The NFB’s Legacy in the Nova Scotia Film Industry

The legacy of the NFB lives on, infused by the memory of a time when it was pretty well the only game in town. Its online presence is perhaps the greatest reminder of this famed public service production house of documentaries, animation and experimental cinema. Its role in the community, of course, is much harder to quantify on a balance sheet, but only fools would look to bean counters for a true valuation to society of the arts.

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Nova Scotia PC Leader Jamie Baillie on Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy

In early February I sent all three candidates for the Nova Scotia NDP leadership an e-mail asking them to respond to five questions concerning their policies with respect to arts, culture and the creative economy in the province.

I sent Progressive Conservative Party leader Jamie Baillie the same questions a week later. Like his fellow PC MLA Tim Houston and former interim-NDP leader Maureen MacDonald, among others, Baillie has been outspoken in his criticism of the McNeil government’s policies with respect to the creative economy, particularly after last April’s budget that dismantled Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia, failed to implement a sound recording tax credit as the Liberals had promised, and did away with the film tax credit. For example, on April 15, 2015, Baillie rose in the House of Assembly and made the following statement:

“Mr. Speaker, the short-sighted action of the McNeil Liberals is putting in jeopardy 2,700 jobs and an entire young industry. The Premier and Minister of Finance and Treasury Board want to talk about their decision to wipe out the film industry only in terms of tax formulas. They should know there is a human cost to their actions. The industry told the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board yesterday that this plan is not workable. Today we will tell the stories of the producers, directors, caterers, costume designers, and makeup artists, who feel let down by a broken Liberal promise and abandoned by a government that doesn’t see the value of their work. These are real people who are angry and frustrated at the thought of leaving an industry they have built to find work in another province.”

I wanted to give Mr. Baillie the same opportunity as I had given the NDP leadership contenders to set out his views on these questions critical to so many Nova Scotians. Here is his reply.

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Nova Scotia and the Academy Awards

Nova Scotia has a rich Oscar history. Three Bluenosers have actually been awarded the golden statuette – producer Michael Donovan for the documentary “Bowling For Columbine,” choreographer Onna White win for 1968’s “Oliver,” and actor Harold Russell in a rare double win for 1946’s “The Best Years Of Our Lives.” Others have been nominated – Ellen Page is the most recent example, for “Juno.” Just as interesting, however, are the many lesser known Nova Scotian Oscar connections sprinkled about cinema history, from French New Wave director Francois Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H” to the various films based on the life of Anna Leonowens.

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Pioneering Canadian Filmmaker Don Owen Dies at 84

One of English Canada’s pioneering filmmakers, Don Owen, died at age 84 on February 21st.

While Owen made his films mostly in Toronto and Montreal in the 1960s, ‘70s and 80s, he lived in Halifax for almost a decade after he finished his final feature, Turnabout, in 1988, which screened at that year’s Atlantic Film Festival. He made his mark mostly at the National Film Board of Canada, particularly with the breakout feature Nobody Waved Goodbye, a 1964 long-form film that gained international acclaim and distribution in the US, at rarity at the time. Judith Crist of the New York Herald Tribune called it “a remarkable film,” and the New York Post hailed the film as “a masterpiece.”

Don Owen was a colourful character, generous with his opinions and time. His cinematic legacy, celebrated during his lifetime, will undoubtedly endure.

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The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Emmy Award winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s stunning new documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, is the most balanced and effective portrait yet seen on the screen of the radical African American organization of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nelson deftly places the big ticket moments – the trials, shoot-outs, exiles and comebacks of various important persons – within the context of a broader and richer portrait of the whole movement of resistance and cultural celebration. The result is a documentary that is a remarkably fair and balanced look at a tremendously complex social movement.

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Fixing the Nova Scotia Film Industry

Several weeks ago I was contacted by an old friend who works the back-rooms of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party when he isn’t working in one of the bright and shiny waterfront towers in downtown Halifax. He wanted to get my thoughts on what he called “the Chinese water torture” that has become the Nova Scotia film industry controversy. As I’m always happy to pontificate if someone else is buying the coffee, and because I hadn’t seen my friend in a while, I readily agreed to sit down and chat.

What follows is a summary of a fairly long and involved back and forth. My answer was simple: fix the industry by lifting the cap on the incentive fund that replaced the film tax credit, and by closing the gap in financing that was created by the loss of equity investment for local productions when Film and Creative Industries was closed last April.

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The World In His Arms

Nova Scotia once ruled the waves in the world of sailing ships. So much so, in fact, that Hollywood came calling in the early 1950s for our help in the making of The World in His Arms, a swashbuckling classic starring Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn, directed by the great action helmer Raoul Walsh and adapted from a Rex Beach novel.

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The Nova Scotia NDP Leadership Candidates on Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy

The Nova Scotia New Democratic Party is currently in the final two weeks of a long leadership campaign to determine who will be elected the next leader of the Party. Three candidates entered the race and are now nearing the finish line (voting commences on February 15th and runs until February 27th):

1. Gary Burrill, the MLA from Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley 2009 until 2013.

2. Dave Wilson, the MLA for Sackville-Cobequid since 2003; Wilson served as a cabinet minister in the NDP government from 2011 until 2013, and is the current House Leader for the NDP; and

3. Lenore Zann, the MLA from Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River since 2009, and the current Deputy House Leader for the NDP.

The NDP government from 2009 until 2013 had some significant achievements in terms of policy surrounding the creative economy, and arts & culture in general. From the restoration of the Nova Scotia Arts Council and the passing of the Status of the Artist Act to the establishment of Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia and the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council, the NDP government consistently prioritized arts and culture as part of their overall agenda. Unfortunately, much of their work has been undone by the austerity government of Stephen McNeil and the Liberals that defeated the NDP in the 2013 general election. The funding system for the film and television industry has been completely dismantled and replaced with a fund that is simply not working despite the best efforts of the bureaucrats who have been charged with its administration. Film and Creative Industries Nova Scotia has been dissolved. Many artists across the Province feel as if the government no longer values their contribution to society in general, and to the economy in particular.

Accordingly, we here at View 902 thought we would take the opportunity to ask the candidates a few questions about what plan they have for the future of arts & culture and the creative economy in Nova Scotia.

Here are their replies.

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Renewing English Canadian Dramatic TV & Film

Imagine ordinary people across Canada being as passionate about drama as they are about hockey. It can happen if we set up 180 small teams of professional movie makers to be community artists in residence across Canada. Each team will mobilize and work with their home communities to create dramatic features or series that involve ordinary citizens in the process – much the same way hockey is coached and nurtured. When community projects are completed, they would go to regional competitions, then to national and the top ten would receive world marketing budgets. Ordinary Canadians will tune in – or log on – to Canadian drama in numbers that will astound industry experts. A democratic revolution in Canadian cinema will blast a wave of participatory creativity around the world.

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AFCOOP’s 2016 Winter Meeting

A cold Thursday night in late January saw an explosion of warmth at the annual Winter Meeting of the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative. With the film industry in Nova Scotia confronting the catastrophic effects of changes in provincial government film funding policy, anyone and everyone interested in film scene should consider getting involved with AFCOOP. Whether you’re a recent film school graduate, or a grizzled veteran, AFCOOP offers equipment rentals, training programs, screenings and an indie film festival, along with a place for advice and sympathy in a rapidly changing motion picture milieu.

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The Corridor now on Shudder

The Corridor is now available on Shudder, a sort of “Netflix for Horror”. The website Slashfilm just curated 10 Double Features out of Shudder’s roster, and included on the list was the Nova Scotia indie flick, which is equal parts horror, science fiction, and psychological thriller. Written by Josh MacDonald, directed by Evan Kelly, and starring Stephen Chambers, James Gilbert, Glen Mathews, and David Patrick Flemming, the film was a smash at the 2011 Atlantic Film Festival, and garnered critical acclaim as it made its way around the festival circuit. Ain’t It Cool News summed up the general consensus at the time in its review when it called The Corridor “one of the most terrifying new films of the year.”

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NDP MLA Dave Wilson’s Open Letter to NS Film Industry

Nova Scotia MLA Dave Wilson, who is in the midst of a campaign for the leadership of the provincial New Democratic Party, has issued a very personal open letter to workers in Nova Scotia’s film and television industry, which has been decimated in the nine months since the April 2015 budget of the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil.

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Dalhousie Art Gallery kicks off first film series of 2016 – The Art of Film Noir

I attended a great kick-off night to this year’s Winter / Spring film screening series at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, curated by film expert extraordinaire Ron Foley Macdonald. The current series is The Art of Film Noir II, and it’s set to build on a similar series held last year. It started off with a bang as we all enjoyed This Gun For Hire, an early noir classic from 1942 featuring the great Alan Ladd (in a riveting performance that made him a star) and the wonderful Veronica Lake, two of my favourite actors from the golden age of cinema.

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