Article for NeWest Review: Opinion by Gerald Saul Topic: SaskFilm
Since the beginning of this decade, SaskFILM has been lending money to Saskatchewan film and video producers to assist in the creation of projects and, therefore, to promote growth of the local film industry. SaskFilm has recently announced a number of revisions to its assessment process. In a nutshell, the changes amount to a few details primarily of interest to the producers' accountants. I recently attended a meeting where producers met with SaskFILM representatives to discuss these changes. I left the meeting with ill feelings.
It is not what is contained in the adjustments that I feel is a problem, but what is not contained. SaskFILM seems to give no guidance for the producers to make good films. I am sure that projects are assessed by a very competent and well meaning panel, and I am sure that many of the proposals are for excellent programming. However, the attitude of so many of the producers attending that day did not fill me with faith.
One producer at the meeting argued that all of his budgeted "corporate overhead" is being spent on office and staff so therefore he wanted SaskFILM to fund not only his projects but to also give further funding to be earmarked as company profit! If money is such a priority, then why not make films that can be sold?
If they cannot figure out what kind of film that might be, then perhaps they have chosen the wrong line of work.
Regardless, producers feel forced to reduce costs in other areas. Geoff Yates, a business agent (motion picture production) at IATSI (local 295), brought up a concern that many of their members are being told by producers that, due to underfunding, their rates cannot be met. In a strong and ongoing film industry, most technicians will occasionally agree to work at a cut rate. However, when the majority of their annual salary must be scraped out of four or five projects, taking a lesser rate on two or three of them is disheartening if not devastating.
Mark Prasuhn of SaskFILM remarked that they are promoting the idea that Saskatchewan companies should co-produce with producers from other provinces. While this would help raise funds for projects, the primary rational was that producers could learn from their more experienced mentors. However, co\_productions have inevitably led to directors being brought in from other provinces. Without national reputations, our talent is pushed aside by the higher profile (note: not necessarily better) outside directors.
The most common catch phrases to drop from our producers' lips is "our voices" or "our stories". It is by expressing "our voices" that all of the film expenditures seems to be justified. A story may come from any source, but it is the film director who is the storyTELLER. The director guides the context from which the story is rooted. To not support our directors is to hand our voice, that voice we profess to need to communicate, away.
While the Regina based Mind's Eye's television series The Incredible Story Studio has given opportunities to some local directors, TV has such a tight schedule that a creative person can rarely demonstrate more than competency under its constraints. Nevertheless, I do hope that these shows can be used as leverage to win more positions for our key creative people. However, I fear that outside producers will not be as excited about being involved with us if we demand to be our own storytellers.
Saskatchewan film, as with most film in Canada, is supported by our government. I believe this is highly important to continue. American control of our media, and therefore our self-image, has been so strong for so long that we may never recover it. This can be blamed both on our small population and therefore small audience base as well as on a history of Canadian government buckling under U.S. pressures not to restrict their access to our theatres. However, in the past thirty years, filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Guy Madden have emerged, supported by provincial and federal film funds. These storytellers have struggled to bring their individual voices to our nation and beyond. It is by supporting creative visionaries, not businessmen, that Saskatchewan might attract others to listen to us.
Not many people in Saskatchewan are getting rich off the film industry. Hardship may quicken the exodus of our skilled and creative people. In time, only those who really believe that they need to have their voices heard will still be hanging on. Those that are in it for the money will always fail to make a lasting mark. In the final analysis, the world does not need any more movies made by, or from the viewpoint of, the rich. Time will eventually separate those of us who want to make films from those who are merely opportunists seeking to milk the system
© Gerald Saul 2005