Made-in-Alberta film Land draws international attention to buoyant local film and TV industry, led by award-winning crews
Director Robin Wright explained Alberta's weather in a People magazine interview. "The weather in Alberta is very unpredictable,” she said, “and wicked and you have to be ready to be shooting a summer scene in 75 degree weather with the sun out, and then all of a sudden 30 minutes later, [adapt to] a deluge of rain and wind and freezing cold temperatures." (Credit: Daniel Power, Focus Features)
CALGARY -- Alberta’s landscapes are more than ready for their close up, judging by some of the reviews coming in for Land, a made-in-Alberta feature film directed by Robin Wright.
The New York Times made Land a ‘critics pick’ last week, although it sounded as if the paper was more enamoured of the cinematography than the plot of the film, written by the team of Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam.
“The beauty of the mountain regions of Alberta, Canada, is presented in modes both lush and piercingly sharp in Robin Wright’s feature directing debut, Land," writes critic Glenn Kenny.
(Land was executive produced by Calgary's Chad Oakes and Mike Frislev's Nomadic Pictures along with Leah Holzer and Peter Saraf from Big Beach and Allyn Stewart and Lora Kennedy from Flashlight Films.)
In People, Wright spoke to reporter Kara Warner about the experience of shooting a movie in Kananaskis Country in October 2019.
"The weather in Alberta is very unpredictable,” she said, “and wicked and you have to be ready to be shooting a summer scene in 75 degree weather with the sun out, and then all of a sudden 30 minutes later, [adapt to] a deluge of rain and wind and freezing cold temperatures," she explains. "So you had to kind of keep jumping around with the schedule, but it was so worth it because it felt so much more authentic. What you see [onscreen] is we were there, the breath coming out of our mouth in the cabin, it was that cold."
It wasn’t just Alberta landscapes that helped propel Land, either.
It was the local crew, said IATSE 212 president Damian Petti.
“Upwards of 95 per cent of the crew who worked on this production were Albertans many of whom were in key creative positions, such as the production designer (largely responsible for the look of the production), Trevor Smith,” Petti wrote, in an email to CTV News.
“Over 150 Albertans worked on this project. Alberta has always been known for its spectacular vistas and the rugged, can-do attitude of our crews who often work in extreme locations and climate with high efficiency.”
Land is just one of a number of film and TV productions that have landed in southern Alberta in recent months, a list that includes Tribal (APTN), Jann (Bellmedia), Joe Pickett (Paramount), a reboot of Fraggle Rock (Apple TV Plus), Guilty Party (CBS), while producers say they have more waiting for crews and studio space to come available.
Throw in the latest Ghostbusters film, and the Kevin Costner drama Let Him Go, both of which were shot in Calgary and High River, in addition to a recent Hallmark film and Alberta’s film and television industry is on a roll that some industry experts say could translate into a $400 million infusion into the Alberta economy at a time when it's particularly fragile.
(Demian Bichir co-stars in Land with Robin Wright. Photo credit: Daniel Power/Focus Features)
For Calgary-based producer Chad Oakes, of Nomadic Pictures, the boom is partly due to the fact that Vancouver has no more (production) room at the inn, and no crews to spare.
“There is a natural spin-off to Alberta as their crews are overmaxed,” Oakes wrote, in an email to CTV News.
Another unlikely catalyst propelling producers to choose Alberta is the pandemic, Oakes said.
“Alberta had the YYC Pilot Program in place which allowed incoming cast and crew from the US/Europe only having to quarantine for 48 hours, instead of 14 days like the rest of Canada,” Oakes said. “A bunch of high profile shows with big stars felt that was the most convenient for their talent.”
What concerns Oakes is that the quarantine rules have changed (to eight days) and will change again next week - although his production company Nomadic Pictures is presently booming, with a Netflix series in pre-production in Vancouver, and two new TV series and two feature films looking for a location to shoot.
“The hope was to shoot in Alberta, but there are no available crews until summer,” he said. “And we are now in competition with our studio partners on their other shows, so we do not know where and when we will be able to shoot them.”
Luke Azevedo, the Commissioner of Film, Television and Creative Industries at Calgary Economic Development, said the boom has resulted in growing infrastructure setting up shop in the city, because 2021 is shaping up to be one of the best that the local film and television industry has experienced.
“We anticipate we’re going to see growth of crew base, even more absorption of infrastructure in the industrial and office space because there’s organizations that now have either moved into the area with an office that are studio owners or operators, or equipment suppliers to the film and television industry,” Azevedo said in an interview with CTV News.
“Some of the biggest in the world and some of the biggest in Canada have now made their home in Alberta," he added, "and are making their home in Alberta-created, retrofitted warehouse space that has long-term commitments to film and TV."
“It’s not about one-offs,” he said. “It’s about having facilities that are accessible to the film and TV industry over the next five to 10 years.
Land was released theatrically in North America Feb. 12. However, with most theatres closed in Canada, it is expected to receive a premium video-on-demand (PVOD) release the first week of March.