N.L. film industry reeling in provincial revenue

Posted on October 08, 2021 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments

N.L.’s first local theatre, The Nickel, opened on Queen’s Road, St. John’s in 1907. Other theatres soon followed, so locals across the Island could enjoy the latest Hollywood film. While cinemas were quick to catch on, filmmaking in the province grew gradually.

Today, local film and television is thriving, and N.L. has become a popular filming location, attracting productions from Netflix, Warner Bros. and Disney.



Former manager, John P. Keily, outside of The Nickel theatre in St. John’s, N.L. shortly before it closed in 1960 (Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, I found the photo here: https://cinematreasures.org/theaters/61755/photos/298336)



Early Film Production

The first Canadian-made Hollywood-style film was shot on the island portion of the province. American filmmaker, Varick Fririssel shot The Viking in 1930. With an American cast and crew, the majority of the film was shot in Quidi Vidi, plus action scenes in Labrador. The movie premiered at The Nickel in 1931 and was also shown internationally.

Over the next 40 years, filmmaking included documentaries, hobbyists filming local events and promotional government films.



Filming of The Viking in 1930 (Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections (Col – 203), Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL, I found the image here: https://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/arts/film-video.php)




NIFCO and NLFDC have both played a pivotal role in growing N.L.’s film industry.

The Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Cooperative (NIFCO) was formed in 1975. The organization offers equipment and post-production services to filmmakers through its various programs. Aiming to make filmmaking more affordable and accessible, they’ve been vital in developing local industry talent.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation (NLFDC), a provincial government body, was created in 1997. NLFDC’s mandate is to offer investment to grow local film and television production and promote N.L. as a filming destination for outside productions.



2001 edition of Atlantic Business Magazine reporting on N.L.’s film industry



Growing N.L. Industry

A 2001 edition of Atlantic Business Magazine noted production activity of $20.6 million in the N.L. film industry. Today, across 289 productions, the NLFDC reports estimated production activity of $573 million from 1997 to the end of its 2020-21 fiscal year in March. This has created more than 5,500 jobs and $481 million in N.L. expenditure, 76 per cent being new to the local economy. NLFDC estimates that every dollar invested leads to four dollars in N.L. expenditure.

Dorian Rowe, Executive Director/Film Commissioner of the NLFDC noted that development of local talent, as well as worldwide changes in content consumption (with the advent of streaming) has contributed significantly to N.L. filmmaking growth.



Cast and crew filming locally produced television series, Republic of Doyle (Photo credit: CBC)



There’s also been many milestone celebrations, the first being big budget films Behind the Red Door and Shipping News, and the first large TV production, Random Passage, filmed here in the early 2000s. Another was in 2009 with locally produced six-season series, Republic of Doyle. Other titles filmed on the Island include The Grand Seduction, Maudie, Frontier (a Discovery Canada and Netflix series), scenes from Warner Brother’s Aquaman and most recently Walt Disney Pictures’ Peter Pan & Wendy.

Considering the future of the industry, Dorian Rowe commented: “The NLFDC believes very strongly that the film and television industry, nationally and internationally, creates a big opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador. Not only because of our fantastic locations, but with our great talent and crews, if we remain competitive with our incentives, this industry can continue to provide new jobs and leverage in more outside investments.”

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