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Film equipment used in the industry. Photo by Kendall Latimer

Saskatchewan’s film industry is rolling despite a final cut to the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit program in 2012. But not everyone plans to remain on set.

 

“I do plan to move to Toronto in the next two or three years,” said Lucas Frison, who graduated from the University of Regina’s film department last April.

 

“There’s been a lot of turmoil in the past years with the tax cut so a lot of people have left.”

 

Frison, an independent filmmaker with a focus on writing and directing, said staying in Saskatchewan is no longer feasible. He recalls seeing the impact of the tax credit cut during the first two years in the program, as many of his classmates dropped out.

 

“Most people I’ve talked to are moving to Toronto, Vancouver, or bigger centres in Canada. You have to move there because that’s where the opportunities are,” said Frison, mentioning those centres have tax credits, smaller production companies, and more resources.

 

Frison hasn’t benefited from Creative Sask just yet and believes it’s a little too early to assess what the agency is doing as it is still in the early stages of development. However, the Sask Film Pool Co-operative has been a huge help to his current film production, Fragments of Penny, which is set to release this year.

 

“There has been success here,” said Frison but, “despite those successes it’s still few and far between when it comes to people finding work and money for projects to get off the ground,” he added.

 

“It’s a challenge for all filmmakers to raise resources necessary for their project. However, the province’s emerging talent has support from the Sask Film Pool Co-operative, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, and Creative Sask,” said Mark Wihak, head of the U of R film department.

 

“Creative Sask can eventually fill a need to help develop a different kind of industry here, I think one more focused on productions coming out of Saskatchewan rather than the service industry, which lures productions into the province,” said Wihak.

 

The Saskatchewan-made film Wolfcop, released in 2014, was the last film to receive funds from the now defunct tax credit. Despite the lack of a tax credit, a sequel is in the works.

 

Candy Fox, a film student at the First Nations University of Canada and U of R, was recently named one of Canada’s top film students by the Toronto International Film Festival. Her documentary Backroads tells Camilla Stonechild’s journey through family abuse.

 

Three recent graduates of the university’s film department are developing a feature film set to release this year. Similarly, a faculty member is also working on a different feature film set to release this year.

 

Wihak said the tax credit cut has created a loss of mentorship, expertise, and infrastructure in the province but it’s not all bad. “There’s actually more in place now then there was when I graduated in 1990,” he said. “I’m optimistic that our students who want to stay in province could make a go of it here, but the loss of the tax credit hurt the province.”

 

After cutting the $8 million program, the Saskatchewan government controversially provided Corner Gas: The Movie a $2 million subsidy when cast returned to the province this summer. A quarter of the funds came from Creative Sask and the remainder was supplied by Tourism Sask.

 

“The end result was great that Corner Gas was shot here,” said Wihak, “but the reality is fewer Saskatchewan people worked on that film than would have if a tax credit had been in place.”

 

Frison doesn’t claim to be an expert on the issue, but points out the tax credit brought money to the province, citing the Hollywood film Just Friends and the award-winning Corner Gas. “The tax credit is why people could stay here, because they knew projects like that were coming,” he said.

 

“For a film industry to succeed and thrive here we do need those industry professionals (who moved away). It is about the money. I think we would need a new tax credit in some form,” said Frison.

 

“You’re going to hear ‘No’ before you hear ‘Yes’ and if you want to make that film you’re going to keep working until you hear a ‘Yes’. That would be the same with or without the tax credit,” said Wihak.