Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Film productions good for the Valley

‘Orca’ started a trend of productions filming in Newfoundland

I was shocked and delighted many years ago, in the early 1970s, when well-known actor Richard Harris (who was popular at the time) arrived in my hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland, with a production crew to film the movie Orca in the waters close to the city.

Newfoundland was always at the edge of the world and out of the mainstream of North American society, much like it pretty much is still today, and we didn’t usually see many visitors to its shores who weren’t already from there previously.

That’s before the province’s tourism industry kicked into high gear many years later and started showing off the whales, icebergs, quaint seaside towns and the great and friendly people that live in Canada’s most easterly island to the outside world with great success.

But before that, tourists in those days were in short supply, much less actors and film crews from Hollywood.

The filming of Orca, about a killer whale who looks to take revenge against the character played by Harris, a boat captain who had killed its pregnant mate, was the first of many productions for television and the big screen that were filmed in Newfoundland in the last few decades.

One big-time actor, Kevin Spacey (currently disgraced) even spent a few months in a Newfoundland outport working on the film The Shipping News.

Many of my friends at the time were lucky enough to get jobs on the film sites, doing everything from building the sets, cooking and supplying the food, and some even got bit parts in the films themselves.

Before the oil boom hit Newfoundland in the 1990s, jobs were hard to come by and many young people were forced to head to Toronto or Alberta for work, so the opportunity to stay at home and make a half decent wage seemed for many like it was too good to be true.

The money the production crews also spent while in the province filming was greatly needed and appreciated by the various businesses that benefited.

In some cases, this influx of cash was all that kept them afloat as the cod moratorium, which almost shut the local economy down completely for awhile before the oil revenues started kicking in, bit deep.

That’s why I’m excited to see that Film Cowichan is having some success in bringing film crews to the Cowichan Valley for their projects.

Amy Melmock, manager of Economic Development Cowichan, which oversees Film Cowichan, said the major television production Sonic the Hedgehog is currently in production in Ladysmith, the television series Puppy Prep Academy will be filming in both Ladysmith and Duncan in September and October and the producers of two “movies of the week” are considering filming them in the Valley.

While these are not blockbuster productions, they do open the door for other, more large-scale film productions, to be shot here.

There’s no doubt that the Valley is a beautiful place which provides many magnificent areas that would be a film maker’s dream.

Let’s hope Film Cowichan can build on the projects it has been successful in helping to bring here.

Anything that can be done to add to the local economy and have our Valley highlighted in movies and television shows that will be seen around the world is welcome.

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