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» Film critics, box office agree on us

by Randall King, published on April 12, 2009 1:00 AM

Two events took place last weekend that should have rallied the spirits of the estimated 1,500 people who work in the Manitoba film and television industry.

The first took place in the highly competitive arena of the North American movie box office: The Manitoba-lensed horror film The Haunting in Connecticut maintained its place in the top three box-office draws in North America for the second consecutive week, with a cumulative gross of US$37 million. (The previous weekend, it scored a number two position behind Monsters Vs. Aliens. Bear in mind Haunting's budget was a tiny fraction of Monsters' $175-million budget.)

The second took place in Ottawa on Sunday night, when another locally-shot movie, The Stone Angel, won two Genie awards in the categories of best actress (for Ellen Burstyn) and for achievement in music for its score by John McCarthy.

Certainly, those two events made for a win-win weekend for the Winnipeg film production company Buffalo Gal Pictures. The 15-year-old company produced The Stone Angel and functioned more as a service provider for the American-based Gold Circle Films on The Haunting in Connecticut, and thus enjoyed victory on two distinct fronts. The awards were a recognition by the nation's filmmaking peers that The Stone Angel achieved a degree of production excellence. The box-office win for The Haunting in Connecticut ensures that the province will continue to attract production from the U.S.

"We're in discussion with Gold Circle on a third project," says Buffalo Gal's founding producer Phyllis Laing. (The other Gold Circle production was the Renée Zellweger comedy New in Town.)

The fiscal year of 2008 saw $68 million worth of production in the province, according to Manitoba Film and Music CEO Carole Vivier. That figure was down from previous years due to a strike by the Screen Actors Guild and a short-lived surge in the value of the Canadian dollar.

But offshore production -- the bread and butter for our burgeoning film industry -- is likely to rise again in the coming year.

"It's definitely heating up now as the dollar falls and the spring approaches," says Stone Angel producer Liz Jarvis.

Indeed, Vivier says her agency is currently scrutinizing an unprecedented 40 scripts from production companies in the U.S. and Canada looking at Manitoba's tax incentives and location diversity to help realize their production possibilities.

But even more encouraging is the boom in indigenous productions made and set in Manitoba. Buffalo Gal is currently co-producing the second season of the Winnipeg-set comedy series Less Than Kind, one of three locally set series to launch in recent months, in addition to the Comedy Channel's House Party and the APTN series Cashing In. (The latter series is also developing a second season of shows, says Laing.)

"I think we're going to be busier this year than last year, despite a downturn generally in the film industry," Jarvis says.

"Not everything falls prey to a bad economy," Laing adds. "In fact, people tend to look to entertainment in a bad economy."

Source: www.winnipegfreepress.com

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