The number of people working in Manitoba's film industry is growing, according to numbers from the latest census.
Alan Freeman is a retired cultural economist who has been reviewing the data to determine the size of the creative industries in Canada and in the provinces.
"Well, we're pretty excited, us in the arts statistics world — all three of us — because the census, the long-form census has just been processed so for the first time since 2006, you have real, large-sample data that tells you what people are doing and what industries are doing," said Freeman.
He says Manitoba is posting strong numbers.
The latest data show it's growing at a rate of about 4.3 per cent per year. Canada-wide, the average is about 5.7 per cent.
"Those provinces that have big urban centres, so B.C., Ontario, Quebec, always do better. If you look at the rest of the pack, then Manitoba is up on the top," he said. "We have 2,700 people working in the industry — for whom the industry gives employment … If you go into the micro-detail of what the industry's doing, it's a real success story."
Freeman cautions those are provisional figures, and final numbers will be released later this month.
Meanwhile, the film industry just posted its best year in a decade for production volume, and Manitoba Film and Music, the government-funded agency that helps develop film and music in the province, predicts even larger numbers this year.
Ian Dimerman, the head of Manitoba-based Inferno Pictures, said filmmaking in Manitoba has historically slowed down in winter months but that's no longer the case.
"Suddenly, there's no lull," he said. "The good news there is that having consistent work for these crews potentially attracts more people to the industry."
He said production companies are finding projects that work creatively in the winter time, including an Aaron Paul movie filming in rural Manitoba over December and January and another starring Christina Ricci that used the Manitoba legislature as a set just before Christmas.
"I got a call yesterday from a producer in L.A. who wants to look at doing an iceberg-type project on Lake Winnipeg," he said.
The only thing throttling a more rapid expansion of the local film industry, Dimerman says, is "the ability to crew up."
Productions looking for more crew members
"There's tremendous opportunity to build on this very talented crew base that we have in Manitoba," he said. "The job creation is tremendous, and the potential for job creation is off the charts."
But the Province of Manitoba is being advised to reduce a tax credit that industry leaders say plays a big part in drawing major motion pictures to the province.
A KPMG report commissioned by the Progressive Conservative provincial government suggests reducing or eliminating entirely a host of targeted tax credits, including the province's film tax credit.
Both Dimerman and Manitoba Film and Music CEO Carole Vivier say the tax credit is one of the major reasons productions choose Manitoba over other Canadian destinations.
Manitoba is also in the midst of a return-on-investment review of the arts sector. It launched in March 2017, and arts organizations across the province are anxiously waiting to find out what it will mean for them.
The current tax credit is approved until 2019.
"When there's a review going on, obviously people are paying attention to that, but you know, I really do believe the film industry itself has demonstrated the return on investment," she said.
Manitoba's culture minister Cathy Cox would not do an interview on the topic but released a statement that said the KPMG report was "simply advice to government that we will consider, along with many other factors, when we make decisions about our programs and services."
Cox said the province will "explore their options" for how to support the industry after December 2019.
Other provinces have either turfed or made significant changes to their film tax credits in recent years.
"One of the things about the Saskatchewan abandonment of tax credits in 2012, is it's like a laboratory pure experiment, and four independent sources confirmed it was a really, really bad decision. Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada who has a negative growth rate of its film industry," said Freeman. "They are performing worse than anybody in Canada, which is quite a feat. We also know from work conducted by people like Annelise Larson, who is in the industry, that up to 40 per cent of the [film industry workers] after 2012 left."
Saskatchewan loses $275K in tax income
He said Saskatchewan lost about $275,000 in tax income after those workers left.
"I don't know how much they saved in tax money, and they're keeping that close to their chest, I'll bet you it's a lot less than the money they lost through the flight of the industry," he said.
Freeman said Manitoba would be wise to keep the credit, but that's not the main decision the province will have to make.
"They would be absolutely dumb to get rid of it. That's bottom line, right? When you get the bottom line, then you've got to work out, 'How should we use it sensibly?" said Freeman.
He recommends the province set up a film consultation committee to figure that out, adding growth in creative industries is four times the average for other industries, the product (films and television productions) are a major international export and that film plays a major role in many other aspects of Manitoba's arts sector, including advertising, music and video work.
Freeman said those factors combine to make it a smart industry to invest in.
"We should keep aerospace. We should keep bus manufacturing. We should keep agriculture, but one of the great strengths of Manitoba, which has been noted by the Conference Board, is its diverseness of its industries," said Freeman. "To keep that diverseness, you have to be invested in those industries which are now driving growth."
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