Monday, March 10, 2008

Big Screen Country

Hollywood on the banks of the Sturgeon River - that's St. Albert this week. No, really! An episode of an upcoming NBC TV series, Fear Itself, is being filmed at sites downtown, near the Library. At lunch today they were filming a scene across the St. Albert Place lobby from the Library's front door. The TV show is a suspense and horror anthology, with each episode directed and starring different people. The episode filming here, Community, is about a young couple who find a perfect house in a seemingly idyllic town (St. Albert!) but soon find out the niceness of the town comes at a cost.
The episode is directed by Canadian-born Mary Harron (American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page) and stars Brandon Routh and Shiri Appleby. Routh starred as Superman in Superman Returns (2006).

Edmonton and Alberta have had their place in the sun of late, with the The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, starring Brad Pitt, out last year, and Brokeback Mountain in 2005. But in general it has been a bumpy road for the Alberta film industry since the government cuts of the 1990s, notably the 1996 termination of the AMPDC (Alberta Motion Picture Development Corporation) by Dr. Steve West, Alberta Minister of Economic Development.

An inside account of the rise and fall, the boom and bust of the Alberta film industry is told by Bill Marsden in his 2004 memoir, Big Screen Country: Making Movies in Alberta. Marsden's involvement with Alberta film goes back to "Alberta's first homegrown feature-film project, Wings of Chance", filmed in Edmonton and Jasper in 1959. In 1981 Marsden was appointed Alberta Film Commissioner, and during his tenure helped build the industry, including bringing major Hollywood shoots like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) to the province. Marsden writes about important Alberta films through the years, like Why Shoot the Teacher? (1976) and Bye Bye Blues (1988).

Why Shoot the Teacher? was the result of Edmontonian Fil Fraser's epic work in producing an Alberta film, from financing to writing to casting to filming. Fraser continued on as an important cultural maven in Edmonton and Canada. He wrote about his experiences in his 2003 book, Alberta's Camelot: Culture & the Arts in the Lougheed Years. Fraser looks back fondly on how the Lougheed government supported arts and culture in the 1970s and 80s, not just monetarily - although that was crucial - but personally, morally.

Perhaps our newly elected premier has read Fraser's book? At the announcement of a new Alberta cultural policy ("The Spirit of Alberta") just before the election call, with Peter and Jeanne Lougheed in attendance, Premier Stelmach noted that the new policy would build on what Lougheed started (an implied criticism of the intervening 22 years of Getty and Klein). The expanded definition of "culture" is somewhat ominous ("
heritage, the environment, sports and recreation, and even innovation in business ...") but the Premier did promise to increase the funding for the Alberta Foundation of the Arts by 30% and - coming full circle on this post - an additional $1.6 million for the Alberta Film Development Program.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was Shiri at the filming, if so do you have any pictures? Thanks.

11:55 a.m.  
Blogger Adam Snider said...

I believe that entire series is being shot in the Edmonton area. My brother's girlfriend works as a makeup artist on the show.

1:28 p.m.  
Blogger Libarbarian said...

Anon - I'm sure I saw Shiri when I parked at lunch yesterday. She was talking to someone near a Cal-B-Que portable BBQ trailer. Or perhaps it was just some random stunningly attractive person.

Adam - yes, the series is filming around Edmonton this spring. I saw the same trucks a few weeks ago filming at night outside a sleazy motel on 63rd near Calgary Trail.

3:13 p.m.  

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