Here’s The Thing

by Bob Woolsey

illustration by Dana Kearley
illustration by Dana Kearley

The worst fears of many people in the film industry (and arts in general) recently became reality. The B.C. Liberals won another term as our government. In the social media melee that followed the election results, I noticed a number of my independent filmmaker friends pointing out that if you’re relying on government money as an indie filmmaker, you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot right out of the gate. Not that a film-friendly government wouldn’t have benefited them, but this win by the Liberals hasn’t really changed anything. It’s true, but it’s also kind of the problem.

The loudest voice against the B.C. Liberal’s policies towards film has been the Save B.C. Film movement. However, that organization is really centered on the American film industry that shoots here. With the B.C. Liberals refusing to match tax incentives of other provinces, productions go elsewhere and their union paying jobs go with them. So, it’s not really B.C. film they’re trying to hold on to; it’s American film made in B.C.

Sure, these large productions have benefitted the B.C. film community in many ways. Every indie producer I know has gotten a deal on gear, facilities, or some other aspect of production because of the infrastructure built with American production money. Not to mention our talented workforce that’s been trained to work on sets funded by that same Uncle Sam cash.

The issue of these jobs is an important one, but the title of “Save B.C. Film” seems to assume that this workforce, assembled by and sustained by American money, makes up the entirety of B.C. filmmakers. It ignores the struggling independent writers, directors, and producers striving to make films here that actually tell B.C. stories about B.C. characters in B.C. situations. These filmmakers don’t make any money off of this so-called “B.C. Film.” What’s the last film you saw that was shot in Vancouver and actually set in Vancouver?

It took me a while to think of one too.

Unfortunate as it is, the reality of the situation has relegated anyone who wants to make movies about Vancouver, or B.C. at large, to hobby status. Despite the increasing ease associated with low cost cameras and editing software you can use at home, it still costs a lot of money to make movies. So much money that even if a young intrepid storyteller raises enough funds to make a feature length film, they almost certainly don’t make another one. Can you name any up-and-coming Canadian directors?

Sarah Polley and …

If you can even still consider Sarah Polley an up-and-coming director. Not to mention the fact that she’s based in Toronto. We have a serious lack of visible content about Vancouver and British Columbia available to any kind of wide audience. It’s troubling. Not only because we aren’t seeing ourselves represented on screen, but also because the problem is so systemic that there can be no easy solutions. Even if B.C. had elected a government that opened up the province’s wallet and doled out cash for B.C. films, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone would see them, largely due to the American stranglehold on our theatres.

With such an ingrained system, tax credits and Canadian content laws can only do so much. At the end of the day the change has to come from the filmmakers in the form of great content. Indeed, the only thing that ever changed the filmmaking business was outrageous profit and the desire to copy it. Here’s the thing: we have everything we need to make world-class films right at our fingertips, but we lack the success story that changed everything. The only way to get to that point is to keep making stuff. So keep on keeping on, B.C. filmmakers. It’s only a matter of time before our voice is heard – unless we allow defeats like the recent election to have any effect on our ability to do what we love.