CINEMA OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
Hi-Def or Low-Def: 120seconds has CBC's answers.
As we enter the final days of the Canadian experiment, there's a decision
to be made. Do we go gently into that good night, watching CNN tell us
about the joys of continental union, or do we fight to the finish - what
the French once called "Guerre à Outtrance?"
A high-definition video camera - the HDTV of our current fantasies -
can cost up to $250,000. VCR's, edit systems and monitors compatible with
the format are comparably expensive.
Meanwhile, a solid Mini-Digital camera and edit system can be had for
around $15,000. So, for the cost of one HD camera, you could outfit 16
videographers to create television. As we move to the HiDef world - forced
upon us by US manufacturers hoping to get an edge on their Japanese counterparts
- our cultural institutions are going to have to choose.
How much will it cost to convert CBC entirely - daily newscasts in every
region, several national newsmagazine shows, etc etc - to High Definition?
How much will it cost on an ongoing basis to maintain that equipment?
What does CBC gain, in terms of their constitutional mandate, by going to
The answer, of course, is nothing. The CBC is currently mandated - that's
law, folks - to increase cultural diversity, and increase the number of
regional voices being heard across Canada. Pop quiz: could more diverse
voices be given a platform with higher-resolution images?
If you said no, move on to the next question: Could more diverse voices
get heard with 16 times as many production tools? Um...
In 1992, I worked on a TV series called *Road Movies*. Stop it, stop
it, thank you. The concept was to have 8 videographers, with Hi8 cameras,
travel the country solo, staying mostly with friends and family. We produced
mini-docs for an entire season, filling a half-hour slot each week with
a total annual budget of $1.8 million - the cost of one episode of *Road
In that 26-episode series, 8 people, chosen like a cultural-mosaic Backstreet
Boys to represent every region and ethnicity they could, created 13 hours
of television covering the breadth and length of the country 8 times. That
single episode of *Avonlea*, though popular, would only represent one thing:
PEI's Anne of Green Gables.
Now, arguments about popularity, revenue generation, etc had better be
left aside, since CBC's mandate has nothing in it about such things.
Moreover, competition arguments - the strongest case for high-budget
production - place CBC in the dangerous target sights of Free Trade: ironic,
since CBC's mission has been more direly needed in light of NAFTA, the FTA,
and the upcoming FTAA.
Because low-budget pieces don't require such a complex managerial bureacracy
as, say, half-hour docs for Newsworld's Rough Cuts, younger artists can
make them quickly and without turning into Kafka's Ape before the Academy,
who, by the time he has received academic credentials sufficient to talk
to the learned scholars about ape-ness, has forgotten what it is like to
be an ape at all. A semi-professional cultural cadre - like our fierce
people's militias of the War of 1812 - is the only kind of force capable
of keeping our culture vital and engaged with society, while avoiding the
pitfalls of industrial production.
If you haven't noticed, CBC's 120seconds.com is a website dedicated to
doing exactly what I'm describing. Check out 120seconds.com and look for
the amazing coverage of the Quebec City FTAA protests or the federal election.
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm sure that once someone in charge at CBC
gets wind of what 120seconds actually is, they'll be running down the hallways
with an axe, screaming like Jack Nicholson in *The Shining*.
However, as Daryl Duke has pointed out, the CBC's Board of Directors
are about as culturally diverse as the board of Exxon - and probably blessed
with the same "skill set," to cop a semi-current management powerphrase.
I know anarchists aren't supposed to like government institutions, but
when warmongering corporate zealots bloodthirstily attack even watered-down
anti-racist messages like the one Citizenship Canada placed in the National
Post last week, we need all the government-funded help we can get. CBC
is the only institution in a position to take on the task of giving Canadians
a non-commercial voice with cross-canada reach - that's their job. If they
opt for keeping up with the HD joneses (or jonesers) they may get respect
in the golf clubs and Bannf TV Conference bars, but they will have failed
once again to fulfill their role.