Alberta faces prod'n funding roadblocks

Culture minister Lindsay Blackett hoping for improvements

MONTREAL -- Alberta culture minister Lindsay Blackett is in a quandary.

His Canadian province wants to use its fast-growing pools of petro dollars to attract Los Angeles-based film and TV producers. Problem is, Alberta is balking at the idea of introducing a tax credit that would reduce production costs, a common practice in neighboring British Columbia and rival North American jurisdictions.

"Our government doesn't like the idea of giving out tax credits, period. We don't give them out to any industry," he argued.

That doesn't mean there isn't still cash available for visiting U.S. producers.

Grants available from the Alberta Film Development Program jumped from CAN$20 million ($16.7 million) in 2007 to CAN$34 million ($28.5 million) this year. Within two years, Blackett hopes to get that fund to CAN$53 million ($44.3 million).

And Alberta doubled the cap on financing for individual projects to CAN$3 million ($2.5 million).

Last year, Lionsgate negotiated CAN$8.9 million ($7.5 million) in subsidies from Alberta to shoot the NBC horror series "Fear Itself" in Edmonton.

The Canadian war epic "Passchendaele," meanwhile, which opened the Toronto International Film Festival and hits theaters Oct. 17, received a CAN$5.5 million ($4.6 million) grant from the Alberta governent to support its local shoot.

But critics contend that Alberta's direct grants fall short of the tax credit as a model for long-term, stable production financing.

The project funding cap worries producers, as does the potential for Alberta's pool of grant money running dry late in the fiscal year.

By April, Blackett hopes to have in place a new three-year production funding system that will ensure TV series like Lionsgate's "Fear Itself" stick around.

But whether that new package can compete with tax credits available in Calgary and Vancouver remains to be seen.

"Can we come up with something better?" Blackett asks of government deliberations. "We're not there yet."
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