AlbertaViews MagazineAlbertaViews is in its fifteenth year of publishing and according to its website description “is the must-read magazine for the people who are shaping the new Alberta. Innovators in politics, education, industry, public service and the arts share and discover fresh perspectives in our in-depth analysis of everything relevant to the public interest of Albertans. Recognized for its editorial excellence, Alberta Views is one of the most respected publications in Canada, and has won Magazine of the Year and both the National and Western Magazine Awards. Right now no other province is as complex, vibrant and creative as Alberta, and no magazine covers it like Alberta Views.” I once had the pleasure of working for a time with their founding editor Jackie Flanagan on promoting the launch of the magazine in Alberta.  I agree that no other magazine in covers Alberta the way they do.  Readers with an interest in film and movie makers in Alberta will be particularly impressed with their December 2011 issue.

Fil Fraser’s article Quiet on the Set: A golden age of moviemaking ended with the Klein cutbacks. Can we again be Big Screen Country? carves a history of movie making in Alberta beginning with the first movie shot in Alberta Back to God’s Country (1919).

The film stars Nells Shipman a Canadian born pioneer filmmaker and one of the first women to do a nude scene on screen in this film. It was shot for $70,000 “reportedly with funds raised from Calgary dentists and doctors” and it grossed $1.5 million. “Back to God’s Country” remains the most successful silent film in Canadian history and showcased the Alberta landscape and drew tourists, workers and homesteaders in droves.

Fraser’s article points out that Alberta’s filmmakers have initiated a number of firsts in Canada. He writes:

Alberta can claim pride of place. We led the provinces in creating in 1973 the first film industry association in Canada, the Alberta Motion Picture Industries Association AMPIA (now Alberta Media Production Industries Association). The first provincial program to support the film industry, the Alberta Motion Picture Development Fund (AMPDC) opened its doors in 1982, providing a model that other provinces soon followed. Alberta was the first to appoint a provincial film commissioner with a mandate to lure Hollywood producers north.

It all paid off; the province reveled in a golden age of film during the 1980s [which Fraser writes about in great detail in his book Alberta’s Camelot: Culture & the Arts in the Lougheed Years] and into the 1990s. Everything changed abruptly in 1996, however, when Ralph Klein, in a cost cutting orgy shut down the AMPDC. He told me his government “didn’t want to be in the business of business.” Ironically, records show that the “business” was profitable. Government funding to AMPDC resulted in tax revenues that exceeded the money allocated.”

The industry crashed. The value of film production in the province, which had been increasing annually, plummeted from $150 million in 1995 to $50 million in 1997. Two thirds of production evaporated. Many of our most talented creators moved to BC. Their stories – Alberta’s stories – went with them.

Since the mid 1990s, Alberta’s film producers (those who opted to stay after Klein’s guillotine) have been struggling to rebuild the industry. But there is something about Alberta’s creative spirit. So how are we doing?”

Fraser offers up examples of stories that Albertans are telling the world. He points to Tom Radford’s latest film Tipping Point: The Age of the Oil Sands which he calls “a thoughtful exploration of the downstream effects of industrial development.” The film aired on Nature of Things,  won a Rosie Award and two Geminis.

He also points to the success of Passchendaele (2008) shot near Calgary with a budget of $20 million, $5 million of it by way of a grant to celebrate Alberta’s centennial celebrations, and the fact that it employed hundreds of Alberta actors, technicians and extras. Passchendaele portrayed the 10th Battalion, Alberta Regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, composed largely of Albertans. Fraser also gives a nod to two popular tv series shot in Alberta: Heartland (produced by Tom Cox) and Blackstone (produced by Ron E. Scott)

Does Fraser predict a positive future for movie makers and digital producers in Alberta?

With cautious optimism, he wants to view the cup half full and half empty. As a expression of hope for the future, Fraser quotes from a conversation he had with Don Metz, a filmmaker he claims as “among the most successful producers of sports programming in Canada” and a member of the NAIT board of directors:

The development of post secondary film and media education in Alberta in creating opportunities for new creators who understand the power of social media and the digital arts. The schools have relevant curricula that create a great environment for Alberta youth.

On the flip side Fraser points out that “Alberta is still far from punching above its weight, nationally or internationally, as it used to. A reprise of those golden years depends on whether funding and government priorities continue to fluctuate with each new caucus.”

If it’s a fact that, as Fraser claims, that:

…only two countries, the US and India, have self-sustaining and profitable film industries. All others subsidize movies to the cause of presenting and preserving culture and identity.  In Canada, governments – federal, provincial and municipal – devise ingenious programs to help producers and others advance their craft,

then it seems like the future of the Alberta film industry is tied to the how much the Alberta government knows about and appreciates the value that Alberta filmmakers bring to the table, the contribution they make to the economy, the support they offer to the industry and the importance they place on Albertans telling their own stories.

The December 2011 issue of AlbertaViews also features the Alberta born actor and filmmaker, Paul Gross. Born in Calgary and a graduate of the University of Alberta’s BFA program, Gross is most familiar as Constable Benton Fraser on the tv series Due South. He’s appeared in 20 movies, performed on most major theatre stages in Canada and wrote, directed, co-produced and starred in the 2008 made-in-Alberta feature film Passchendaele. According to the interview in the magazine, he has lived in Toronto for decades but considers Alberta his home:

 My parents live in Edmonton and my brother and his family live in Calgary. I have tons of friends in Alberta. My family has a ranch down by the badlands and, to my mind, that’s still home. It’s the place I have the most connection to, of all the places I’ve been in the world.

This issue also features their annual guide to new titles from Alberta writers and publishers that is well worth checking out.

You might also want to check out the Jackie Flanagan’s editorial  on Happiness. A timely piece for the season.

A copy of the December 2011 issue or a subscription to of AlbertaViews would make a great Christmas gift for the discerning people in your life.

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