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Those people aren't my people

Reflecting on #NSFilmJobs and politics

by Rebecca Zimmer

When the Liberal government announced cuts to the existing film tax credit system many film workers became activists overnight. Scene Change was an evening of storytelling about that occurrence. Photo Becky Zimmer
When the Liberal government announced cuts to the existing film tax credit system many film workers became activists overnight. Scene Change was an evening of storytelling about that occurrence. Photo Becky Zimmer

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Every tax credit cut has a silver lining.

In the case of the cuts to the film tax credit program, it woke up a lot of people in the film industry.

How and why that happened was the topic of discussion at Scene Change: Stories of #NSFilmJobs at the Lion and Bright in Halifax last Sunday evening.

The event was organized by the Springtide Collective, a grassroots organization that wants to bridge the gap between Nova Scotians and their democratic institutions.

The political activities by filmmakers and workers following the budget was not only an impressive display of political engagement, said Mark Coffin, president and founder of the Springtide Collective.

“In many ways it was very demonstrative about how little most of us know about how decision making actually works,” said Coffin.

When Marc Almon was invited to join the Budget lock-up, he knew changes were coming. Almon is chair of Screen Nova Scotia, an organization that advocates on behalf of workers and media producers in the screen-based industry.

“It was a very lonely experience,” he said about the lock-up. “For me, it was a reflection of the fact that all the projects we've been working on for the last couple of years were probably disappearing.”

Almon then had to face the news cameras. It was a difficult experience when you're telling the world how the government destroyed your industry, he said.

But it was also that wake-up call. The Nova Scotia film industry was “shaken out of a slumber,” and it had to do something to save its livelihood.

Scott Simpson, also with Screen Nova Scotia, reached a breaking point a few days after the budget.

While taking care of his two kids while his wife was out of town, he found himself in the fetal position on his kitchen floor, his 6 and 4 year old kids confused and worried about what was wrong.

Unable to explain the situation to his kids, he Facetimed his wife.

“She said to them, it's like daddy playing a game, he's on a sports team...The other team just told him that they're changing the rules and he can't win but he has to play anyway.”

Film director, writer and producer Jay Dahl reached a similar breaking point while at the IWK Childrens Ward where he was filming a new CBC mini-series.

After spending the entire day talking with sick children and parents and generally just being angry, Dahl watched a one-year-old boy being hooked up to machines for the night.

“It took the two parents and a registered nurse 45 minutes to hook him up to seven machines. That family lived in that hospital for a year and the prognosis on little Jackson, is that he'll either die or be on those machines [for another three to eight years].”

This was when Dahl realized he had to find the courage to do something.

From letter writing to speaking out in public to rallies to video shoots, the supporters of the film industry mobilized to fight back.

To do that they had to engage with the world of politics.

Filmmaker and writer Megan Wennberg never considered herself an activist before. “It took a government attacking my livelihood directly and the livelihood of a whole bunch of people I care about to make me start paying attention and trying to figure out how this works,” she said.

Just days after the budget dropped she had crew ready to film and an emotionally charged video of film industry workers taking their final bow and leaving the Neptune stage, some in tears, other with the kids they were now unable to support.

When she took to Facebook looking for film workers affected by the cuts, she never expected the 200 people who came to the theatre that day.

“People came together in such a crazy way and were so generous and willing to help.”

When the New Waterford coal mine closed when Nelson MacDonald was a fifteen-year-old who couldn't quite understand the long faces and worried looks. When the budget was announced he saw those same faces on people he knew and cared about.

Now he understood the depth of the problem.

The Cape Breton film producer was at the large rally at the Legislature on April 15th when he heard that he could go in and watch the MLAs in action.

He remembered the Liberal MLA who knocked on his door during campaign time and told him he supported the tax credit program.

After watching that same MLA lead a standing ovation after the Premier's defense of the cuts, he took that opportunity to remind “Mr. MLA” what he said at his front door.

MacDonald was kicked out of the Legislature and banned for ninety days.

“I realized the Nova Scotia in that room [the Legislature] sucks, but this Nova Scotia out here is pretty fucking awesome. These are my people, those people aren't my people,” said MacDonald.

Cory Bowles, actor of Trailer Park Boys fame, spoke at that same rally.

“We were being told about our industry but we weren't being told how important we are as contributors to this province,” Bowles said.

When the MLAs were starting to leave. Bowles decided he just needed to look Tony Ince, the minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage, in the face. Bowles stood in front of the car.

“He could not look at me, he turned his face. And I understood that, but a police officer came with his bike and moved me back. And I felt that at that moment,everything changed for me.”

NSCAD University recruitment coordinator Ruby Boutilier travels around the world telling people how amazing Nova Scotia is.

When Boutilier spoke at Law Amendments to defend the existing credit system she was taken aback. How long she spoke seemed more important than what she was saying.

“It was like (the government politicians) were sitting there, doing what they were supposed to do but not actually engaging in the process.”

“To see that the people who were actually going to make this decision had not engaged in any of this was really surprising and I was kind of naive about that,” said Boutilier.

Other speakers contributed as well. The Springtide Collective intends to post video of the entire event on YouTube.

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1048 words


This seems pretty uncritical . . .

I think there are questions about this situation that are missing, about who is most impacted by austerity, and whose struggles get attention.

. . . and I'm deeply skeptical about the Springtide Collective. Analysis of colonialism seems notably absent in their version of Canadian history and politics.

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