Alberta rethinks film funding rules after anti-oilsands doc gets cash
Thursday, December 11, 2008
A documentary that takes a critical look at the oilsands is raising a big stink at the Alberta legislature.
It turns out that Downstream, by U.S. documentary maker Leslie Iwerks, was funded in part by the provincial government.
That's prompted the government to take a closer look at how films get funded in Alberta.
Downstream features the story of Dr. John O'Connor, who blew the whistle on the health effects of the oilsands on residents of Fort Chipewyan, a town downstream from the project.
The film is on a shortlist of documentaries nominated for an Academy Award in 2009.
Like Passchendaele, which recreated Calgary during the First World War, and the steamy love story of gay cowboys, Brokeback Mountain, it got financing through the Alberta Film Development Fund.
All the films that are approved under the fund are signed off by Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett.
Blackett told CBC News he may have to rethink how he approves films for funding.
"Even though all the projects come to me for my final signature, you get a couple of lines as to what that film is and … we're looking at now how do I get more information about it because — oh, it's a film about Alberta, it's a film about the oilsands — but who knew what it meant at the time?" Blackett said.
Blackett said he might have considered withholding funding if he'd known how critical the film would be of the oilsands.
Downstream comes at a time when the government is sinking millions into improving Alberta's reputation around the world.
However, there is no mechanism in place now that would allow him to deny funding.
The Alberta Film Development Fund offers money to films that use Alberta producers actors or technicians.
Now it's considering adding an element of creative control to the criteria.
"Because if I'm going to actually invest money on behalf of Albertans into a film, the whole idea is to show Alberta in a better light, to create an economic diversification to help them, so anything that's going to be negative is only going to be a negative impetus on this province," he said.