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Northern cities embrace film industry

More Northern communities are embracing the film industry and its economic spinoffs.
Tara Levesque, director of programming, Music and Film in Motion (MFM), shows a picture for the locations library database, which features more than 6,000 images from across Northern Ontario.

More Northern communities are embracing the film industry and its economic spinoffs.

Last year saw nine productions across the North, one of the busiest years yet for the region, said Tara Levesque, director of programming, Music and Film in Motion (MFM), a Sudbury-based not-for-profit organization that fosters and develops the music and film industry in Northern Ontario.

“About half were feature films and half were television series. They make the biggest impact.”

Film and television spending in the North was about $8 million. Levesque estimated a total of $70 million in direct and indirect spending has been generated across the region since MFM started in 1999.

“It is keeping young people in the North, which is a huge thing,” said Levesque. “It is allowing them to do this kind of new and hip job that may not have been an opportunity a few years ago.”

When a film production comes to town, it will often hold casting calls, looking to hire local talent. When they are not working, those same crews contribute to the community’s coffers by eating in restaurants, staying in hotels, visiting bars and shopping.

“They tend to have their fingers in a lot of different businesses when in town,” whether it is accommodation, catering, costumes, renting cargo vans or furniture for sets, Levesque said.

“The economic spinoffs can add up quickly.”

MFM works with producers from outside the region interested in utilizing the North as a filming venue and it also works with Northern residents interested in developing their musical and filmmaking careers.

“Mike Large (the director of outreach services) will work with them on their individual projects, offer them guidance and get them in touch with people who can help them,” Levesque said.

Professional development opportunities offered by MFM include information sessions throughout the year. A Northern Ontario music and film conference occurs every spring, centred around an awards program.

Industry representatives from southern Ontario are brought in to participate on panels and in workshops, providing accessibility and networking opportunities in a smaller setting.

To provide external producers more information about local talent and potential location settings for the film, MFM has also developed inventories of regional resources. These include a resource guide containing 114 pages of local talent and services, as well as a locations library catalogue, an organized database of more than 6,000 pictures from 40 different Northern Ontario communities.

“Each city has delegated one person that handles film requests,” she said. “It is a collaborative effort.”

North Bay is a prime example of a city that has welcomed the film industry after experiencing five productions last year.

“It was a steep learning curve, but we’re embracing it and positioning ourselves in a way that will welcome future projects,” said Chelsa Mayhew, community development officer, North Bay.

A database of talent, services and a locations library is being developed specific to North Bay, and will complement MFM's current resources.

A call was put out to surrounding communities for anyone interested in contributing to the information bank. An online survey at is one way they are collecting data.

Mayhew said the response has been favourable.

They are continuing to gather and upload information into the databank, which will appear as a web page under the city’s website.

Thunder Bay also has its own website specific to local resources and talent.

“We’ve been trying to gauge what we have locally because we know the college has a fairly well- ecognized program,” said Kris Mork, an economic development officer for the City of Thunder Bay.

“We have a lot of people who want to stick around and make movies, documentaries, and shorts.” He sees it as a local movement fostering local talent due to the city’s distance from Toronto. “We haven’t had any big budgets, but we realize that isn’t our market.”

Sault Ste. Marie is no stranger to film production and has some slated to film in the city this fall, said Rosalie Chilelli Graham, co-ordinator of meetings, conventions, and travel trade, in Sault Ste. Marie.’s tourism department.

The city’s economic development corporation has also been working with the Ontario Media Development Corp. and MFM to develop its community assets.