In Our Words: Support for film, arts necessary

There are two ways a government can aid the arts. One is to finance and provide supports for programming. The other is to do nothing and let God sort it all out.

One of these works well. The other doesn’t. Which one is which? Take a guess.

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A tip of the cap goes to Manitoba’s provincial government for recently announcing a tax credit for film and video production would be made permanent.

That seems pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but in reality, it’s a decision that has wide-reaching consequences. Manitoba has proven that it values the industry of filmmaking.

At the same time, the Saskatchewan government has not even considered reinstating the same film employment tax credit it cut years ago.

Film has flourished in Manitoba. In Saskatchewan, you could say the industry has stayed the same in the last few years; consistently slow. Removing that tax credit played a major role in this.

Manitoba’s total production volume for film pumped $160 million – the equivalent of about $120 for every man, woman and child in the province – into the province’s economy last year. The industry outperformed expectations for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan film industry is on life support. Those aren’t my words. Those are the words of Saskatchewan director Lowell Dean, in an interview with the Regina Leader-Post more than a year ago.

Some groups, including the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative and Creative Saskatchewan, are holding down what’s left, but they can only do so much without extra provincial support.

Almost two years ago – although it feels like longer – I was part of a group that created a documentary that was nominated for two awards at the Yorkton Film Festival. We didn’t win anything, but I know I gained something from the experience.

At the festival, Canadian film figures, officials from CBC, the National Film Board, small production companies, directors and others discussed the state of Saskatchewan film. They didn’t speak with a lot of hope. Take a guess why.

Many of the filmmakers I met there may have learned the trade in Saskatchewan and relish telling the province’s stories, but can’t make projects because there is no way to secure funding. Some had taken the step of moving away for work, some even going to Manitoba.

Take Mattias Graham, one of the filmmakers I met in Yorkton. Mattias is an incredibly gifted auteur. His film Gas Can, a short film shot in Saskatchewan with Saskatchewan actors and heavy themes of anti-indigenous racism, has won awards almost everywhere it’s been shown. It won the Best of Saskatchewan award during the festival.

Mattias doesn’t live in Saskatchewan anymore. He now works out of Montreal because you can actually make films there and still be able to feed yourself.

In an opinion piece of his own for CBC Saskatchewan, Layton Burton, a professor at the University of Regina School of Journalism (full disclosure: I attended that school for two years) laid out one interesting recent case.

A film about Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer who famously took super-corporation Monsanto to court over its licensing practices, is apparently in the works. Christopher Walken, Christina Ricci and Manitoba-born actor Adam Beach are linked to the project.

While the movie takes place in Saskatchewan, not a frame of the film will be shot there. Instead, it will be mostly shot in Manitoba.

Why? Take a guess.

It seems bizarre to me that a provincial government that has banged the drum for so long about economic growth has just passed over a golden chance to bring millions into its own coffers, especially with an example of how to properly boost the film industry literally right next door.

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