Manitoba

Homegrown directors rack up 7 projects amid film boom in Manitoba

Seven local directors are either in pre-production, production or post-production on movies or television series. That’s the biggest number Manitoba Film and Music CEO Carole Vivier has seen in her nearly 30 years in the business.

‘Probably a record’: Seven directors working on 7 projects at once in Manitoba

The Shelagh Carter film Into Invisible Light wrapped shooting on Friday. On Thursday, crews were filming at The Fort Garry Hotel. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Manitoba's booming film industry has reached another milestone, with seven local directors working on projects in the province in October.

The industry just posted its best-in-a-decade year, with $139 million in production volume, and has seen a revolving door of Hollywood A-listers showing up to shoot, including Keanu Reeves, Kristen Stewart, Stanley Tucci.

Seven local directors are either in pre-production, production or post-production on movies or television series. That's the biggest number Manitoba Film and Music CEO Carole Vivier has seen in her nearly 30 years in the business.

"That's probably a record for us," Vivier said. "I don't think any other province actually has that so I think it's very unique to Manitoba."

Director John Barnard is in post-production for his TV movie A Perfect Match, about a woman who considers unconventional methods to get an organ donation for her son.

"It's the time I've kind of been waiting for," Barnard said. "When you're trying to be an independent director, it's almost the hardest thing you could try to do. You might as well trying to be an astronaut. It takes a set of really specific circumstances to allow that to happen. It's almost impossible."
Manitoba-based director John Barnard just sold his feature film Menorca to Netflix. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Barnard just sold his feature film Menorca to Netflix, a film about a woman who brings her estranged son's pet rock back to the island of Menorca, Spain.

"The highest aspiration that I had was just to have as many people watching it as possible.  I didn't think I was ever going to make any money off of it, or at least not a lot of money. I just wanted people to see it," said Barnard. "It seems like that might happen now."

Vivier said the projects are having success both commercially and at festivals, and are being watched by international audiences.

"Manitoba directors are really being able to make their mark," said Vivier. "You know, other production companies [are] coming in here, recognizing the depth of talent that we have and also hiring the Manitoba directors. It's this perfect thing that's kind of happened."

'I'm very loyal'

On Friday, director Shelagh Carter wrapped shooting on Into Invisible Light, a movie she co-wrote.

Crews packed The Fort Garry Hotel Thursday morning, after a snowstorm and winds gusting to 74 km/h forced them indoors.

"If you're a creative person, you have to tolerate uncertainty, and filmmaking is totally uncertain," Carter said. "This particular film, we've had challenges every day."

Into Invisible Light is about a man and woman who reconnect later in life to sort out "unresolved issues," in part a nod to Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, with Dr. Astrov replaced by character Michael Astrov, a writer.
Director Shelagh Carter blocks a scene between two actors in her new feature Into Invisible Light. (CBC)

"It became about, 'What would you do if you had a second chance in your life?'" Carter said. "It's about time passing and how do we mature and can we really listen to each other? Will we make the right choice now? I'm interested in that world."

Carter was originally going to be a dancer, but an injury landed her at The Actors Studio in New York.

She spent time as a casting director, and has now directed three features in Manitoba, including Passionflower, about her experiences growing up in the province in the 1960s.

"I'm very loyal to Manitoba," Carter said. "When I was in New York, I was grounded because I came from here. It's real. I like that part of it."

Carter says she's seeing more and more opportunities for emerging talent to get on sets in the province.
Shelagh Carter has directed three feature films in Manitoba, including one about growing up int eh 1960s in the province. (CBC)

"I still feel that we need training for more people. There's a lot of young people coming up. I see the next generation — it's very exciting," Carter said.

Barnard says while filming this summer, they ran into shortage of workers. Several other projects were on the go, and trained crew members were in short supply.

"We used trainees who had some experience in those positions," he said. "It turned out to be one of the best experiences I've had, actually, which you wouldn't expect."

Tax credit, low dollar help industry

Vivier said a variety of factors have come together to create greater opportunity for local filmmakers to work on big projects.

Tax credits slowly disappearing or decreasing across the country have pushed business into the province, especially from Saskatchewan, Vivier says.

The low Canadian dollar is also helping boost production north of the border, but Vivier says a major factor is the maturation of local production companies.

"To have that depth of directors here is really a testament, I think, to the depth of the production that's going on – the work that's happened over many, many years building the industry," Vivier said. "To be able to say we did $139 million in production last year — when the tax credit came in in 1997, we had a $17 million year then, which we thought was great."

Vivier points to Tyson Caron's recent film Lovesick, starring Jay Baruchel, as a stand out, as well as Carter's work on Passionflower.

"I think people sometimes realize that the people working on those films could be their neighbour," she said. "It's not just the writer, the director, the producers, there's that whole team underneath."

Manitoba's booming film industry has reached another milestone, with seven local directors working on projects in the province in October. 2:00