Telefilm Canada was created as the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC) by an Act of Parliament in 1967 "to foster and promote the development of a feature film industry in Canada." This Crown corporation, which owes its existence to filmmakers who pressured the government for financial support, was originally given $10 million to invest in the FILM industry as a loan fund. Under its first executive director, Michael Spencer, it invested in a number of low-budget English and French films of cultural value and was instrumental in establishing the beginnings of a viable film industry.
Increasing commercial pressures were brought to bear on the CFDC as many of the films it supported went unseen by Canadians, and by 1973 international co-productions were favoured. In 1978 a new executive director, Michael McCabe, accelerated this process, encouraged the use of foreign stars and favoured producer-initiated as opposed to director-driven projects. Using the Capital Cost Allowance tax initiative he increased total Canadian investment in feature films from $19 million in 1977 to $165 million in 1980. This commercial orientation was far from successful as many films remain unreleased and indigenous artistic production virtually ceased.
In 1980 André Lamy replaced McCabe, committing himself to rectifying problems created by the CCA. In 1983 the Canadian Broadcast Program Development Fund was created to allocate $245 million over a 5-year period to films that were mainly co-financed by television networks, the private sector and the CFDC. This arrangement guaranteed the films a broadcast playdate, thereby avoiding problems of distribution that had plagued the industry. To reflect this growing emphasis on investing in television production, the organization was renamed Telefilm Canada in 1984. Peter Pearson was executive director from 1985 to 87. As a result of "Canadian Cinema - A Solid Base" (the report of the Film Industry Task Force, published late 1985), the Feature Film Fund was created to provide for the production of theatrical feature films. To assist their distribution a Feature Film Distribution Fund was subsequently created.
In 1988 the Broadcast Fund was given permanent status with an annual budget of $60 million. Under Pierre Des Roches's directorship (1988-94), Telefilm was put on an increasingly businesslike basis, shifting its role in film and television projects to that of an investor, not a subsidizer. Distribution contracts had to be in place before financing was approved and recouping loaned monies became a priority. Telefilm worked closely with the growing number of provincial film agencies which appeared in the 1980s.
Its investment in television proved to be quite successful and resulted in many successful television series. Film was a more problematic area and the successes were more sporadic. Artistically, a number of key films appeared in major film festivals and won awards but found limited success in the domestic marketplace. By the end of the 1990s Québec films proved to be the exception, and they are now capturing major market share, about 15-20% of the local market. The lack of box-office success of English-Canadian films resulted in a target, set by Richard Stursberg (2002-04), of Canadian films occupying at least 5% of the domestic box office. This goal was met by 2005 but only because Québec films balanced out their English-Canadian counterparts, which still only occupied about 1% of the marketplace.
Telefilm invests in the distribution, marketing and subtitling of films produced with its support, new media and music, and it administers a program of grants to Canadian film festivals. It also supervises coproduction agreements with over 20 countries.
Telefilm Canada has played a vital role in developing a Canadian film and television industry. At the same time, its effectiveness as an institution has been undermined by unaddressed structural problems in this sector. Furthermore, there is still confusion as to whether Telefilm's priority as an institution is as a cultural or commercial agency. This remains its central issue.