'We're not hicks': Okanagan film community struggles with perception problem - InfoNews

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'We're not hicks': Okanagan film community struggles with perception problem

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
June 05, 2019 - 7:30 AM

KELOWNA - If you build it, will they come? Matt Stewart doesn't think so.

Stewart is the executive director with the Okanagan Society of Independent Filmmakers. He's heard a common complaint from Okanagan filmmakers and crews: It's a constant struggle to get studios from California and elsewhere to bring high-level productions to the area. Bigger name studios rarely want to work in the Okanagan, which keeps the industry from growing and that, in turn, discourages studios from working here, creating a toxic feedback loop. The lack of studio involvement coupled with the persistent brain drain of local filmmakers moving to Vancouver for work creates a cocktail of setbacks for the Okanagan.

Often, the Okanagan film community tells Stewart a primary reason studios don't want to work in the Okanagan, and in Kelowna specifically, is the lack of hotels in the area. Some people believe studios can't find enough available hotels here during shooting productions to fit all their cast and crew members, so they simply choose not to bother.

Stewart rejects the idea that more hotel rooms being built would equate to a stronger local film industry.

"I think it's misdirected to say more hotel rooms would solve the problem," he said. "Hotels are a crutch we lean on as an excuse."

Stewart says Kelowna has plenty of hotels, even during the busy tourist season. He thinks the Okanagan's biggest problem in the film industry is perception. Bluntly put, the Okanagan is generally viewed as a low-rent place to make cheap movies.

"There's a feeling we don't have the same level of professionalism (as other locations)," Stewart said.

Stewart says that perception of low-quality is completely off the mark, but it's one that refuses to die. When certain productions come to town, they'll often bring outside crews for the job instead of hiring local workers. Stewart says the Okanagan is filled with capable crew members who could shine in a big movie production if given a chance. He said the community has to invest in "human infrastructure," not filling the Okanagan with more hotels.

"We've got the talent," he said. "We should promote the local crews."

Noah Dorsey is a freelancer in the Okanagan film community. He also runs Ark Films, a local production company. He's seen a lot of local talent move to Vancouver for work; he's even considered doing it. He agrees that poor perception, not hotels, is the biggest hurdle for the community's growth.

"People think they can come here and make a cheap movie," he said. "We have a large enough crew base to support a feature."

Dorsey admits Vancouver crews may be more experienced than Okanagan ones, but he believes the community can hold their own if given the opportunity. He thinks advocating for local crews in Okanagan productions will raise the community's profile and have the added bonus of removing any concerns about hotel availability.

"They should be hiring more local crews so they don't have to put everyone up in hotels," he said.

Stewart says the film community needs to promote the Okanagan as an inexpensive and creative alternative to Vancouver filled with capable workers.

"We're not hicks," he said. "It's a beautiful location."

Despite the current perception, Dorsey is optimistic the community can turn things around.

"If we continue at this rate, I'm very hopeful," he said. "There's a bright future in the Okanagan."

Film Commissioner Jon Summerland did not return phone calls for this story.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Sean Mott or call (250) 864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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