Getting Real – 7th Edition

September 14, 2023

canadian documentary production 2016/17 to 2020/21

DOC is proud to publish the 7th volume of Getting Real: an in-depth look into the Canadian Documentary Industry between the 2016/17 and the 2020/21 fiscal years in both the English and French markets.

Getting Real 7 (2021)


At the Toronto International Film Festival, DOC released its 7th edition of “Getting Real” that presents trends in the last five years of Canadian documentary production.

“Getting Real 7” shows a strong appetite for home-grown documentaries, and an increase in documentary production. In 2021, Canadian-made documentaries accounted for four of the top ten documentaries exhibited in theaters, and Canadians watched 11.2 million hours of Canadian English-language documentaries and 5.1 million hours of Canadian French-language documentaries in 2021 – both increases from 2018. 

From 2020-2021 to 2021/22 documentary production volume increased by 53.2%, the largest increase on a percentage basis across all genres. The report shows that this growth is driven by documentary series, which  represent the majority of Canadian documentary production at 81% of 2020-2021 documentary production volume, with single episodes at 13% and feature documentary at 6%.

However, of major concern is the drop in support for feature documentaries. Features saw the largest drop over the five years covered by the report: between 2016/17 and 2020/21, Canadian feature documentary production dropped from $29.6M to $19.4, the number of feature documentaries produced dropped from 60 to 35, and feature documentary’s share of total Canadian production volume dropped from 5.1% to 2.4%.

Another significant concern is the decrease in budget ranges. Documentary series hourly budgets have dropped from $294,340 in 2016/2017 to $289,115 in 2020/2021, but the majority of documentary series budgets (57%) in the five year period are in the $100,000 – $250,000 range per hour. Single episode budgets dipped slightly from $377,615 per hour to $376,353 but the largest drop is in feature documentary: average hourly budgets went from $417,658 in 2016/2017 to $350,556 in 2020/2021.

“Overall, the numbers are pretty impressive: $421 million towards Canada’s Gross Domestic Product in 2020/21, 32% percent growth over the last five years. Even though the sector as a whole dipped in 2020/2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, documentaries kept growing! However, we are seeing an imbalance within the genre. The report shows that documentary series represents the majority of Canadian documentary production at 81% of 2020-2021 documentary production volume, with single episodes at 13% and feature documentary at 6%. Twenty years ago, DOC’s first edition of Getting Real reported that single-episode documentaries were in the majority. Now, when we talk about documentary production in Canada, we are increasingly talking about series. A healthy production sector needs balance, in terms of format and access. DOC members want to be able to produce a variety of formats within an equitable, sustainable sector, and to finance the high quality, feature documentaries Canadians are known for. This will be an extremely important piece as the industry grapples with how to implement Bill C-11: we need to ensure that our cultural policy – long form documentaries are expensive and difficult to produce, yet are central vehicles for communicating Canadian stories and values, to quote the CRTC – survives our commercial policy” says DOC’s Executive Director Sarah Spring.