Saskatchewan. filmmakers welcome new funding, but say more is needed for industry to thrive

Saskatchewan filmmakers say they’re happy with the new funding for the industry, but more is needed if the field is to thrive in the province.

This year’s provincial budget — unveiled Wednesday — included an additional $8 million for Saskatchewan’s film and television production grants program. There is now $10 million on the table for the coming fiscal year, all of which will be administered by the crown corporation Creative Saskatchewan.

The filmmakers say the funding is good news for an industry that was gutted a decade ago.

“We’ve always been relevant, but now we’re relevant again to government, and that’s a very positive thing,” said Regina filmmaker Layton Burton.

LISTEN | Saskatchewan. the film industry gets an additional $8 million in the latest provincial budget:

The afternoon edition – Sask.9:54Saskatchewan. film industry gets an extra $8 million in latest provincial budget

Saskatchewan’s film and television industry is boosted. The province announced Wednesday that the latest budget includes an additional $8 million for the production grant program, meaning the program will have $10 million available in the 2022-23 fiscal year. This comes as a bit of a surprise to some, since the money comes from the same government that scrapped the movie tax credit a decade ago. But can new subsidies reinvigorate this industry, or is it too little, too late? On today’s show, we’re joined by Layton Burton. He has worked in the film industry for decades and is a lecturer in the School of Journalism at the University of Regina. 9:54

However, industry members also say the new funding is nowhere near enough to compensate for a generation of filmmakers who were forced to relocate when work dried up after the tax credit cut.

They say that if the province wants to revitalize the industry that once made Little mosque on the prairie and corner gas iconic pieces of Canadian pop culture, more support is needed.

A decade of pain

A decade ago, the Saskatchewan government announced it would end the Film Employment Tax Credit, which covered up to 55% of labor costs in film and video productions .

At the time, the provincial government said it was costing the province too much.

Although there were protests and demonstrations outside the legislature, the decision would not be overturned.

The consequences have been disastrous for the industry, Louise BigEagle told Stefani Langenegger on The morning edition.

“The industry kind of collapsed and slowed down a lot,” said BigEagle, an Indigenous filmmaker who lives in Regina and works for the Saskatchewan Filmpool Co-operative.

LISTEN | The Regina filmmaker hopes to raise money from Creative Sask. will help bring back the cut film tax credit:

8:05The Regina filmmaker hopes to raise money from Creative Sask. will help bring back the cut film tax credit

When Louise BigEagle graduated from the University of Regina five years ago, she says the film industry was already in a tailspin in this province. We hear why she stayed – and what she hopes for the future of cinema in Saskatchewan, following some welcome news in this week’s budget. 8:05

In the years leading up to 2012, filmmakers could easily support themselves, and the various productions brought business and money to every corner of the province.

A study conducted by SaskFilm and the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce found that from 1998 to 2012, the film industry generated a total of $514.6 million in economic activity after government spending. This represents $36.7 million in annual economic activity.

This changed once the tax credit was reduced.

A report of 2020 by Statistics Canada showed that the operating revenue generated by film, television and video productions in Saskatchewan in 2007 was $42.2 million. Ten years later, in 2017, operating revenue had fallen to $21.3 million.

In 2019, it had fallen to $17.2 million.

The Government of Saskatchewan renames the Regina Sound Stage in honor of John Hopkins, the former CEO of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce. The facility will henceforth be known as John Hopkins Regina Sound Stage. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC News)

“There really wasn’t an industry. There was no infrastructure,” Burton said.

“Everyone I used to work with…everyone who was part of the movie family here in Saskatchewan was fired, so there was nobody.”

No longer needed

The provincial government says the new funding is aimed at attracting more and bigger projects to Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Laura Ross says now is the right time to invest in the industry thanks to the boom in streaming services over the past decade.

“Creative Saskatchewan and SMPIA (Saskatchewan Motion Picture Industry Association) estimate that this investment will result in $50 million in film and television investment and several million more in economic production,” Ross said in a statement.

Industry insiders say that while the new funding announced this week has opened the door to revitalizing the industry, it does not replace the tax credit system.

Zarqa Nawaz is a filmmaker and writer from Regina. She created Little mosque on the prairie and just finished filming a new digital pilot, Zarqafor Radio Canada.

WATCH | Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz returns to the airwaves with her new show, ZARQA:

Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz returns to the airwaves with her new show, ZARQA

Zarqa Nawaz, creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie is filming a new comedy series in Regina 2:44

Nawaz said shows like corner gas and Little mosque on the prairie were huge successes and gave the industry confidence that Canada could produce hit television shows that would have international appeal.

“Before these shows, it was really hard to get Canadians to watch Canadian TV and since that time we’ve seen some amazing shows come out of Canada, like Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience“Nawaz said.

This made the Saskatchewan government’s decision to drastically reduce the tax credit all the more puzzling. It led to a decade of “devastation” in Saskatchewan’s film industry, Nawaz said.

Zarqa Nawaz created Little Mosque on the Prairie and recently did a pilot for a new show, Zarqa. (Peter Scholar)

The new funding is just one step towards his recovery, Nawaz said. She still believes that the tax credit system is a necessity.

“If you can’t compete, why would they come to Saskatchewan? It’s not economically feasible,” she said.

“We need it. There’s no doubt about it. Without it, you can’t create a television industry.”

Statements from the Saskatchewan government make the return of the tax credit unlikely.

He did not respond directly to questions about his intention to reinstate the tax credit in the future.

The new funding offers possible avenues for filmmakers like Nawaz.

She said she was looking to turn her recent special into a full half-hour series. With funding announced Wednesday, it may now be possible to make the series in Regina.

“I can…convince a broadcaster to allow me to shoot in Saskatchewan,” she said.

“Otherwise we would have had to go to Winnipeg.”