Film flam

It’s been a busy year for Halifax talent, behind and in front of the lens. Carsten Knox highlights the top stories from a year full of them.

photo Michael Tompkins

Production boom

“I did various commercials,” says Shauna Hatt, a film production coordinator who works on a contract basis in film. “And I did two CBS TV movies back to back.” She’s referring to the Tom Selleck movies, sequels to the popular movie of the week Stone Cold, based on the Robert B. Parker novels. It was shot in Nova Scotia last year and aired in the winter. The sequels, Night Passage and Death in Paradise, will air in 2006.

“There just seems to be a momentum that gets going,” says Hatt. “It was so busy. We ended up flying in crew because everyone in Halifax was working. Gear was at a shortage again, and equipment. I haven’t felt that stretched to provide what was going to be needed in years.”

This variety and constancy of work is a luxury the business hasn’t had in some time, and is largely due to the 2005 increase in the production tax credit, a partial money-back guarantee of sorts for both visiting—also known as “guest”—and local productions to the tune of 35 percent of eligible labour costs and 17.5 percent of production costs. Beyond the Selleck movies—he should buy property here, he’s in town so much—there was an MOW about the BTK killer, the independent comedy Summerhood, the miniseries October 1970 about the FLQ, the historical TV drama The Conclave, and, of course, the Trailer Park Boys movie. Also a surprise is that productions are continuing to shoot into the winter.

“For us to have three things shooting in January, it’s unheard of,” says Hatt. “I’ve heard of a picture that has budgeted both Toronto and Vancouver, but cannot make it work, and is now seriously looking at Halifax—strictly based on not being able to make a production budget that’s feasible in either of those cities. We’ve definitely felt the impact . I mean, what else could it be?”

Ann Mackenzie, CEO of the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, concurs. “It definitely did kick-start a lot of production,” she says. “Last year we had nine guest productions: six movies of the week, two television series and one feature film. In September this year”—considered the halfway point of the fiscal year—“we had nine: five MOWs, three TV series and one TV special. Since then we’ve had two more MOWs, and a feature film just starting up.”

Raising Ellen

Local talent has been well employed, but not all locally. Eighteen-year-old Halifax actor Ellen Page, featured in such notable Canadian films as Wilby Wonderful and Marion Bridge, landed a potentially star-making role as Kitty Pryde in X-Men 3, the second sequel to the comic-inspired science fiction blockbuster X-Men, released in 2000. As with all the X-Men, Kitty Pryde, or Shadowcat, as she is also known, is a mutant. Her power: walking through solid objects. X3 opens May 26, 2006. Page also appears in the indie Hard Candy, a 2005 Sundance sensation that finds her exacting revenge on a pedophile.

Out of the Park

The other big local success story has been the world-conquering, culture-bombing ubiquity of Trailer Park Boys, now shifting to the big screen in summer 2006 with Trailer Park Boys: The Big Dirty, starring the entire TV series cast, with the addition of singer/actor Hugh Dillon and produced by comedy icon Ivan Reitman. Local director/actor/bon vivant John Dunsworth, who also had roles in The Conclave and October 1970, continued his part as Mr. Lahey in season six of Trailer Park Boys and in the movie, both of which went to camera this summer. Dunsworth is mum about the plot of The Big Dirty, but he says it wasn’t so much a prequel, as had been rumoured, as a re-imagining for the big screen. “It’s more a synthesis,” he says. “It’s an introduction to a wider audience. I think it’s exciting—it’s the difference between a short story and a novel.”

Best of the fest

The biggest event in the cinematic calendar took place in September, when Halifax once again played host to the world with the 10-day Atlantic Film Festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary. The fest boasted a 24 percent increase in attendance from the previous year, the jewel in the event’s crown being the 3,000-strong Argyle Street opening night red carpet bash, attended by opening gala 3 Needles director Thom Fitzgerald and his star, Chloe Sevigny. The French Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y. won the People’s Choice Award just as it was announced the film would be Canada’s official entry to the Academy Awards for best Foreign Language Film.

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