Greater Victoria film commission sees reduced funding after banner year

While the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission only operates on a $250,000 yearly budget, it brought in tens-of-millions of dollars into the local economy last year.

“(The budget) is remarkably low, I think, for a three-person office that brings in $50-million a year,” said Kathleen Gilbert, film commissioner for the Vancouver Island South Film and Media Commission.

But for a number of funding reasons, this year, that budget is falling short.

“We could be short $50,000 this year,” said Gilbert.

Funding for the commission comes from grants from the 13 municipalities that make up the Capital Regional District (CRD), the Provincial Government and corporate sponsors, like the hotel and transportation industry.

All of the usual donors have taken a financial hit during the pandemic.

“Their funding was reduced by Saanich this year,” said Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes.

Saanich council reduced their funding by about 6.5-percent, a decision that the mayor didn’t support.

“Going forward I hope to look at reversing that, with council’s will,” said Haynes.

He went on to say that he realizes how important the commission’s work is, and is aware of how much money it generates for the region.

The District of Saanich has been working very closely with the commission in trying to bring a film studio to the Camosun College Interurban Campus. That is still in the works, and funding could be coming from the province soon for an accelerated business plan for the project.

This year, the local film industry exceeded all expectations while propping up some local businesses at the same time.

“I know a number of our hotel members have taken film crews over this pandemic winter,” said Bill Lewis, chair of the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria. “Certainly, given the impact on tourism that COVID has had, this is very welcome business and almost a lifeline for some of these hotels.”

Kymon Giakoumakis owns two restaurants in the Oceanside area. His work catering to film sets has propped up those eateries, which have struggled during the pandemic.

“You know, thank God for film, it’s kept us alive, it’s kept us floating,” said Giakoumakis. “This is helping us keep afloat without any government subsidies which is nice.”

Dallas Gislason is the director of economic development at the South Island Prosperity Partnership. He sees our film industry as a real economic generator for the region going into the future.

“In the long term, we want to attract younger more diversified types of jobs here,” said Gislason. “That’s what film represents to us.”

Attracting big productions to the region is what the film commission does, and Gilbert says the community needs to make a decision before it’s too late.

“You know, the big things like Maid (the Netflix production currently shooting in the CRD), they would have not come here if it hadn’t been for the film commission,” said Gilbert. “We seek out those kinds of productions and we work really hard to land them and convince them to come here.”

“So it’s really important, I think, that the community make a decision. Do we want it or not want it? And put their money behind that decision,” she said.

The commission expects 2021 to be another good year for productions in our region, including one that a tight-lipped Gilbert says will bring a few big names into our community. That is expected to start shooting in March of this year.

If funding continues to dwindle, 2022 could be an unknown. 

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