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Disney director raves about Alberta scenery at Togo screening

The red carpet was rolled out Wednesday night in Cochrane as actors, directors and excited locals came out for a special screening of a Disney movie partially shot in the Alberta town.

Ericson Core attends Cochrane screening, praises local production crew

Director Ericson Core attends a special screening of Togo at the Cochrane Movie House on Wednesday. (Jason Stang)

The red carpet was rolled out Wednesday night in Cochrane as actors, directors and excited locals came out for a special screening of a Disney movie partially shot in the Alberta town.

Based on a true story about a diphtheria outbreak in the city of Nome, Alaska, Togo stars Willem Dafoe as a sled dog trainer who must transport a serum through a dangerous storm with an aging Siberian husky.

The finished product, director Ericson Core told CBC News at the screening, is a film that is both a "very epic story, but also a very intimate tale of the two of them on the journey."

Who needs a green screen when you have Alberta as a backdrop? Disney doesn't. It premiered its new movie Togo in Cochrane this week. 1:31

"Disney stumbled on it, they developed it, and they reached out to me," Core said.

"[I'm] sort of an outdoorsy person and an animal lover, so they thought it would be the right film for me, and they were absolutely right. I cried and cried when I read the script, [and] I knew I had to make it."

No green screen required

According to a press release for the screening, the movie was filmed in Alberta from June 2018 to February 2019.

Core, who has a background as a mountain guide, says even his familiarity with mountain landscapes couldn't prepare him for the sight of the Canadian Rockies, which "floored" him.

In fact, the province's natural vistas were so stunning that they allowed the film to be shot without the assistance of green screen technology, Core says — and the result is a film that is wholly Albertan.

"[The Rockies are] stunning, they rival any other mountain range around the world," Core said. 

"Everything was shot here — we didn't do any studio work. No green screen. It was all in-camera. It's all an Alberta film, and made here from beginning to end."

The experience of producing a film in Alberta, Core said, was made even better by a "world-class" production crew. 

"This was the best place we could possibly make the film and the only place we could make [it]," Core said.

"They always tell you not to work with children, animals or weather, and this film has all three of them ... but it was well worth it. It's a beautiful story."

Ericson Core addresses a packed house at the screening of Togo in Cochrane. (Jason Stang)

Togo employed 200 Albertans

The screening's press release stated that Togo received grant support from the provincial government, and the production employed roughly 200 Albertans.

But there is concern that opportunities like these could soon dwindle. Alberta's film industry is weathering some upheaval after the United Conservative government announced cuts to industry funding.

For example, in September, a provincial spokesperson called the Screen-Based Production Grant program "severely mismanaged," saying the incoming government had discovered $92 million had been committed to Alberta's film industry, though the program had been capped at $45 million.

Citing those figures, the province committed only $15 million in 2020-21, $30 million in 2021-22 and $45 million in 2022-23. The small production grant fund program will be limited to $1 million per year.

Another hit to the industry was the diminishment of an existing reimbursement plan.

One of the largest incentives for productions to choose to film in Alberta was that they could get 30 per cent of eligible expenses reimbursed. That was cut down to 22 per cent in Alberta's new budget.

Stew DePass, a resident of Millarville, Alta., worked behind-the-scenes as a driver for the hair and makeup staff on Togo.

At the screening, he told CBC News that though Alberta's landscapes make the province prime real estate for film production, the industry isn't receiving the support it needs from the UCP government.

"There's a lot of potential in Alberta, especially with our scenery.… It's absolutely magnificent," DePass said.

"We have great interest, and we have great, great people in the industry. But we can't turn the heads of the government to make them realize that it is an actual industry. It's an art to them, and art only attracts so much attention."

"We have to convince our Alberta government that … we are important, and we support a lot of people."

Togo premieres Dec. 20 on the streaming platform Disney Plus. 

Alberta Ministers Leela Sharon Aheer, left, and Tanya Fir, right, attended the special screening. (Photo courtesy of Disney)

With files from Hala Ghonaim, Joel Dryden and Sarah Rieger

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