Calgary's airport COVID-19 testing pilot could turn Alberta into hot spot for film industry

·3 min read

The two-day rapid COVID-19 testing pilot at the Calgary airport is attracting attention from film and TV producers in Alberta and Hollywood.

The pilot program, a partnership between Alberta and the federal government, allows eligible international travellers to take a COVID-19 test at one of two border crossings in the province — the Calgary International Airport and the Coutts land border crossing.

Should tests come back negative, travellers can leave quarantine as long as they remain in Alberta for the first 14 days. They must also get a second test six or seven days after arrival at a participating community pharmacy.

Those in the film industry say the short quarantine period could see Alberta become the next northern hot spot, but some say more might be needed to make that happen.

Calgary's Prairie Dog films is gearing up to go to camera next week on the second season of Tribal, one of the first series on TV focused on an Indigenous female protagonist.

Janet Hamley, co-executive producer says the production cast and crew is mostly Canadian, but she's excited for the opportunities that come from shorter quarantine times.

"The two-hour testing just gives more flexibility for our cast and crew to be able to come in from out of town, especially coming internationally where they're not having to keep a mandatory quarantine for 14 days," she said.

"It's going to save production a lot of money and time with regards to being able to bring in people from out of town."

As well, she says that it has the potential to inject millions of dollars into Alberta's economy.

"It's really just saying that production is open and we want to we want to diversify Alberta and bring in attracting business," she said.

"Film and television is a billion dollar industry and it has come to a complete halt. Obviously, we're really excited to have the opportunity to get back up and running again. And if it draws attention on an international platform to bring production here to Alberta, then it's a great opportunity."

Matt Watterworth, a Calgary producer, says that for independent production companies, the shorter quarantine period for cast and crew may be the difference between making the project a go or not.

"I certainly can't pay for an actor who I might fly in from the U.S. or anywhere in the world to sit around for 14 days because that would just be a budget breaker," he said.

He adds that it also may attract more "star power" which can help fund projects.

"The idea of Alberta becoming a production hub is amazing and something that so many of us in the industry really want to see happen."

However the local producer says Alberta's film Industry needs more of a boost than just shorter quarantines.

"One of the big challenges we face in Alberta is the tax credit or the incentive program that we have," he said.

Hamley says if the current guaranteed tax credits weren't capped, more productions would likely come to the province.

"We really do need that sort of key piece of the puzzle, the tax credit, to be a little bit more competitive with some of the other jurisdictions in North America."

Pilot is off to successful start, province says

Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said that as of Monday, 1,993 participants had enrolled in the pilot at both the Calgary airport and the Coutts land border crossing.

"The border pilot is off to a successful start," McMillan said in an email. "We continue to work to refine processes in co-operation with our partners, and all participating travellers are being closely monitored."

The project will run for up to 26 weeks or until 52,000 participants are enrolled, whichever comes first.

McMillan said the province intends to add the project to the Edmonton International Airport early in 2021.

The pilot is available for foreign nationals not restricted from entering the country and Canadian citizens or permanent residents currently allowed entry into Canada, provided they do not exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.