ECMA celebration fraught

Lots of excitement, but lots of worry over new budget

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Town Heroes photo via facebook.com/thetownheroes - PHOTO BY STUDIO SEVEN
  • photo by Studio Seven
  • Town Heroes photo via facebook.com/thetownheroes

Of all things, the east coast is strong. We work from love and for each other. We work when there are no rewards. We work, and we work hard, because that's just what we do. We are resilient and resourceful and grateful. The East Coast Music Awards were created over two decades ago to celebrate these qualities and each year the ECMAs recognize the skills, talents, and the unlimited passion of all facets of the music industry in the four Atlantic provinces. Music is just one of the many vibrant industries that make us who we are.

This weekend, St. John's, Newfoundland is hosting East Coast Music Week and I'm here loving it, bys! But the celebration has been fraught with worry. Since Wednesday, some of the region's hardest workers have been acknowledged for achievements in production, performance, business and media. The ECMA gala at the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay last night brought together hundreds of folks who believe art is important. Talented, dedicated people have built a livelihood around the premise that their art and work is valued.

Hosted by Newfoundland actor Jonny Harris, the two-hour awards show aired on Eastlink and featured performances by some of the Atlantic's regions finest acts, with a number of Nova Scotian artists winning major awards. In-Flight Safety grabbed Album of the Year, Kim Harris took Rising Star, Carleton Stone picked up Solo Recording and The Town Heroes swept three categories (you can see the complete list of winners here). It was a night to be proud. Sadly, though, yesterday's budget announcement loomed over everything.

When the Liberals revealed the 2015 budget, almost every industry professional at the ECMA afternoon events at the Delta was visibly shocked and saddened. Almost every conversation became a eulogy.

The elimination of the Nova Scotia Film Tax credit is devastating, heartbreaking, and hardly makes fiscal sense. Every single person at the ECMAs will be impacted, from writers like me to Eastlink crews to music buyers to musicians. Everyone. Not only has the film industry become one of the most successful independent sectors in Nova Scotia, it intersects and relies on the support and cooperation of other creative industries. One conference delegate, John Ellingbo, owner of Sound Source Pro Audio and Light in Port Hawkesbury, said that this decision will have a significant negative impact on all creative workers in the Maritimes. Labour in music and film, for instance, is often shared. "A good audio technician in film is a good audio technician in music and most technicians work in both industries. The overlap is large," he told me.

It is more troubling that business and accounting professionals can't see how the elimination of the tax credit can be financially justified, especially in light of the growth of the film and TV industry in the last few years.

ECMA director Heather Gibson said she read the released documents and could see the bean-counter logic behind the decision, but it's not an accurate picture of the benefits of the tax credit or the expansive value of the film industry. "It seems like they're taking only the initial expense into consideration and not the overall generated revenue," Gibson said, adding that the NSBI's absorption of the Department of Film and Creative is also very troublesome, but she wants to be optimistic that the portfolio is in good hands. I'm not as sure.

The announcement cast a dark, uncertain shadow over the whole damn day. Will there be fewer jobs? Will there be outmigration? How will the NSCC Screen Arts program or NSCAD Film Studies function in a province that doesn't support screen arts? The only certain outcome will be the tremendous loss to Nova Scotia.

"You need cultural industries to have a identity. Cultural industry is the source of identity," said Halifax Pop Explosion director James Boyle, who fears the cut's effects on HPX, "If you don't have a way of life and a place with industries that you can be proud of and that matter to people, then what's the point?"

It seems obvious to workers in the arts that film is foundational to the success of almost all other creative industries. It's foundational to non-creative industries! More puzzling is how the government is feigning ignorance of film's visible importance. Over 25,000 people voiced concern over the elimination of the tax credit. Ignoring these voices shows an almost-criminal disregard for the people for whom these civil servants have been elected to govern. When ECMA-host Harris thanked the Newfoundland government for its overwhelming support of the arts, that none of this celebration could be possible without the government's investments, I buckled in shame that we can't say the same. Today, so many talented, brilliant, and deeply passionate Nova Scotians are struggling to feel valued by a system that is supposed to support them.

Director Dillon Garland, who won Fan's Choice Video of the Year for "Holdin' Up Grants" by The Town Heroes, said he was devastated to see a policy that actually plans to stops growth. I asked if he ever thought of leaving Nova Scotia for work. "Not til today," he answered. That must be how everyone's feeling right now. So much hard work has gone into building our creative culture, and yet it's so delicately positioned. The film industry is a load-bearing tendril in this creative web, and without it, the rest will fade. That is certain.

Here's one small but important example. John Mullane (In-Flight Safety) pointed out that scoring and soundtracking is a crucial stream of revenue for working musicians who might otherwise struggle to make ends meet by music sales or performance: "Our songs have been featured on (locally shot, Showcase-produced series) Haven, which was huge for us and never would've happened without the film tax credit."

So much of what we need, whether employed in the arts or not, could never have happened without the film tax credit. Does Stephen McNeil own a TV? Does he watch the news? "Even the CBC will be affected," said Soho Ghetto's Brian MacKay, who does video production on 22 Minutes, "Half of the crew is CBC, the other half work for a company that uses the tax credit." MacKay, like so many, aren't sure what will happen next.

From public relations, advertising, the Atlantic Film Fest, CFAT, AFCOOP, sports and all news broadcasting to editing, costume design, food service, child care and goddamn political campaign videos, the film industry in Nova Scotia touches every single person. And all creative industries felt a value and worth until yesterday.

But it's not too late. We can't give up. We have two weeks. We have to demonstrate that the film and TV industry represents all creative industry and touches every industry across the country and continent. There isn't one single person in Nova Scotia who doesn't benefit from its strength. We have to be more creative and fight harder. It's about who we are. I am grateful the ECMAs have brought the importance of film into focus.

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