From sea to sea (television and movie production in Canada).
The Vancouver film community had a collective fit in late January with the back-to-back announcements emanating first from Revenue Canada and then from the office of Heritage minister Sheila Copps. Revenue Canada's decision to start enforcing an until now benignly neglected provision of the tax code would have seen American actors working in Vancouver (and the rest of Canada) taxed by up to 50 per cent. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that the American-born leads of the many American television shows shot in Vancouver would start demanding that the shows be moved back to the States. Needless to say, the response was swift. Front-page articles in the Vancouver Sun decrying the move and radio talk shows flooded with calls foretelling the end of an industry were the order of the day. B.C Film Commissioner Peter Mitchell was hastily dispatched to Ottawa to talk some sense and--lo and behold!--a stay of execution was granted as the proposal was actually put on hold. But before anybody had time to pop the champagne corks, Copps's advisory committee came forth with its proposed changes to federal film policy, sending industry insiders reeling again. As most Take One readers know, the report proposed beefing-up tax credits for Canadian film producers and eliminating them for foreign producers--a prospect that, on paper, looks like a good deal for Canadian film. But, in the words of Ian Waddell, B.C.'s culture minister, the report indicates that "it's clear the federal government has no concept of how the film industry works in B.C." Whether that's true or not, it is a fact that the B.C. industry would be hurt by the move. After all there are the thousands of locals (8,000 is the number currently being reported) whose livelihoods depend on the--predominantly American--films and television shows made locally. And the local feeling is that, with California fighting tooth and nail to make it more attractive to work there again, many producers are looking for reasons to move their shows. The low Canadian dollar notwithstanding, the elimination of tax breaks could be just the thing that sets them to packing their bags.... Anne Wheeler's long-awaited new feature, the lesbian comedy Better Than Chocolate, received its world premiere in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival in mid-February. The film is produced by Sharon McGowan, with co-producer and screenplay credits going to Peggy Thompson. They are, of course, the duo responsible for the Genie Award-winner, The Lotus Eaters.
After losing millions of dollars in film productions to other provinces, the Alberta government announced in October new grants for the province's ailing film industry. The money--$5 million annually for three years--will come from lottery revenues and will be administered by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The new Alberta Film Development Program replaced the Alberta Motion Picture Development Corp. (AMPDC), that the government cut two years ago. Since the province chopped AMPDC, numerous filmmakers have taken millions of dollars of work to other parts of Canada which provide tax incentives and financing. Besides feature films giving the province a wide berth, several television series cancelled, blaming their demise on the cuts. The latter included Jake & the Kid, the popular series based on W.O. Mitchell's book, and North of 60. Leon Lubin, executive director of the Alberta Motion Pictures Industries Association, says the Alberta film industry is looking forward "with renewed vigor" to the introduction of the government initiative. However, the current trickle of work in the province shows that Alberta is still a long ways away from recovering from the AMPDC cuts. The only feature currently shooting in the province is Snow Day, a family-oriented film starring Saturday Night Live alumnus Chevy Chase. The film began five weeks of production in Edmonton in mid-February before shifting to Calgary for an end-of-April wrap. The film, produced by Paramount, is about a group of small children in a small town and what happens in one day of their lives when they find themselves snowed in.... No one shmoozes better than the professionals of the Alberta Motion Picture Industries Association. The longest-running film and television awards ceremony in Canada will celebrate its 25th year with a Salute to Excellence in April, to be held at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre.... As always, Local Heroes, Edmonton's celebration of independent film, attracted some big names to the Northern city. This year the festival, which ran in late February, brought Arthur Hiller. Hiller is best known for such films as the Man in the Glass Booth, Love Story and Man of La Mancha. The former Edmontonian is now chairman of the American Film Institute Conservatory. The other highlight of this year's festival was a salute to Rhombus Media, the producers of such celebrated films as The Red Violin, Long Day's Journey Into Night and Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould. Rhombus founder and producer Niv Fichman attended the festival along with Red Violin director Francois Girard.
The Winnipeg Local Heroes has assembled an impressive guest list for its debut festival, which took place in mid-March. Panelists included directors Bruce Sweeney (Dirty) from British Columbia and Manon Briand (2 secondes) from Quebec, Toronto critic and former Perspective Canada programmer David McIntosh, and Jim Powers, director of development for the innovative U.S. independent production company The Shooting Gallery. Other key figures included writer and critic Geoff Pevere, Alliance Atlantis's Charlotte Mickie, Kitchen Party producer John Hazlett, (bp) Pushing the Boundaries producer Liz Yake, director John Greyson, Showcase TV's Laura Michalchyshyn, Credo producer Kim Todd and Winnipeg filmmakers Noam Gonick and Gary Yates. Premieres included Kiefer Sutherland's Woman Wanted, Paula Kelly's Epiphany Rules and The Pill from directors Elise Swerhone and Erma Buffie. Producer Merit Jensen said The Pill is a history of the birth control pill including the side effects and how it galvanized the women's health movement. The film, which took the filmmakers to New York, London and Puerto Rico, includes interviews with feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, Carl Djerassi, regarded as one of the scientific fathers of the pill, and Barbara Seaman, who first broke the story about the pill's side effects. The Winnipeg version of Local Heroes concluded with the Blizzards, an annual awards/schmooze fest for Manitoba productions. There were over 300 (up from 200 two years ago) applications in 34 award categories. According to MMPIA executive director, Richard Horne, film production in Winnipeg has jumped from $17 million last year to over $50 million this year.... Winnipeg Film Group distributor Marlene James is off to the New York Underground Film Festival to represent Jeff Erbach's new film Under Chad Valley and Paul Suderman's Brothers. Both screened at Local Heroes in Edmonton.... The Lenny Breau doc, The Genius of Lenny Breau, has finished shooting. The crew travelled from New York to Los Angeles, Nashville, Maine and Winnipeg to interview guitarists Randy Bachman (The Guess Who, BTO), George Benson, Chet Atkins, Pat Metheny, Andy Summers (The Police), Winnipeg country legend Ray St. Germain and Canadian actor Don Francks, who used to play in a band with Breau called Three. Director John Martin says they also snagged an interview with Leonard Cohen, who Breau once accompanied on guitar at a poetry gig in Edmonton (although no tape exists of the performance). Martin and his crew did unearth, however, some never-before-seen footage of Lenny playing with jazz guitar legend Tal Farlow. Produced by Sleeping Giant Productions and Buffalo Gal Productions, The Genius of Lenny Breau screened on Bravo! on March 23rd. Dave Barber
Domestic feature film production seems to have gone into the doldrums in Ontario with very little happening. Of course, all eyes are on David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, which premiered in Berlin in February and will open across the nation April 23. Budgeted at $31 million, it is unquestionably one of the most expensive Canadian films ever made and one of the most eagerly awaited. Atom Egoyan returned home from Ireland and England with his next feature, Felicia's Journey starring Bob Hoskins, to do the post in Toronto raising the possibility that this Canada/U.K. coproduction will have enough points to qualify as an "official" Canadian film. If this is so, the delicious promise of Cronenberg vs. Egoyan at next year's Genies is a distinct possibility.... Other films in the works are Apartment Hunting directed by Bill Robertson, who hasn't been heard of since his quirky Events Leading Up To My Death, the controversial American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol), and Norman Jewison has completed principal photography on Lazarus and the Hurricane starring Denzel Washington. On the TV front, another six episodes of Twitch City are going before the cameras with the Genie-winning golden boy Don McKellar writing and starring and again directed by his buddy, Bruce McDonald. Susan Cavan produces for Accent Entertainment.... Toronto-based producer, Camelia Frieberg, was honoured by the Vancouver chapter of Women in Film and Television as "Woman of the Year" in February. Not to be outdone, the Toronto branch of the same organization announced that she will be given its annual Excellence in Production award in April. Frieberg, who has long laboured under the shadow of her more famous producing partner Atom Egoyan (The Adjuster, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter), is coming into her own, last year acting as executive producer on Amnon Buchbinder's critically praised The Fishing Trip and now producer on Jeremy Podeswa's latest, The Five Senses, which should surface in time for the fall festival season.... Rhombus Media is coming off a spectacular year which included 11 Genies for The Red Violin and Last Night, prizes at the Cannes and Toronto festivals for Last Night, an Emmy and five Geminis for the six-part mini-series, Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired By Bach, and many other awards for its internationally renowned arts programming. The company has also announced that it is developing even more movie deals, including one about the infamous Boyd gang which terrorized Toronto and Montreal during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
A while ago, a group of professional associations of artists and producers banded together under the evocative name La Grande nuit du cinema and dreamed it was about time for Quebec to get its very own movie-award show. And thus the Jutra Awards were born, an award show aimed at Quebec films and their makers with no steep admission fee for producers to submit their films (unlike the Genies). Ten extremely different features competed for top honours in 12 categories in the Jutras's first edition, held in Montreal March 7th. Francois Girard's spellbinding The Red Violin, already a big winner at this year's Genies, led the pack with a whopping 11 nominations, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress for Sylvia Chang and Best Screenplay for Girard and Don McKellar. Following closely were Denis Villeneuve's and Manon Briand's refreshing first features, Un 32 aout sur terre and 2 secondes, each nominated for 7 Jutras, including Best Film and Best Director. Strangely, ever present Pascale Bussieres, the star of 32 aout, was absent from the Best Actress category, leaving the spotlight to shine on Chang, 2 secondes's Charlotte Laurier, Le Coeur au poing's Pascale Montpetit or C't'a ton tour, Laura Cadieux's Ginette Reno. The Best Actor spot was an even more eclectic group, with 32 aout's nuanced actor Alexis Martin, Les Boys II's funny man Marc Messier, iconoclast Jean Pierre Lefebvre's little-seen film Aujourd'hui ou jamais's veteran actor Marcel Sabourin, and 2 secondes's stubborn Italian Dino Tavarone. Apart from Girard, Villeneuve and Briand, the fourth nominee in the Best Director category was Robert Lepage, for his wickedly hilarious look at the October Crisis, No.... Other films and events making the news this Spring? Lea Pool's very personal Emporte-moi, opened the 17th annual Rendez-vous du cinema quebecois in February. Highly autobiographical, Emporte-moi tells the bittersweet story of a young girl, played by newcomer Karine Vanasse, who comes of age in 1963 Montreal, facing her difficult heritage passed on to her by her father, an exiled Jewish poet, played by Emir Kusturica's favourite actor, Miki Monojlovic. And that's just the beginning, for 1999 should be another big year for Quebec movies, with the releases of such diverse films as Michel Brault's Quand je serai parti...vous vivrez encore, Richard Ciupka's labyrinthian police thriller Le Dernier souffle, starring popular actor Luc Picard, and Johanne Pregent's Fugue, her eagerly awaited follow-up to Les Amoureuses.
THE EAST COAST
The cancellation of Nova Scotia's first hour-long dramatic series, Black Harbour, was the big news on the East Coast this winter. In its third season, the finely crafted show suffered increasingly from disappointing ratings due to poor scripting and increasingly hard-to-follow story lines. The crew, however, have already migrated to the new series which are popping up all around the region. In Moncton, former Nova Scotia Film Development Corp. head Roman Bittman and former Atlantic NFB chief Marilyn Belec are furiously working on Daring and Grace, a teen detective show which was formerly known as Dick and Tracey. Shooting in Moncton's industrial park with a 13-episode commitment from the CBC and a second window from YTV, Daring and Grace is New Brunswick's first continuing drama series, undoubtedly benefiting from that province's generous 40 per cent tax credit.... Production for younger audiences in the region comes from a strong tradition that boasts successful programs such as the CBC's still-going strong Street Sense, Cochrane Entertainment's Theodore Tugboat and Pit Pony, and Salter Street's popular Emily of New Moon. Salter Street's latest effort is Pirates, a spiffy puppet-and-live-action entry that is currently in production at Electropolis Studios until April. Forty 15-minute episodes are planned with Fraggle Rock veteran Wayne Moss directing from Jeff Rosen's inventive scripts. This all dovetails nicely, schedule-wise, with plans for the next instalment of Rick Mercer's Made in Canada and, of course, the next round of the science-fiction extravaganza, Lexx: The Dark Zone Stories. Rumour has it that soon enough we'll all be working for Salter Street.... Just before Brian Tobin called a rare winter election in Newfoundland, he announced a mixed bag of goodies, which included a 40 per cent tax credit to match New Brunswick's. It might have been designed to entice back the Hollywood megaproject, The Shipping News. The troubled production, estimated at $60 to $80 million U.S., has gotten cold feet about a daunting mid-winter shoot on the Rock. While author E. Annie Proulx has been pushing for an authentic Newfoundland setting, producers have been tilting toward an easier shoot in Nova Scotia, while the star, John Travolta, wants to shoot in Maine where he has a permanent residence. What's at stake is the possibility of landing an English Patient-style serious literary project with plenty of popular crossover appeal. It's a big fish. Let's just hope it's not the one that gets away.
Ron Foley Macdonald
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|Author:||Jack Vermee, and others|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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