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‘Not a new thing’: Calgary film commissioner said grant delays typical

The union representing Alberta’s film industry said a delay in provincial production grants is putting film work in jeopardy.

While the Calgary film commissioner agrees, he said the problem isn’t a new one.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) tied potential film production snags to the recently released MacKinnon report, saying Alberta’s film industry could “be destabilized” by reduced spending and delays in the grant approvals.

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“While the MacKinnon Report is focused on reducing spending on big-ticket items like health care and education, the message seems to be that any industry that relies on government incentives is vulnerable,” said Damian Petti, President IATSE Local 212, in a prepared release Wednesday.

Petti pointed to a backlog of Screen-based Production Grants (SPGs) going back to early spring of this year.

The SPG provides a subsidy to film producers to help cover 30 per cent of eligible production costs up to $3 million (and in some cases $5 million).

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“This is not a new thing. It’s been going on forever,” said Luke Azevedo, Commissioner, Film, Television and Creative Industries with Calgary Economic Development. Azevdeo was in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival.

“It’s a broken system that was never designed to handle the level of projects that we’re doing now.”

He said the SPG application process became more complex, with “more impediments” under the prior Alberta NDP government and with the new United Conservative Party in power, he said they need to take their time to review the system and come back with a plan.

Both Petti and Azevedo point out that the UCP promised they would convert the SPGs into tax credits, but conversations on that are slow.

The Alberta government was contacted Wednesday morning for more information and to provide comment in this story, but they hadn’t provided a response by the time the story was published.

Film grant backlog every year, said Azevedo

Azevedo said every year there’s an SPG backlog. He said every year it costs potential Calgary film productions.

“We’ve gotten busier, we have larger projects, we’re employing more people, we’re generating more foreign investment. And with that comes the complexity of working with a system that’s not designed to be able to handle it,” he said.

Still, Azevedo said the Calgary Film Centre is booked until May 2020, pending an upcoming, as-yet-unnamed project. So, there’s still plenty of work available. But there can always be more.

The province just needs to take the roadblocks out of the way, he said.

“We want to have a system that’s straightforward. That gives the return that the government wants to see at a very high level, employs people and does exactly what we’ve been talking about from the government’s perspective, which is to bring in that large foreign investment and to get those jobs growing year after year,” Azevdeo said.

“This is an industry that can do that.”

According to IATSE, roughly 5,000 people annually are employed in direct screen-industry jobs, with an economic impact in the province of roughly $300 million per year.