B.C. Film shift puzzles industry

Vancouver: A government restructuring in British Columbia that shuffles responsibility for the B.C. Film Commission to a new provincial ministry, has some local producers scratching their heads.

The busy government liaison office – servicing visiting domestic productions that, in 1995, spent $432 million – has been moved from the B.C. Trade Development Corporation to the Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture. New Premier Glen Clark dissolved B.C. Trade in a cabinet shuffle Feb. 28 as part of a cost-cutting measure to reduce duplication.

The move consolidates all film-oriented government services under long-term culture minister Bill Barlee, who now controls the British Columbia Film funding agency, The Bridge Studios, a small-business financing program called Venture Capital Corporation, and the promotion- and export-motivated B.C. Film Commission. Barlee’s ministry is further diversified with responsibilities for sports and recreation.

The move prompts Vancouver producers such as Julia Keatley to ask whether the change will bring any new benefits to the film sector. Keatley agrees the shift of the commission makes basic sense, but voices concern that the various film agencies’ mandates will compete or work at cross purposes.

Pete Mitchell, B.C. film commissioner, says the shuffle means the commission has access to greater financial resources, which can help it digitize its photographs of locations, for example. His only fear is that the commission might become too bureaucratic.

Barlee’s ministerial assistant Mike Geoghegan says there will be no consolidations or reductions now that all film business is done by one minister.

As the host of the show Gold Trails & Ghost Towns (shot at chbc in Kelowna), Barlee understands the needs and scope of the film and television industry, says Geoghegan enthusiastically. And with one minister in charge, film initiatives will have a single voice, the aide adds.

Any failure by Barlee to lead a successful bid to gain b.c. a film investment program (bcfip) in recent months has more to do with reduction in federal transfer payments than a lack of stewardship from the minister, explains Geoghegan. The government is concerned with a balanced budget, he says, and despite the program’s expected financial benefits, politicians see investment as expenditure. ‘The bcfip is not dead,’ he maintains.

Despite reassurances by Geoghegan, Keatley says she hopes the programs aren’t eventually combined, a fear enlivened by the recent quashing of the Alberta Motion Picture Development Corporation.

‘Sometimes film issues get lost in a ministry with such divergent interests,’ says Keatley, who has led a so-far-unsuccessful lobby by the b.c. branch of the cftpa for a bcfip.

Her frustration has led Keatley to mount another finance-incentive campaign, this time for a b.c. tax credit modeled on the new federal refundable income tax credit. She says the bctc will likely be more palatable for bureaucrats and politicians. She adds that establishing a provincial incentive is necessary to increase the flow of other federal monies like the Cable Production Fund.

Wayne Sterloff, president of British Columbia Film, sees the B.C. Film Commission’s move as a good news story – that the government will more easily develop growth strategies from the film sector and implement more cohesive initiatives like the bcfip.

‘When the B.C. Film Commission is a line item on the minister’s budget (which it wasn’t as part of a Crown corporation), it means longevity and security,’ says Sterloff. ‘The further away from the minister you are, the more threatened you are by cuts.’

He also sees cost efficiencies by the reductions in duplications. For example, both the B.C. Film Commission and Bridge Studios currently conduct their own promotional tours to l.a. In the future, the agencies will likely act in tandem.