Matt Toner: B.C.’s creative industries don’t need more “theatre”
Earlier this week, the B.C. government made a bit of splash with an announcement concerning the inaugural Times of India Film Awards, which will be hosted in Vancouver in April. There will be Bollywood stars at this new event, plenty of photo ops, and the chance for the B.C. Liberals to shine in front of a prized voter demographic.
All for a mere $11-million spend on the part of our government—I’m sorry, but I really can’t quite bring myself to call it an “investment”. This would mean some kind of tangible profit or material result, and that really isn’t the case here.
What we have instead is a direct spend of $11 million for a slushy indirect return that could be as low as $13 million, according to the government’s own figures. We might as well call it what it is: an ad buy.
It’s a cynical move and, as economic policy goes, it’s really just theatre.
Sure, it will be a flashy event and everyone will have a good time on the night. But the province will wake up with an $11-million hangover while we wait for an expected economic return, one that will take years to manifest (whatever its true value).
So let’s cut from this bit of theatre to our own film industry.
On the same day as the government announcement, thousands of under-employed people from across the industry came together in North Vancouver under the banner of Save B.C. Film. Judging from the tenor of those who spoke that night—and I really didn’t hear any dissenting voices—their view is that the B.C. Liberals have fallen asleep in the front row.
The Bollywood announcement made that very morning just added insult to injury. The industry has been stirred and is now counting the days before the upcoming election.
That—if nothing else—has finally gotten the Liberals’ attention. They plan to strike another committee and review the numbers yet again. But we’ve seen this show before: it’s just more theatre and the audience is starting to leave their seats.
I speak from experience when I say that I understand the value the industry brings to British Columbia and the struggles that many now face. I’ve produced a television series here and made games, apps, and other digital extensions for entertainment properties. And I know that the problems confronting our creative industries didn’t pop up overnight—over the past four years, they have begun to multiply.
The good news is that there is still time to reverse this trend. In fact, NDP Leader Adrian Dix and arts and culture critic Spencer Chandra Herbert just spent two days in Los Angeles advocating for B.C. film and getting a better understanding of what we need to do to effectively address the issues facing our industry.
We have a terrific talent base in this city, no shortage of production infrastructure, and plenty of people with the business smarts to make it happen. If you have any doubt, take a look at homegrown success stories like Nerd Corps or Thunderbird Films or Next Level Games; I’m sure these folks could put that $11 million to much better use.
But it seems that the B.C. Liberals would rather forgo the actual work required to build our own creative industries and instead just bask in the reflected glory of Bollywood’s best. That’s not an investment and it’s certainly not good economic policy—and it isn’t even good theatre. It’s time for this show to close.