Reel Canada draws support for homegrown films

How the organization is using national pop-ups and celebrity-fuelled creative to boost support for a flagship event.


A version of this story recently appeared on strategy’s sister publication, Playback.

Non-profit Reel Canada is putting advertising – and celebrity – weight behind its National Canadian Film Day initiative with a new campaign.

As a signature one-day event celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary, this year will see more than 1,500 film screenings in schools, theatres and public squares across the country and in consulates and embassies around the world. It is set be the largest edition of the film festival since it launched in 2014.

The film festival day was initially imagined as a sesquicentennial project, but Reel Canada knew it needed to build the event’s profile in the years leading up to the 150th anniversary to give it the weight it deserved, says Jack Blum, the organization’s executive director. So it debuted in 2014 with just 70 screenings.

This year’s event, taking place April 19, is the first to have a major marketing effort and expertise behind it, with the previous three years relying on in-house PSA creative and broadcaster support.

The new campaign, led pro bono by Leo Burnett, kicked off with two TV spots during the recent Canadian Screen Awards.

The first stars Breakaway‘s Vinay Virmani in a one-minute clip about Abe, a man who is “always late” –  for work,  birthdays, the bus. The ad, which was directed by Atom Egoyan, tells Canadians “don’t be like Abe,” and to turn out for NCFD.

The second, directed by Don McKellar, stars Sandra Oh as a woman who cannot lie – she even tells her father that “mom says demeaning things about you when you’re not around.” So when she exits a theatre that’s just screened NCFD 150 films, you’re to believe her when she says, “I saw the films, and they’re fantastic.”

The promos are airing in Cineplex theatres across the country, as well as select Landmark Cinemas and the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

Along with the video work, the campaign has also just debuted a series of pop-up installations across the country, each running for two to three days, to help make the idea of the festival and Canadian film more accessible and interesting, Blum says.

The installations will loop clips of films that have shot in that area, with the message, “This film comes from here.”

“We want people really to connect with the idea that we tell our own stories and the stories that we tell about ourselves are different and more personal and resonate in a different way with Canadian experience than foreign-produced films,” Blum says.

In addition to the installations, markers will be placed across the country indicating where Canadian films have been shot, where a filmmaker comes from and where a film was inspired.

For example, the diner where the Daniel Radcliffe-starring film The F Word was shot will have tray liners and coasters about the film, while Indigo will place bookmarks in novels that have been adapted for film.

All of these markers will lead Canadians to the NCFD 150 website to find screenings and events near them.

Sharon Corder, artistic director of Reel Canada, says that while the campaign targets “everybody,” she’d like the ads to resonate with the industry itself. “I’ve been around this business for a long time and sometimes I’ve found that we’re not that proud of what we put forward,” she said. “I would like everyone in the industry to stand up and feel proud, at least for one day.”

With files from Harmeet Singh