Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal showcased Alberta scenery in 'Brokeback Mountain. ' ((Photo Kimberly French/Courtesy Odeon Films. ))

Alberta film producers are giving mixed reviews to the changes in the province's Film Development Program.

Close to 100 actors, producers and film technicians from southern Alberta met with officials from Alberta Economic Development on Monday to discuss the changes to film funding in the 2006 budget.

Alberta has increased the program's funding by 10 per cent to $14.8 million. The program will now contribute between 14 per cent and 23 per cent of the funding for eligible film projects.

Unlike other provinces that offer a tax credit, Alberta gives a grant for film production. How much the producers receive depends on how much of their project is Albertan.

But Fiorella Cole, head of the production company Producers Ltd., says the province still isn't taking the film industry seriously.

"The number of people that work in this industry in this province alone, and the amount of money brought in, is astronomical, and nobody's seeing it," she told CBC Radio. "Nobody's seeing all these people have families… they pay property taxes. It's a huge industry and that's what everybody has to realize."

Hoping for $20M in grants

Damien Petti, head of the film technicians union in Calgary, says he would like to see the grant program top $20 million.

Government has to do more to prevent film workers from leaving the province to work elsewhere, Petti says.

Alberta has plans to increase the size of the grant stream to $18 million over the next three years.

There are three program streams, to adapt the grant program to different projects, including short films, feature films and documentaries. Film productions can apply for as much as $1.5 million.

But documentary producers, such as Doug Christensen, fear they'll be cut out of the process to make way for feature films.

"The Alberta indigenous producer doing indigenous projects here will have a tougher time with the funding," he said.

In addition, Alberta operates the Alberta Film Commission to market locations around the province. One of its most prominent successes in the past year has been Brokeback Mountain, in which Alberta stood in for Wyoming.

The soon-to-be-released film R.V., a comedy starring Robin Williams, also was shot in Alberta, near the town of Milk River, and in British Columbia.

Expecting a filming boom

Government officials are expecting to see a substantial increase in the number of funding applications from producers this year as a result of the changes.
There were 640 entries in the recently announced 2006 Alberta Film and Television Awards, a record number that shows a higher level of interest in making films in Alberta.

Sue Bristow of Calgary Economic Development is expecting more activity in the coming year.

"I don't think it's going to be a huge overnight bubble, but I think there will be significant growth over the next couple of years if this is maintained," she says.

 Bristow says she is encouraged by the shift of responsibility for the film fund from cultural development to economic development.

That puts both agencies that work with Alberta filmmakers — the film commission and the film development program — under one roof.
It's an indication Alberta is starting to respect the film industry's contribution to the provincial economy, Bristow said.

However Cole is disappointed by the discontinuation of travel funding for producers. She said she relied on provincial funds to help market her films outside the province. That change is part of tougher eligibility requirements for some funding.

"We need to be in the markets…in L.A.  We need to be in Cannes, we need to be in Toronto, and if you take away that kind of deduction for us, that's quite a big deduction," she said.