This year's Best For Saskatchewan finalists at the Yorkton Film Festival are a diverse group.
The stories are about the province, most shot here. Those behind the films are proud of the finished products and the Ruth Shaw nomination, but recent announcements by the government has them concerned about the industry's future.
In terms of Saskatchewan films the stories are diverse.
"To Make a Farm tells the story of five young Canadian's who have decided to become farmers, despite not having farm backgrounds," said film director/producer Steve Suderman. "It follows them through their first year on their own land. They face daily challenges and set-backs, but their optimism inspires hope for the future."
Suderman said the film is a truly a Saskatchewan story.
"Given Saskatchewan's roots in agriculture, and the fact that in the next 10-years, 75 per cent of our farmers will be retiring, it's an important story for this province. It's a bit of a new story too, as we have heard a lot about the end of small farms, but this is a story about beginning," he said.
But even as a film relevant to Saskatchewan it was actually shot in Manitoba and Ontario, said Suderman. He added, "I am based out of Regina where all research, post production and marketing took place. Other Saskatchewan residents included Robin Schlaht as Executive Producer and Jackie Dzuba as editor. Picture-post was done in Regina at Java Post Productions and sound-post was done at Twisted Pair Sound."
The Nature of Things - MS Wars: Hope, Science & The Internet is a finalist, and even then the nationally recognized series told a strongly Saskatchewan story.
"Sask has more MS than anywhere else in the world, and was the first place in Canada to agree to trials of the new 'Liberation therapy'," explained director Leif Kaldor. "We followed Saskatchewan patients and others to tell the story. The show was conceived when my cousin in Prince Albert who has MS went for treatment."
The filming took place around the world, but the crew was nearly all from Saskatchewan.
"It was shot in Canada, Costa Rica, Italy, Austria, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Everyone who worked on it was from Saskatchewan other than one researcher. I don't have the exact number, but well over fifteen," said Kaldor.
Zaul McLellan is the director of 'All Nation's Healin' Thru Artz', a film he said is important within the province.
"My film highlights a youth arts group from north central Regina," he said. "Youth are provided with free transportation, meals, arts classes, and life skills classes.
"What I was really trying to do with the film was show how much a project like this impacts the youth's lives. Most of them are considered 'at-risk' and the dinner conversations can be quite disturbing. Violence, abuse, hunger, and substance abuse, tend to be very real parts of their lives."
McLellan said it's a story which deserved to be told.
"I think the film is important to Saskatchewan because it highlights one of the efforts being made to improve the lives of youth who live in the hood," he said.
"It is also sadly important because it recently had its funding pulled by the federal government and was forced to close its doors."
The film was completely shot in Regina.
Rusted Pyre is an example of finalist film which took cameras to places barely on the Saskatchewan map.
"(Rusted) Pyre was shot in a little and almost forgotten community here in Saskatchewan," said David Cormican producer of the film. "It's a community called Havelock, which is a stone's throw from Bulyea and is now, nothing more than an under-used community hall; but it happened to make the perfect setting for our film that we shot in the middle of winter. The production employed directly about 25 Saskatchewan people and indirectly paid for services and supplies through the local rental agencies, vendors and equipment suppliers …
"Rusted Pyre was a winner of the Canadian Short Screenplay competition and tells the tale of Sally and Ginny who together must endure a night of ghost stories as a right of passage in an old abandoned car on the outskirts of town when one of the stories take a terrifyingly real twist."
The question looming for the industry in the province moving forward is whether film will be made based out of Saskatchewan with the Film Employment Tax Credit being eliminated in the 2012 budget.
"Yes, I accessed the SFETC for this film," said Suderman, adding he spent money in the province too; more than the tax credit offered. "In making this film I spent $170,000 on goods, services and labour in Saskatchewan. All of this money came from sources outside of Saskatchewan, except for the SFETC of about $35,000. I needed most of the SFETC money to complete financing of the film, though a small portion has been re-invested in future projects."
McLellan said as a student he did not access the tax credit for his finalist film, but is now feeling the impact of the cut.
"This was a student project with absolutely no budget, so the tax credit did not affect me," he said. "It is affecting me now though as it is becoming much harder to find work and the option of me being able to stay here in Saskatchewan seems to be fading fast."
McLellan said his family's deep roots in the province may be severed by the tax credit loss.
"I live on a farm just outside of Regina, where we were recently awarded a century family award for maintaining the land for over a century. It looks like I will not be able to continue that legacy," he said.
"Not only that, but I just received a cheque in the mail as part of the graduate retention program, it seems unfair that I won't be able to collect more of those as I am being forced out of the province."
Rusted Pyre was eligible for funding through the program.
"I applied for the Part A certificate for the film and was approved. I am just in the midst of finalizing the taxes for the company and about to file for my Part B certificate on the production. In terms of the financing for the project, I was able to finance the project using a combination of Out-of-Province dollars and my own personal funds to interim finance the SFETC funding," said Cormican.
Kaldor said without the tax credit his film on MS for the Nature of Things would not have been made.
"Without the tax credit we would not have been able to fully finance the project, and as it happened quickly to follow a developing story, we would have had no time to go look for grants to make up the hole in financing," he said. "Without the tax credit it would not have happened."
Not all Best of Saskatchewan finalists accessed the tax credit though.
The CBC production Blind Spot: What Happened to Canada's Aboriginal Fathers was one that did not.
"It was mostly shot here in Saskatchewan in North Central Regina," said director/producer Geoff Leo. "We did some shooting on the Yellowquill First Nation, Edmonton and Victoria BC as well.
"The shooting involved four Saskatchewan residents."
Leo added, "As I work for CBC the products and services we access are for the most part 'in house'."
Leo was also not commenting on the recent government decision.
"I'm a political reporter and so for professional reasons I'll keep my opinion to myself as I have to cover both sides of this dispute," he said.
That said it is still very much a Saskatchewan story Leo told in his film.
"Our documentary is shining a light on a subject that has been mostly ignored in this province and this country," he said. "There are a growing number of aboriginal children growing up in this province without a father in the home. Within just a few years half of all aboriginal kids will grow up without a dad. And the research shows that no dad is bad news for children. Without an active father they're more likely to end up poor -- unemployed -- addicted to drugs and alcohol, to wind up pregnant or in prison.
"We highlight some fathers who want to change all that and we follow them as they attempt the lives of their children."
Suderman said the tax credit has been an important part of the film sector in the province.
"Even for a small documentary project, you need a lot of skilled people to make production possible," he said. "You need people in research and writing, publicists, cinematographers, sound people, skilled producers and directors, post-production facilities such as Java Post and Twisted Pair who employ highly skilled labour, graphic designers, web technicians, DVD and Blu-ray creation and replication, etc, etc.
"Once again, documentaries like To Make a Farm tend to have small crews, but in total the film probably helped pay about 25 people who are directly connected to the film industry. Then there are all the people who are indirectly connected, like the shop I used for printing, the car rentals, the office supplies, computer hardware, and so on."
Suderman said the key is the industry has developed in part because of the government program.
"The important thing to remember is that it has taken more than 20-years to build up the technical and creative capacity required in the province to make high quality film production possible," he said. "Once that capacity is lost, it will take many many years to recover. It's a huge setback for Saskatchewan."
Suderman said having film about Saskatchewan takes our stories to a broader area.
"'To Make a Farm' has played at more than 35 theatres across Canada and the US," he said. "It has been invited to festivals nationally and internationally. It will be broadcast and available online across Canada. It's only possible because we have the people in Saskatchewan who can make good films. Without a competitive Tax Credit, that will be lost, and Saskatchewan will fall silent."
Rusted Pyre has certainly taken a Saskatchewan product to the world.
"This film has been incredibly successful as the little film that could," said Cormican. "It played at the Cannes Film Festival last year as part of Telefilm Canada's Not Short on Talent Programme, and received its North American Premiere at the Worldwide Short Film Festival and has played almost 20 festivals worldwide and picked up awards and nominations ranging from Best in Canada, Audience Choice, Best Actor, Director, Story-Telling and Honorourable Mentions, in addition to a television premiere on the CBC earlier this year."
Cormican said recognition at home is good too.
"I also think it is a wonderful example of Prairie Story-telling sensibilities that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats," he said. "It's an honour to think that we are able to finish our festival run right here at home and to cap it off with a nomination in the Best of Saskatchewan category. It feels like it is a true recognition of the success this film has had with national and international audiences and this accolade is a chance to share the film and its successes with local audiences."
McLellan said talent and culture are both at risk with the government announcement.
"In my short time in the industry I have been blown away by the incredible talent of the crews in Saskatchewan. I have been lucky enough to work on InSecurity, Space Milkshake, and a show for SCN entitled On Site, and I am always impressed by the drive and skill our crews display. They are friendly, helpful, and supportive. I truly hope to work with them more in the future," he said.
Cormican agreed on the talent in the province.
"Saskatchewan boasts some pretty incredible and talented crew and creatives," he said. "It's part of what contributed to the success of this movie. Albeit a Short Film, it has gone on to play festivals all over the world and win, and be nominated for some exclusive awards/categories. Not only that, but they know how to work in over an 80 degree temperature swing from Plus 40 to Minus 40. Luckily, the weather knew we were coming and hovered around Zero to Minus five when we were shooting in November/December in the snow."
But it's the stories which are most at risk.
"I think one of the major points being forgotten in this cut is the fact that the cultural implications go far beyond just film," said McLellan. "On set I have met visual artists, working as painters or special effects, sound recording technicians doing what they do best, grips and electrics who work in theatre, and even local bands.
"Film in many ways is a financial backbone that helps all of the creative industries in Saskatchewan keep going."
Cormican said the government decision hits the industry hard.
"The loss of a globally competitive filming incentive is a huge blow to the industry and has eliminated a huge portion of the financing structure for independently financed feature films, television productions and digital media initiatives," he said. "It has removed any sort of competitive advantage in attracting and making a case for doing the business of filmmaking within the walls of Saskatchewan. Major corporations spend incredible amounts of time, effort and resources on determining where it is most advantageous to set up shop and perform the bulk of their economic and business activities.
"And if there is no economic advantage to doing business in this province, when there are dozens of jurisdictions around the world that are competing for and making strong arguments to attract that business and economic activity, doesn't it only make sense for these filmmakers to pack their bags and go where their services and economic impact are appreciated, valued and respected."
And without the tax credit there is likely to be a loss of Saskatchewan talent.
"I am at the stage where I need to get another project into production. There is a good chance I will be leaving the province this fall to do that," said Suderman.
McLellan said there is an exodus taking place.
"Talking to local producers and crew, this will be the end of the industry here. Many people have already left," he said.
"I was just beginning to start house shopping when the Tax Credit decision came down. I am very afraid that I will have to leave the province and start working from the very bottom again."
Essentially the industry is stagnated and unsure of its future, said Cormican.
"The stress of this situation has been dosed out daily. I am constantly on the phone with co-producers and business partners trying to figure out what is going to work for us in both the short term and long term, as I never like to think of myself as a One Show Wonder," he said. "I like to make partners for the long-haul who are interested in multiple projects over many years and not just the One-Night Stand, so to speak of a one off show. As every business does, we (the film industry) require some sort of stable environment to perform our business and spend our budgets as we shoot our stories for consumption at home and on the global scale.
"The current instability for doing business in our industry in our province has seriously made me take a look at whether or not Saskatchewan remains a viable place to do business."
Cormican said the tax credit while not perfect played an important part in the sector, and was better than what the government is suggesting as a follow-up program.
"Right now, I'd have to say that the old model, while it had its hiccups, worked and could have been redesigned through consultation with industry and government over a period of time, like the last incentive that took two to three years to design and implement.
"The new plan announced earlier in May, does not provide any incentive for producers and entrepreneurs to invest in Saskatchewan filmmaking. We need a plan that works for both sides and provides an economic impact for productions, the spin-off industries and the economy of Saskatchewan. If we cannot come together on a plan that works, we're going to lose the industry that has been growing for the past 25-years to other jurisdictions that clearly value and support the economic benefits provided by their creative industries."
Kaldor said the new government proposal wouldn't work for any sector, including the film one.
"It will make us uncompetitive," he said. "Imagine legislating that Brandt Industries had to sell their products with a 20 per cent Sask(atchewan) tariff, and then offered them a break on their taxes when they make huge profits in the marketplace; or wheat, or potash or any product or service.
"Our industry will do what each of those businesses would do - go where costs are less and they can be competitive."
So Kaldor said his future in the province was unlikely.
"We will be forced to move," he said. "Both our families have over 100-years in the province, and have worked hard to build something world class.
"And it has been destroyed.
"So we move. That simple.
"But the repercussions for over 1000 families and businesses here is unconscionable. There will be an arts scene here, but there are not 1000 writers, or musicians or painters. It will gut the biggest cultural industry in the province.
"These are world class companies with vast business expertise in a high tech and complex industry. We are being encouraged to move to other provinces who want the skills and the income - after their tax credits - that our industry brings.
"Unfortunately we have to leave our home."