Saskatchewan·Point of View

Walken-Schmeiser film in Winnipeg a perfect example of lost potential for Sask. film industry

"A quintessentially Saskatchewan story is being produced in Manitoba instead of where it happened."

Many Sask. people had to move away to work in their industry

Christopher Walken (left) is slated to play Percy Schmeiser (right) in a film about the Saskatchewan's farmer's legal battle against Monsanto. (The Associated Press/Canadian Press)

Christopher Walken's, "We need more cowbell!" and Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser's, "I wanted to send a message," don't seem similar, but both shook the world in their own way. 

Now the two men are linked more directly, with Walken set to play Schmeiser in a film about the Saskatchewan farmer's legal struggle against corporate giant Monsanto. Unfortunately, this Saskatchewan story is not being told in Saskatchewan.

'Such incentives are the standard business model'

For years, calls of, "Action!" and "Cut!" were heard on film sets across this province.  Those voices were silenced in the spring of 2012, when Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party government cut the Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit (SFETC) out from under the industry that put Saskatchewan on the global film and television map.  

The SFETC was an incentive program that refunded a portion of local employment taxes incurred by out-of-province companies coming to Saskatchewan to film productions. Such incentives are the standard business model around the world. Ours was the lifeblood of the film industry here.

Tax credits aren't exclusive to the film industry. Agriculture, mining, forestry, oil and gas — just to name a few — all get tax credits as incentives or rebates. It's called business.

Simply put, film is good business.- Layton Burton

After the credit was scrapped, the industry understandably moved to other jurisdictions in Canada.  Those provinces welcomed the film workers and film business from Saskatchewan. These governments understood the economic and cultural power of film in all its forms.  

Saskatchewan, meanwhile,  has completely turned its back on the film industry. It hurts the province financially as well as culturally.

'Why would any film company come here?'

Now a quintessentially Saskatchewan story is being produced in Manitoba instead of where it happened. The true tale of Schmeiser, a southern Saskatchewan farmer who drew international attention when he sued chemical giant Monsanto for $10 million to "send a message," is being shot in our neighbouring province. Many people in Manitoba's film industry used to live in Saskatchewan but were forced to move when the local industry died. Why did this happen?  

With no tax credit to lure production, the cutting off at the knees and vilification of Sask. film workers by our own provincial government and the continued threats to sell or refurbish the province's soundstages, our province has become a barren wasteland for film.  Why would any film company come here?  They stopped coming when our province sent out the message it was closed for business.  

If I could speak directly to Premier Scott Moe about this, I would say, "put Sask. film and its industry back to work. It's within your power to do so.  To continue to ignore the local film industry robs our citizens of their stories, their history and a viable and stable economic engine."  

Simply put, film is good business. Restoring the industry would be a great way to "send a message."


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ

About the Author

Layton is a director of photography and an instructor at the U of R’s School of Journalism.

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