Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu lauded the efforts of the Okanagan and B.C. film industries amid the pandemic in the Legislature Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Contributed)

Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu lauded the efforts of the Okanagan and B.C. film industries amid the pandemic in the Legislature Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Contributed)

Okanagan film boom owes to industry’s strong pandemic response: Sandhu

Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu lauded the local film industry’s adaptation to the pandemic

Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu lauded the Okanagan’s film industry, which positioned itself early in the pandemic as a safe shooting destination, and is now reaping the economic rewards.

Sandhu appeared virtually in the Legislature Tuesday (April 13), marking Creative Industries Week with words of support for the local film producers who have come out of the pandemic crunch in a strong position.

She shared a “story of resilience,” of the global shut-down of physical production that forced Okanagan film crews to work quickly with guilds, production companies, industry associations and government on a safe restart plan.

“Because of this work we were one of the first jurisdictions to restart productions, and more importantly, we’re one of safest locations to film in North America,” Sandhu said, before expanding praise to the provincewide film industry.

“The result is B.C. has had record-breaking production since reopening, including hitting an all-time high of 60 productions underway in one time last fall.”

Sandhu mentioned two examples of films shot locally last year: Under a Lover’s Moon and Love on the Wine, both produced by Vancouver’s Reel One Entertainment.

Productions in the region are supported by professionals at the Okanagan Film Commission, who bring “talent and dedication” to the industry, Sandhu said.

“Please join me in honouring all of the people working in the motion picture industry, who are working hard to keep creating safely to produce the content that has given us all comfort while we stay home.”

Okanagan Film Commissioner Jon Summerland confirmed the region’s film industry has been booming this year and last.

“With animation and film we had upwards of $40 million through the entire region, which includes part of the Kootenays, up to the Shuswap, down to Osoyoos and over to Manning Park,” he told Black Press Media Wednesday (April 14), adding the industry’s next most productive year brought in around $30 million, and they’ve had years closer to around $6 million in revenue.

Summerland said the Okanagan was the first to have a film shot during COVID-19 in North America, having been the first to devise safety protocols with WorkSafeBC.

“The eyes of the world were on us as a place that was safe to shoot,” he said. So far the local film industry hasn’t had any COVID-19 outbreaks, he added, knocking on wood. And success has carried over to this year; there are three Okanagan cities currently shooting in the Okanagan with crews in Penticton, Osoyoos and Kelowna.

But despite the boom, Summerland says the pandemic has been a double-edged sword. Smaller productions have been able to operate smoothly, but with larger productions talent has more often balked at the border.

“It has helped us with the smaller shows because we just quarantine together… For the bigger show, the actors are hesitant to be quarantined in a place they don’t know.

In fact, Summerland says Rick Dugdale, founder of Enderby Entertainment — a big-time L.A. production company with a small-town name — is currently shooting in Montana with some “big movie stars.”

“If he could have brought them across the border we would be filming that here,” he said.

Summerland says production in the North Okanagan will be picking up towards the end of the year with some bigger shoots, though he can’t comment yet on the details of those productions.

READ MORE: Okanagan film industry booming despite COVID-19

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Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
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