There's been a lot of talk in British Columbia lately about #savebcfilm, a campaign rivalling the conviction and courage of #idlenomore and Chief Theresa Spence -- or maybe that's the screenplay currently undergoing heavy edits by the Hollywood North's focus groups. The pitch goes that B.C.'s film industry is facing imminent collapse if the province doesn't immediately increase the existing $285-million tax credit to an amount comparable to what's paid in Quebec, Ontario and Louisiana -- the industry standard in keeping key grips well-greased. At any rate, NDP best boy and Premier-in-waiting, Adrian Dix, has published glowing reviews of the film industry's treatment, even going so far as to visit Hollywood (the real one) to convince the resident moguls of his Serious Interest.
Critics say that the tax credit game hurts workers, since Miramax & Co. will always go to the lowest bidder, institutionalizing a climate of displacement and unemployment. Tax credits to billionaire production companies continue to escalate while labourers, who don't see a red cent of income tax deducted, are repeatedly forced to uproot and move their lives to whatever state or province has decided to outbid last year's A-list tax cut. Advocates, 3000 of whom jammed inside the dilapidated former set of Judge Dredd last week to show support for the increased tax credits, say that the credits will pay for themselves through some ancillary economic mysticism -- a theory that coincidentally underwrites the plot for 2012's runaway scatalogical sleeper hit, Movie 43.
I'll let the economists argue over which position has a better chance of Matt Damon's and George Clooney's endorsements; but the question no one has asked yet is: does the B.C. Film Industry deserve to be saved?
There seems to be a growing concern in the Lower Mainland, if not mild embarrassment, that casinos and stadium roofs aren't generating the cultural élan the region's mock-up had anticipated. Devastated from losing his favourite Tiki bar, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson promised to look into what he could do to save culture in Vancouver. Unfortunately, the office he kept his notes in was shortly sold to Bob Rennie for condominium development.
The film industry would appear to offer an ideal dénouement to B.C.'s cultural pickle -- with the sole exception that movies made here are awful. Peter Leitch, head of the Motion Picture Production Industry Association of BC, pointed out, presumably to strengthen his case, that Twilight: Breaking Dawn, was not wholly filmed in Vancouver like the previous iterations of the erudite political thriller/sexy vampire agit-prop, but chose Louisiana's business-friendly fiscal effulgence instead -- nary a word for the cost to the social fabric for foisting the first two Twilight films on not only the citizens of British Columbia, but the world.
Imagine, too, the mental anguish felt by all humanities students at The University of British Columbia (who, because of Christy Clark's well-documented antagonism to capitalism, will have to postpone its name change to "Sauder School of Business and Film Set"). These young, poetically minded people, who, after already suffering halfway through the spiritual penury of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, see Hugh Jackman walk into their head administrative building. It should come to no surprise to its regular inhabitants that the brutalist Buchanan Tower can double effortlessly as a secret CIA bunker -- but the helper caption "SOMEWHERE IN NIGERIA" must hurt these poor students in the hollows of their souls.
It's hard for me to support any market incentive which helped bring Smokin' Aces 2, Air Bud: Strikes Back and White Chicks into the world. Indeed, the only justification for having a film industry in B.C. at all is the fact that it produced both Rocky IV (the most sensitive reflection on Soviet-NATO relations in the Cold War era) and, of course, Battlestar Galactica (seasons 1 & 2).
Workers' livelihoods is a serious issue and a good economic policy will ensure that stable, well-paid, unionized work is available to all. But aside from the fact that the argument underwriting increased tax credits for film production tacitly assumes a worker in B.C. deserves a job more than a colleague in Ontario, or that the film industry deserves more public money than, say, the lumber industry or social services, the numbers prove that tax credits (just raised in 2010!) are only a short-term fix and institute a industry-wide culture of disruption, precarity and pandering as labour remains vulnerable to the whims of a neverending bidding war.
As a cultural policy, the idea is terrible. Can someone tell me when the NDP became the party of tax credit and subsidy? When was the last time emerging poets, playwrights or authors were offered $100-million in tax credits? While some economic incentive does benefit independent filmmakers, the proposed policy clearly favours multi-million dollar regurgitation of the incessant dreck leaking northwards from Beverly Hills. Why not invest that money in, to name one example, a public broadcasting television channel or website with a focus on social engagement and artistic inventiveness rather than cheap thrills? Such a plan would create a stable, sustainable industry focussed on employing British Columbians and encouraging their artistic impulses.
As long as we're worried about losing the next Stephanie Meyer epic to whichever state opts to offer a 40% tax credit to Daddy Warbucks, we will continue to develop the cultural heritage we deserve.