Nfld. & Labrador

'Best year ever': N.L. film industry reaches new heights following Frontier's success

If 2016 was a new "Frontier" for the Newfoundland and Labrador film industry, then 2017 might just be the beginning of bigger splash.

Jason Momoa-led series, films like Maudie and Closet Monster, propel province to big year

Actor Jason Momoa on the set of Frontier, which was partially filmed in St. John's. (Courtesy of Duncan de Young)

If 2016 was a new Frontier for the Newfoundland and Labrador film industry, then 2017 might be the beginning of an ever bigger splash for movie and TV production in the province.

Dorian Rowe, head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation, said the industry has come a long way since the organization dedicated to attracting and developing projects was established 20 years ago, under then-premier Brian Tobin.

Jason Momoa poses for the camera at the red-carpet premiere of Frontier. (Andrew Sampson/CBC )

"We've come off our best [fiscal] year ever," said Rowe.

"More than $46 million in production activity, which is the biggest single year that we've ever had."

The successful year comes after films produced in N.L., like Closet Monster, written and directed by Stephen Dunn, and Maudieproduced by Mary Sexton and written by Sherry White, toured the festival circuit.

This is really what we've been all dreaming about for many years.- Dorian Rowe

That's not to mention Discovery Canada and Netflix co-production Frontier, which aired its first season in Canada.

About half of the province's production activity in 2016 came from Frontier alone, said Rowe.

"A project like that comes along, that's that high end in terms of production value and also its budget and international for Netflix — this is really what we've been all dreaming about for many years," said Rowe.

"I hope that the world loves Frontier, for instance, as much as we do and there'll be seasons three, four, five, six, seven, eight."

Aquaman rumours persist

As for Jason Momoa's other big project Aquaman, there's no word whether rumours are true that the DC Comics production might film here.

Director James Wan visited St. John's last month to scout locations for the film, while set photos from Momoa's Justice League production in Iceland have hinted at Newfoundland's involvement.

"It's definitely obviously related to Mr. Jason Momoa being here and working on Frontier and loving it here, and telling the world how great it is here and how great the crews are," said Rowe.

"I certainly hope it [Aquaman] comes and we'll certainly extend them the welcome mat if and when they do, but there's nothing official there, unfortunately."

Future is bright

In the past few years, films like Maudie, Closet Monster, Cast No Shadow and The Grand Seduction have performed well at film festivals in Canada and abroad.

Maudie, which follows the life of legendary Nova Scotian artist Maud Lewis, has received distribution through Sony Pictures Classics and will receive a wide release in Canada and the United States in 2017.

Sally Hawkins and director Aisling Walsh on the set of Maudie. (Mongrel Media)

"A feature of that size doesn't come along that often for us," said Rowe.

"That stars Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke and she keeps being talked about as a possible Oscar short-list contender for her role as Maud Lewis."

Closet Monster, a coming of age story that follows a gay teenager in St. John's, received the award for Best Canadian Film in 2015 at the Toronto Film Festival and was named a Critics Pick in 2016 in the New York Times.

There's talk of future TV series filming in the province, Rowe said, and several movies that are still awaiting formal announcements are set to film in the winter of 2017.

Closet Monster was director Stephen Dunn's first feature film. (Twitter/Westdale Theatre)

Fingers are crossed that Frontier will be back for a third season of production, too.

"Sometimes in the past you'd have a really good year and then sort of a fallow year but we don't necessarily see that coming up for us," said Rowe.

"I'm confident that were going to have — in terms of production activity — another really good, really strong year."


Andrew Sampson is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.