Alberta Sets the Bar for Creative Industries and Career Development in Canada

Story and photos by Claire Bourgeois

CALGARY - The award-winning crews and incredible scenery are enticing but a panel of respected directors say it’s the rare mix of individuality and community that inspires filmmakers to work in Calgary’s growing creative industries sector.

The wide-open spaces give artists room to grow.

“I like working here. I moved from L.A. and there I was seen as a very specific type of person,” said Michael Peterson whose projects include the comedy Lloyd the Conqueror and soon-to-be-released thriller Knuckleball. “Here there was room to grow … I wasn’t just ‘the comedy guy.’ I was able to go where the muse takes me.”

Peterson made the observation during a directors’ panel discussion at the Calgary Film Centre that was held in conjunction with the awarding of grants to six emerging Alberta filmmakers on May 27.

Project Lab, supported by the Government of Alberta, is a programming initiative launched by the Calgary Film Centre and Calgary Economic Development to support emerging filmmakers in the development, production and distribution of compelling Alberta stories.

The lively panel discussion included Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, Blacklist), Eleanore Lindo (Heartland), Sandi Somers (Ice Blue) and was moderated by Warren P. Sonoda, best known for his work on Trailer Park Boys and This Hour has 22 Minutes.

About 150 people from the film and TV community attended the event held in one of the sound stages at the Calgary Film Centre – which drew rave reviews from panel members.

The friendliness and openness of Albertans, along with a distinct sense of community within the industry, was another theme touched on by all panel members.

The responsibility to foster the next generation of storytellers is clearly part of the collaborative energy within the community. Herland, a female mentorship program for aspiring filmmakers created by Somers is an example of community in action.

“I do have a duality of creating film and making art but also wanting to give back so there can be more voices from women and more diversity,” Somers explained.

The initiative offers two five-month programs for women in the industry: a video production workshop and a mentorship program, where emerging female filmmakers are paired with more experienced directors.

Herland equips female filmmakers with the tools, skillset and connections necessary to develop careers in a historically male-dominated industry.

Many have gone onto successful commercial careers. Gillian McKercher of Calgary is a Herland alumnus and was a recipient of one of Project Lab’s coveted production grants for her film Circle of Steel. It’s described as a feminist satirical take on the oil and gas industry.

McKercher, who will be mentored by Calgary filmmaker Gary Burns for the project,   praised the importance of support for all emerging filmmakers in the province.

“I’m really looking forward to making this project,” she said. “It’s been a lot of work and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of The Calgary Film Centre.”