stand out, and we serve as a guide for Canadian filmmakers. We are heavily trafficked by filmmakers, and we program things specifically for them, so that we have a chance to get together and talk things out. There's no VIP rooms here at this festival ever. We have no time for pretentiousness like that. That would get in the way of Canadian filmmakers, like up and coming emerging filmmakers rubbing elbows with established filmmakers, because we're all artists and we should all be getting together. So that's the difference with us, compared with other festivals. We are here for our filmmakers. And we are doing our best to showcase their talent, and to help facilitate the growth of their talents.
td815: That's great to hear. Now, in terms of screenings versus workshops and parties, what would you say is the main focus of the festival?
BE: You know what, I'm taking care of three groups of people. I'm taking care of theatre goers. People who just want to go to the movies and watch a cool movie. So that's the general population. Then I'm also taking care of filmmakers, who want a place to meet other filmmakers, and a place to show their stuff, and also a place to meet people in the industry. And industry people are the third group of people that we take care of. So that includes people like post production houses, or equipment rental places, like William F. White, for example. And if we take care of each of those three groups of people, then that has been what has really supported us all these years. Because if one of those groups comes, then the other two want to come.
td815: I see. And just in terms of the audiences themselves, would you say that most people who attend the film festival are Canadian, or do you have a large international crowd as well?
BE: It's mostly a local Canadian crowd, but we do have people that come from outside the province with their films.
td815: For my own learning, just how much Canadian content is out there? You said the festival has been growing, does that mean that you've been getting more and more submissions every year?
BE: Yeah, every year our submissions go up. It's getting harder and harder. Even this next year we had to have an earlier deadline because it was almost too many submissions. A great problem to have!
td815: Oh, for sure! Going through the festival schedule this year. It looks like there's a lot of amazing movies being screened. Is it possible to see these movies in theatres normally? I haven't heard of the majority of them.
BE: Very rarely, because it's so hard to get movies made, and into theatres. We don't have marketing budgets that Hollywood movies do. Even if a movie does make it into a theatre, there's no marketing behind it. How are people going to know it even exists? That's one reason why we exist.
td815: But would you say that film distribution for Canadian films is improving? Or is is getting worse because of Hollywood becoming even more dominant?
BE: I'll give you my opinion on it which is not going to be based on any kind of recent facts. I would like to keep that in mind, that this is my opinion based on what I've experienced in the film world. It's just as hard as it always was. Again, it comes down to money. We don't have budgets like they do in the states. That's why so many of us move to the states to pursue our careers. It's because that's where the money is. Even though Toronto is a huge place to make movies, lots of those productions come up from the states. I wouldn't even say that's good or bad. That's just what it is. We don't have the population or the money that the states has to keep that machine going. But Toronto has tax credits, and we're very friendly to film production. We have very amazing crews that have worked on tons of stuff. Here and in Montreal, and also Vancouver and Halifax. Well, the East coast provinces kind of got hit hard by the removal of the tax breaks. But still, that is something that we can use to help us today. It's a very complicated answer because it's a very complicated question.
td815: For sure. And if there were a venue that screened Canadian content exclusively 365 days a year, that would be pretty amazing. But I'm guessing something like that doesn't exist?
BE: It doesn't exist. I talk to people at Cineplex, for example, and they're all for supporting Canadian content and filmmakers. They really are. The problem is, if no one goes to see a movie, they really can't keep an empty cinema going. There's only so many people that you can reach through social media to go out and see a movie. If you don't have a million dollars in marketing money, like tons and tons of Hollywood movies do, then how are you going to get word out to people? It's a tough one.
td815: So it's basically not a problem that's going to fix itself in the next couple of years.
BE: Exactly, this has been going on for a long time.
td815: And just in terms of Toronto's film festival culture, do you work and collaborate with a lot with the other festivals around the city?
BE: Yeah, sure. I collaborate all the time with Toronto After Dark, or Blood in the Snow. I've also done stuff with Planet in Focus. We're all in the same boat, so we all help each other out as much as possible.
td815: Would you say that Toronto's film festival culture is something that's growing?
BE: I think every year it's growing. I know we are. There are tons of festivals here. People love movies here.
td815: For sure. Does the Canadian Film Fest have any year round events?
BE: For the last couple of years we've done a party during TIFF. So we invite all the Canadian filmmakers. That's about it.
td815: And a bit more of a general question. Do you think the Canadian film industry is something that has been getting stronger?
BE: There's a very complicated answer, which I'll give you. There's no one real answer to that. For example, English language Canadian movies have a completely different battle than French language Canadian movies. French language Canadian movies are very much supported by Quebec. Let's say Quebec movies are really supported, there's a star system in place, people there really gravitate towards the French language. They do great and their artists are very well supported. English language Canada movies are going up against all those Hollywood movies, for the same audience. It's tough, it always has been tough, and it will always be tough.
td815: Something that seems to be quite topical nowadays is the representation of minorities in cinema. Specifically in Canada, we often talk about the representation of Indigenous people on screen, or the lack thereof. Working in the Canadian film industry all these years, is this something you've come across or tried addressing?
BE: We've showed movies that featured indigenous Canadians, but we don't have a specific program related to it. We're just Canada across the board. There's nothing specific that we do, because there's already a film festival here in Toronto that does that. That's their thing.
td815: Okay, fair enough. In terms of this year's festival, what's different about the 2016 edition compared with previous years?
BE: We expanded a day from last year, and we also expanded the industry series. The big news is that we're at the Scotiabank Theatre because Cineplex has come on board as a sponsor.
td815: So all the screenings are Scotiabank?
BE: All the screenings, industry series, everything.
td815: And what film or event are you most excited about this year?
BE: I honestly can't pick just one. They're all my children. We have different movies, different genres, and they're all over the place. If you like comedy, we've got something. If you like documentaries, we've got something. If you like drama, art house, sci-fi, horror, we have everything.
td815: Final question that I've been asking everyone. What's your most memorable film festival experience?
BE: It's one that I've had a couple of times, but it all comes down to this; one movie that we show goes really well, and a few years later the filmmaker tells me that all of their success started at our festival. Because we gave them a shot, and then they sold their movie and their career took off. So that always means a lot to me. That's why we do this.