Canadians make great movies. This is what REEL CANADA founders Sharon Corder and Jack Blum set out to prove in 2005 when their idea to bring a travelling film festival into high schools came into being.
What started as a need to validate the strength of Canadian film took on a whole other life. While we succeeded in proving that the toughest critics – high school students – could fall in love with Canadian cinema, the programme also demonstrated that Canadian film has the power to shape people’s shared sense of culture, identity and history. That it can help foster an inclusive community, and unite a nation.
REEL CANADA continues to expand its programming to reach all of the audiences that can benefit from seeing themselves and their neighbours reflected on-screen – from youth to newcomers, to seniors and everyone in between.
This means we also work toward a bright future for the Canadian film industry, and help would-be filmmakers and other industry professionals find the right pathways for themselves to train and work right at home.
Founders Sharon Corder and Jack Blum gather with members of our national film industry and some dedicated educators to discuss the possibility of introducing young people to the wealth of great Canadian films. An idea emerges to bring a travelling film festival into high schools. The idea is endorsed by an Advisory Committee including David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Norman Jewison, Robert Lantos, Deepa Mehta, Gordon Pinsent and Veronica Tennant.
Six Toronto high schools are transformed into multiplex cinemas to host one-day film festivals. Auditoriums, libraries, gymnasiums and dance studios are outfitted with equipment and professional tech crews, thanks to BaAM Productions. Students are excited to engage in post-screening Q&As with the likes of Atom Egoyan and Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter); Hon. Ken Dryden (Les Boys); Harvey Atkin and Norma Dell’Agnese (Meatballs); Jennifer Jonas (Last Night); Gary Burns (Kitchen Party), Peter Lynch (Project Grizzly), Peter O’Brien (Khaled), John Paizs (Crime Wave), and Tara Spencer-Nairn (New Waterford Girl).
Incorporated as a non-profit
Canadian Film in the Schools (REEL CANADA) is incorporated as a non-profit and engages a Board of Directors, including Atom Egoyan, Reg Bronskill and our Founding Chair, the late Doug Dales. Telefilm Canada and Cineplex are founding sponsors.
Our First Employee
The very first RC employee, Katarina Gligorijevic, comes on board to help coordinate the second season: nine events in Toronto that take place in the spring of 2007. Katarina goes on to do many jobs at REEL CANADA. She’s still with us today as the Director of National Canadian Film Day (and other Special Projects).
Our First Online Q&A
Our second season sees the travelling festival grow to nine Toronto schools and serve more than 5600 students. An early (pre-Skype-era) cross-country Q&A beams in Vancouver-based director Mina Shum to A.Y. Jackson high school following a screening of Double Happiness.
Out of Town
After two successful seasons in our home base of Toronto, we are eager to branch out and bring our programming to other communities. In the fall of 2007, we serve our first out-of-town school in Windsor, ON, in partnership with the Windsor International Film Festival.
Out of Province
In 2008, we launch a pilot project in Vancouver, B.C., our first step toward becoming a truly national organization. Among the special guests are director Andrew Currie, who presents his hilarious zombie comedy Fido, and Tara Spencer-Nairn, who speaks after a screening of the timeless coming-of-age film New Waterford Girl.
The Team Grows
The rapid growth of our programme requires us to hire a second coordinator at the start of our third season. Mark Meeks joins the team and shows an immediate affinity for the technical side of our work. Mark briefly leaves REEL CANADA (to do a few important things, like get married, become a parent, and move to North Bay), eventually returning in 2020 as our Technical Director. We are thrilled to have him back.
A Reel Canadian is Born
High school senior Jenna Hijazi attends a REEL CANADA event at Marshall McLuhan CSS. She watches The Sweet Hereafter and participates in a Q&A with Oscar-nominated director Atom Egoyan. The experience rocks her world. Through university she works with REEL CANADA as a summer intern. Upon graduating, she joins the RC staff as a Festival Coordinator. She’s now absolutely essential as our Director of Operations, overseeing every aspect of our work. How’s that for the power of Canadian film to change lives?
Our provincial expansion gains national media attention as we earn our first national news coverage on CBC’s The National. Host Sandra Abma and her crew catch the action at two REEL CANADA events in Toronto and Ottawa, and talk to special guests such as Don McKellar, Niv Fichman and Gordon Pinsent. Check out the piece here!
REEL CANADA was founded by film and TV people – that is to say, we aren’t teachers! By 2009, we know we need help to tie the fun, participatory experience of a REEL CANADA festival back to the curriculum. We form an educational advisory committee and listen to teachers’ advice, creating our very first in-house lesson plans with the help of actor/teacher Dan Dumsha. The resulting 13-lesson unit on Canadian film for English and Media classes is still in use! Over a decade later, our library of teacher resources boasts over 700 plans across all grade levels and subject areas.
Welcome to Canada
In the spring of 2010, we are approached by ESL teachers from LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada). They want to bring their adult students to one of our high school festivals. Instead, we decide to mount an event tailor-made for them, and our first event for Adult English-language learners takes place at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Stars Wendy Crewson and Kristen Thomson participate in a Q&A after a screening of Away From Her and filmmakers Michael McGowan (One Week) and Peter Lynch (Arrowhead) also present their work. The event is so moving and powerful that it becomes an immediate staple in our annual calendar and launches our successful Welcome to Canada programme for new Canadians.
During the 2011-12 season we take the first important step to becoming a bilingual organization. Our first French-language event is held at Collège catholique Franco-Ouest in Nepean, Ontario, and the school is an annual partner to this day. We now offer all our programmes in French to Francophone Canadians and French-language learners across the nation.
Our first foray into small-group workshops focused on the craft of filmmaking. We bring Kate Melville into several high schools to talk about her experiences with making her coming-of-age feature Picture Day. These successful and popular workshops are the precursor of our Reel Opportunities programme, which is all about bringing film professionals into career-oriented conversations with youth.
Maurice the Moose is born
REEL CANADA launches our biggest-to-date fundraising campaign with a set of four fantastic posters by Agency 71, under the leadership of the late David Miller. The posters form the backbone of what would become the visual identity for National Canadian Film Day. Our beloved mascot, Maurice the Moose, has his public debut, and quickly becomes the beloved icon of CanFilmDay.
National Canadian Film Day
In April 2013, we find ourselves planning three school events spread out across the country (in Vancouver, BC, Saskatoon, SK, and Montague, PEI) and jokingly refer to it as “National Canadian Film Day”. The following year, we formalize this great idea and bring the party to all Canadians. On April 29, 2014 the first real CanFilmDay is held – with over 70 events in every province and territory. What started out as an inside joke among our office team has grown into an annual national celebration!
Indigenous Film Programme Pilot
REEL CANADA applies for – and receives – a joint grant from the Trillium Foundation with the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival. During the first phase of this long-standing partnership, we work closely with imagineNATIVE’s then-Executive Director, Jason Ryle. The working relationship continues to blossom, and in 2021, Jason joins our Board of Directors.
Reel Canada Hits the Road
During our 2013-14 season, REEL CANADA launches our “tour model” of festival delivery – bringing filmmaker Charles Officer on tour with his documentary Mighty Jerome (about African-Canadian track star Harry Jerome). We host 18 deeply impactful screenings in 15 schools across 5 provinces during the month of February as a special Black History Month offering. After a powerful first touring experience, Charles continues to participate in many REEL CANADA initiatives and goes on to become a valued member of our board of directors.
Our second-ever tour takes place that same year, with writer and star Vinay Virmani visiting communities across Canada with his film Breakaway, one of the most-screened and most-loved films in our history. Vinay personally attends nearly 30 screenings and takes literally thousands of selfies with fans.
Happy Halloween, Reel Canada Style
Everyone at the REEL CANADA office dresses up as their favourite Canadian film (or film character) for Halloween. The costumes range from classics like Bob & Doug McKenzie from Strange Brew, the log driver from the NFB animated classic The Log Driver’s Waltz and Spaz from Meatballs (played in real life, as in the movie, by our Executive Director, Jack Blum); to more contemporary characters such as the iconic partners from Bon Cop Bad Cop, and the titular character from Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster; to more abstract, creative interpretations of the theme, such as “the cube from Cube”.
South Western International Film Festival Launches in Sarnia, ON!
It’s true, SWIFF is not a REEL CANADA initiative. However, it was founded by our longtime employee and dear friend, Ravi Srinivasan. Ravi was involved with us as a programming consultant for National Canadian Film Day (among his other high profile jobs, including Senior Manager of Festival Programming at TIFF). We’re so proud of Ravi’s accomplishment in launching SWIFF that we had to mention it here.
Indigenous Film Programme
REEL CANADA has showcased great films by Indigenous filmmakers since our pilot year, and we have worked with imagineNATIVE on joint projects and community tours since 2014. In 2016, we consolidate these offerings into a cohesive selection, which quickly becomes one of our most in-demand programmes.
The First RCtv Livestream
We didn’t know what it would be called yet, but on National Canadian Film Day 2016, we pilot the national interactive livestream for schools that would become RCtv. Students from across the country log in to chat live with Bon Cop Bad Cop stars Colm Feore and Patrick Huard, in a truly bilingual event.
The Largest Film Festival in the World. Ever!
The sesquicentennial edition of National Canadian Film Day (CanFilmDay 150) is truly an unprecedented cultural event in the life of our country. Over 1800 events are held from coast to coast to coast, bringing together French, English and Indigenous cultures in a massive party that truly unites us as a nation. Stars and filmmakers including Atom Egoyan, Deepa Mehta, Don McKellar, Mina Shum, Colm Feore, Patricia Rozema, Bruce McDonald, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and dozens of others participate in Q&As across the nation. 172,000 Canadians attend a screening in-person with over 1 million more watching from home.
Beyond 150 Years: An Acknowledgement of Cinematic Territory
Acknowledging that Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017 is a complicated celebration for Indigenous peoples, we organize an event to present, with utmost respect, a number of essential works by Indigenous creators. Filmmakers such as Zacharias Kunuk (Inuk), Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki), Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Inuk), Amanda Strong (Michif) and Lisa Jackson (Anishinaabe) participate in a sold-out celebration of First Nations, Inuit and Métis stories at the Vancouver International Film Festival’s home venue, the VanCity Theatre.
We Go International
Over 70 events are held in countries around the world on CanFilmDay in 2017. This marks the beginning of a partnership with Global Affairs Canada that brings us into embassies, consulates, and communities all across the globe every year.
Our CanFilmDay spotlight in 2018 is on women in Canadian film, and we host an event unlike any other in our history. Trailblazers is an extended conversation between two of the nation’s most preeminent filmmakers: Deepa Mehta and Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki). These fearless, fierce women talk about their long and storied careers as well as reflecting on the present moment in Canadian culture. You can watch the whole session here.
Reel Opportunities is Born
We launch our fastest-growing programme, which brings film industry professionals into schools (online or in person) to talk to youth about career opportunities in film. The pilot takes place just before the pandemic and includes a mix of in-person and online workshop delivery models.
CanFilmDay Covid Edition – Our 4.5 Hour Livestream
When the world shuts down in March 2020, we have only five weeks to pivot our CanFilmDay plans from being all about 1000 live screenings, to taking place entirely online. We end up producing a 4.5 hour livestream, entirely in isolation. Hosted by Peter Keleghan and Ali Hassan and featuring Sandra Oh, Jay Baruchel, Ethan Hawke, Colm Feore, Atom Egoyan, Megan Follows, Mina Shum, Philippe Falardeau, Don McKellar (and many more), the livestream is watched by over 30,000 Canadians.
We Commission Films!
In partnership with Netflix, REEL CANADA commissions original short films in honour of National Canadian Film Day. In order to capture a timely snapshot of the moment we are all living through, we ask some of the nation’s talented rising stars to interpret the 2021 CanFilmDay theme: Light at the End of the Tunnel. The eleven films premiere on CanFilmDay and go on to play at film festivals around the world.
New Livestreams, New Audiences
In the 2021-22 school year, we open up our enormously successful RCtv livestream programme to new audiences, presenting one livestream entirely in French, and another for grade 6-8 students. Both sessions focus on anti-racism, as does our annual livestream for English-language high schools.
Reel Opportunities Boot Camps
We launch Phase Two of the Reel Opportunities programme, featuring multi-day Pop-Up Film Schools with hands-on training about jobs in the film industry. The pilot session in Regina is presented in partnership with the National Screen Institute.
Celebrating Indigenous Voices
The 2022 CanFilmDay Spotlight features over 900 screenings of Indigenous-made films, and two very urgent, timely conversations with Indigenous filmmakers at the top of their game. In Toronto, Danis Goulet (Cree/Métis) and Tracey Deer (Mohawk) discuss the state of Indigenous filmmaking in a livestream broadcast on CBC Gem. In Montreal, legendary documentarian Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki) participates in an intimate and insightful discussion with visionary iconoclast Jeff Barnaby (Mi’kmaw), in what would sadly become one of his final public appearances.
Revamp Rebrand Relaunch
In 2023, REEL CANADA launched new versions of reelcanada.ca and canfilmday.ca, both featuring the Canadian Film Collection, a curated list of every film we’ve recommended for educational and public screenings. The new sites featured a new logo and branding for REEL CANADA.
We also celebrated the tenth anniversary of National Canadian Film Day with nearly 1600 events worldwide and 2.5 million people participating at home!
We strive to inspire audiences by exposing them to excellence in Canadian film and by meeting the highest possible standards in programme delivery.
We strive to work with educators, community organizations, and all Canadian audiences to tailor our programmes to specific community needs and sensibilities and will partner with as broad a range of industry stakeholders as possible.
We strive to develop new and innovative ways to bring transformative and dynamic experiences with Canadian film to Canadians of all walks of life.
Our programmes strive to provide opportunities for people across Canada to participate in a cultural dialogue that reflects the diversity of Canadian life. Our staff and board shall reflect this diversity as well.
Our programmes strive to be equally accessible to all people throughout Canada.
We strive to always show respect to the filmmakers, artists and industry professionals whose work we showcase; to the teachers, students, and many audiences we serve; to our colleagues and partners; to the many sponsors and supporters who help us do what we do; and of course, to the films themselves!
Introduce audiences to the power and diversity of Canadian film, and engage them in a conversation about what it means to be Canadian.