Time now to support the arts

Five weeks in Vancouver working on a film shows what supporting artistic endeavors can do for a place

Five weeks away from the offices of the Goldstream Gazette to work on a feature film opened my eyes to how impressive Greater Vancouver’s talent-rich film infrastructure truly is. A swath of high-level cast and crew, numerous equipment rental houses, and municipalities that welcome filming, even waiving permits and fees to welcome us – are the tip of the iceberg. I admit to being a tad jealous.

Seeing this made me wonder why that can’t also happen here? Is it just a size, or population-based industry? To some extent those are factors, but I see no reason why we can’t share a bigger piece of the economic and artistic pie.

In some ways it is happening. The introduction of the six- per-cent distant locations regional tax credit put productions in Greater Victoria on the same financial footing as other B.C. regions outside the Lower Mainland, which have benefitted from the credit since 2008. We languished without such status until February 2014.

This financial incentive convinced producers of such shows as The Gourmet Detective 2 and Monkey Up choose to spend their money here instead of elsewhere. This year is shaping up to be one of the biggest for local film production in recent memory. But can it be better?

These productions need skilled film crew, staff, food, hotels, actors and more. Sometimes it can take years to gain the experience that big productions want or need. And at this point we still lose many of our skilled singers, dancers, actors and crew members to the mainland for the promise of steadier work.

It is a vicious cycle I have seen firsthand, as many of my friends have moved to Vancouver for that very reason. That trend won’t stop immediately, but to curb the ebb we need more infrastructure from the ground up, starting at home, in our communities and municipalities. In school theatres, young actors flourish, growing from children to adults, not just in life but in art. Those artists need an avenue not only to train and grow roots, but to stay here once they have established themselves.

We need lighting technicians to show off the work these actors do, behind-the-scenes photographers to shoot, producers to organize, writers to scribe the words, musicians to write and play the music, all of which comes together on the stage or on the screen. When that happens they also need to stay.

Up-and-coming talents deserve a place to ply their trade and live here if they choose – and what better place than here? Hope is on the horizon.

Talk of establishing an arts facility on the West Shore have yet to prove fruitful, but that could change with Colwood and Langford going on the record as being interested. It isn’t the only step, but it is an important one, and it is my belief the time for them to act is now.

The potential for further growth in the arts is multiplied by the current boom. We can’t expect a strong artistic market to be there when we need it; we have to build the infrastructure that will sustain it so that when our youth decide where they want to live and breathe as artists, the choice they make is to stay here.

Having those skills here will push more productions to follow suit.

We have already seen sporadic productions, including the X-Men films, come to the West Shore, but I see an opportunity for more. The known economic spin-offs of film productions is a fact, not a projection, but in order capitalize fully, planting the seeds now could expedite the process.

Having infrastructure in place is a catalyst for growth. Having improved arts facilities on the West Shore will do nothing but improve the landscape for local youth to maximize their potential in the arts. That will help build a stable of actors, teachers, costume designers, set designers, cast and crew for productions to flourish and grow. It will also help build the audience who will consume it.

It won’t happen overnight. But creating infrastructure has made a difference for athletes in Victoria, from Olympians like triathletes like Simon Whitfield and Ryder Hesjedal, to the rugby athletes training in Langford and hoping to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio.

It makes a difference long term, as we’ve seen on the world stage. It has happened in Vancouver, and while the landscape is certainly different and a direct comparison is unfair, we are far from reaching our potential.

Is it too much to dream of making an amazing feature film here, using only Vancouver Island trained cast and crew? We need amazing facilities to support amazing individuals and I believe our scenery, talent, hospitality and vigour for the arts gives us the potential to stand as equals amongst bigger cities – maybe even stand alone.

Arnold Lim is a reporter with the Goldstream News Gazette.