On the same day that Save BC Film’s online petition exceeded its goal of 25,000 signatures, requesting support for the floundering film industry, BC Premier Christy Clark announced that Vancouver will host the inaugural Times of India Film Awards this April, at a cost of more than $11 million to the province.
The announcement comes in the wake of bitter debates about the viability of increasing BC tax credits for North American filmmakers in order to make the province competitive with Quebec and Ontario, who currently offer 33 percent on labour costs compared to BC’s 25 percent for production.
At best, this is a glitzy, out-of-the-box (albeit mistaken) attempt to aid a withering local industry. At worst, it’s the equivalent of a parent throwing a lush party – complete with piñata and three-tiered cake – for a distant relative’s child while her own cries from lack of nutrition.
Estimating that the three-day TOIFA event will generate between $13 to $18 million in revenue for the province “due to tourism and event production,” the Premier also claimed TOIFA to be a huge opportunity for building trade and investment links with a growing global economic power.
But TOIFA was the second choice for the provincial government to create these Bollywood ties: BC originally applied to host the International Indian Film Academy Awards and was denied. In a press release issued on January 21st, with the title “IIFA confirms not going to Vancouver in 2013,” the organization made reference to “a few copycat efforts being attempted in international markets” – a phrase that calls into question the global potency of the new awards.
Granted, showcasing the province to India looks good on paper. With a population of more than one billion, a burgeoning press (with a total newspaper circulation of 330 million daily), a middle class set to grow more than 1000 percent by 2015, and a passionate love of film, the country seems a clear choice for partnership. What’s more, as Clark likes to tell British Columbians, the province even exported $201 million worth of goods to the country last year.
But that figure accounts for just 0.6 percent of our total exports; not quite a statistic to write home about. And there’s considerable doubt whether India’s economic boom will carry over Canada.
India has recently positioned itself as an attractive place for foreign filmmakers, especially those from Hollywood. It has implemented major initiatives to attract studios: In May 2012, the government announced it would set up a national film commission, offering a single window clearance system for both domestic and international filmmakers wishing to shoot in the country. Film studios have invested ambitious sums of money to improve their facilities and attract foreign investors.
And that’s just the infrastructure. According to various reports, filming in India is 40 to 60 percent cheaper than in North America.
So how does a newborn award ceremony, of as yet undecided popularity, benefit BC’s film industry?
In return for BC’s services, TOIFA guarantees the production of one Bollywood film using suppliers in the province. At least that’s one film that will result from the deal. But given that BC is already challenged to attract film producers from the US due to uncompetitive costs, it’s unlikely that many additional Indian filmmakers will be lured from their highly affordable studios and locations 9500 kms. away.
As well, this is a long-term, strategic solution, which does little to help the estimated 90 percent of the BC industry currently unemployed due to lack of demand from Hollywood.
Numerous observers claim this is a play for South Asian voters close to the provincial election. Certainly that’s a reasonable notion, especially if one cannot believe that a seasoned politician like Clark would make such an insensitive error during a heated negotiation process. The Ontario government was similarly condemned in 2011 when it hosted the International Indian Film Academy Awards at a cost of $12 million to the taxpayer.
Regardless of how much cynicism accompanies this venture, it remains a shiny distraction from the issues at hand. Let’s hope the spotlight is redirected to real solutions for BC’s film industry.