NATIONAL CANADIAN FILM DAY: An Interview with Founders Jack Blum and Sharon Corder

While the existence of the “free lunch” remains debatable, there are certainly free movies if you know where to look, and the discerning moviegoer need look no further than Wednesday April 20 where National Canadian Film Day will offer free screenings of quality homegrown Canadian movies from Vancouver-to-Halifax-to-Nunavut and even beyond!

There is much to celebrate this year in particular as the 2022 edition marks the return of in-person theatre screenings which had to be curtailed the last two years due to (all-together now) the covid-19 pandemic. Being frequent connoisseurs of Canadian cinema ourselves, we at Hollywood North Magazine very much look forward to enjoying some CANCON with our fellow Canadians this Wednesday. But before the house lights go down, we’re fortunate enough this week to chat with the founders of this amazing event, husband-and-wife dream team Jack Blum and Sharon Corder.


For the uninitiated, what is National Canadian Film Day?

Jack: National Canadian Film Day is a day to celebrate our cinema together as Canadians and proclaim its excellence around the world.. But mainly, it’s a chance to give Canadians access to their own films and the opportunity to watch and enjoy them together.

Sharon: What it means is: if you live in Canada, if you have a computer, a television, a phone, and/or…

Jack: …live near a library or a legion hall or a community centre or a cinema…

Sharon: …you can watch a film on National Canadian Film Day for free! There are more than 1000 live screenings across the country and our website tells you where they are. Every English Canadian and a number of French Canadian broadcasters and streamers program for the day so that there are hundreds of titles available to watch on that day. Last year, 2.5 million Canadians watched a Canadian film on the broadcast and streamers.

Jack: In our virtual screenings that are nationally available, we have lots of ways for you to host a screening, lots of fun ways to turn that into a party.

Sharon: There’s an Indigenous panel with two of the most celebrated Indigenous filmmakers of the year, Tracey Deer and Dennis Goulet, that will be live-streamed on CBC Gem. There are endless possibilities for how you can celebrate the day. You can go to our website and get a party kit. You can print out face masks, popcorn boxes, toques…

Jack: One of the important features this year is a tribute to the late Jean-Marc Vallée. So there are screenings of his masterpiece C.R.A.Z.Y across the country.

Sharon: We’re spotlighting Indigenous film and there are 35 films that we have spotlighted..

Jack: …and hundreds of screenings of those films in different places.

Sharon: And there are a number of places if you happen not to be in Canada, there are I believe fifty-something screenings in other parts of the world that you can look up as well. 


This year’s event will be the first since 2019 to feature in-person screenings. How does it feel to have these films back in the theatres?

Jack: We had to pull that trigger back in the fall. The future these days is anybody’s guess (Sharon laughs). We really had no idea when we cancelled the live screenings in 2020, there were more than 1000 of them so we were thinking that if maybe 400-500 of our partners came back we would be absolutely delighted and we’re over 1100 live screenings now. We’re just thrilled! Clearly there’s an appetite, people wanna get together again and this is a party they like coming back to.

Sharon: We’re delighted. It’s a little overwhelming and it took people a while to decide. There’s a coating of COVID over everything so even though it’s our first time back to live (screenings), it’s not as care-free and relaxed in the way that it was before the pandemic. There’s still people who are choosing to do virtual, understandably.

Jack: And it’s like you don’t really believe anything until after it’s happened because who the heck knows?


The first NCFD was in 2014. How did the event first come about?

Sharon: At that point, we were primarily working either schools or new adult Canadians.

Jack: In 2013, the year before…

Sharon: Yeah, 2013. And we were looking at our calendar and Jack noticed that there were five screenings on a given day.

Jack: It was April 29. There was one in Vancouver, one in PEI, one in Saskatoon…

Sharon: …one in Halifax..

Jack: So I said, “Look at this, National Canadian Film Day!”.

Sharon: And then the next year…

Jack: …we actually did it!

Sharon: And we were so proud of ourselves. We had 70 screenings across the country which seemed unimaginable to us. It seemed like such a big deal and that’s how it started.

Jack: The numbers grew very very rapidly and in the sesquicentennial year, we had 1800 screenings across the country and around the world.


How did you settle on the date (April 20)?

Jack: Yeah, it’s not April 20 every year, it’s the third Wednesday in April.

Sharon: At that time, there were several reasons. Cineplex would give us theatres on a Wednesday because it’s a quiet day for them before the new releases. So we could get cinemas across the country.

Jack: And also, it’s a very good time of year for schools because after that, they get into final projects and exams and before that, there’s not enough time to plan so it seemed like a day that worked for most of the people we were working with.


What are your long-term goals for NCFD?

Sharon: Just more of the same I think. We’re achieving some of our goals right now. Like last year, 2.5 million watched a Canadian film so that’s pretty good for Canadian numbers. We’d like to make that grow. Our aim is simply to try to reach anyone in Canada who likes movies and expose them to the idea that there are great homegrown movies. You know, “Watch Local”, especially on this day.

Because the Hollywood machine is so huge and has so much money, some of our best work here goes unnoticed because it’s very hard to make noise in the middle of a circus.

Jack: Also, we really believe in the power of cinema and the ability for cinema to bring us together. This is a very very divided and divisive time and Canada is a very special place that is in the process of discovering itself in its diversity. Cinema really expresses that diversity almost effortlessly. The stories come from every community, they come from every background.

So, if one wanted Canadians to consume something that would help them understand one another better, help them understand their neighbours, help us understand ourselves, cinema is the best way to do it and in this time, more than ever, we need that.


You mentioned international screenings. Are there plans to expand that?

Jack: (NCFD) is beyond Canada itself. It started in partnership with Global Affairs Canada and the idea that we can use our films to have other people in the world get to know us better I think is as much a part of (our) role as anything.

Sharon: Certainly for me, much of what I know about the rest of the world, I learnt in film. It’s one of the best ways to humanise and see how other people live, how other people think, what other people eat.

Our primary focus is, we do like exposing it to the world and taking it to other places, but in fact for me, we both come from the industry, and we discovered early on that lots of people in other parts of the world already think well of our cinema and it’s here (that it’s unknown)

When we first started the idea that Canadian film, we would ask people what they thought and we’d get back all these surveys and they’d think “Ahh, I don’t think it’s very good”…

Jack: Because they hadn’t seen any…

Sharon: Then you probe that and you go “Okay, what films did you see that you didn’t like?” and then it’s “Well, I can’t think of any” or “It was this one I saw in the 70s”. So for us, we’ve been part of this movement to turn that around. It’s uninformed, that opinion.

Jack: And this really isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. Now the problem is simply have people heard of Canadian film? Can they go see it? Do they have access to it? Is it available to them?

Sharon:..have they heard of this film or this film? More people seem to know we make movies than they used to, which is great.


One thing that’s been debated lately is the nature of “Canadian Content”. You can have for example, a feature with Canadian talent in front of and behind the camera, but it ends up appearing very American. Any thoughts?

Sharon: From my point of view, I would say it’s becoming more “itself” and if we think of something looking great as “American”, or maybe it looks “French” or “German”. The quality of our cinematographers, the quality of our actors…

Jack:…but most importantly, the writing. I mean there has always been Canadian product that is just trying to get into the American market and “act” American, there’s always that part of it, that’s fine. But just look at what’s just been celebrated at the CSA with a program like Sort Of or films like Beans and Night Raiders..

Sharon: Scarborough..

Jack: They couldn’t be made anywhere else. They’re very distinctly Canadian and they’re great!

Sharon: Our spotlight this year is Indigenous film. We’ve been working with Indigenous filmmakers since the beginning of Reel Canada. There have always been good Indigenous films and now there are even more and it’s very exciting to watch that growth. Very specifically this year, we’re hoping people tune into the fact that there are some great Canadian films made by Indigenous filmmakers of all varieties and we hope that they get to see them so we’re doing our best to make sure they do.


What do you hope audiences take away from NCFD?

Jack: What a great time they had.

Sharon: Yeah, that it’s fun, that they can feel good about embracing the cinema or the movies of the country they live in. That it’s cool even that there are whatever kind of movies they like, there’s one they’re really gonna wanna recommend to their friends that maybe they didn’t know about before and now they can start looking into the treasure trove of all the films that we’ve made in the last 100 years.


National Canadian Film Day is on Wednesday April 20 (tomorrow!) at a theatres, community venue or virtual screen near you. What are you waiting for??

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