Helene White, Part 2: Pros and Cons of Government Support
Interviewed by Fil Fraser at Banff World Media Festival on June, 2011
Fraser. What relationship did you have, good or bad, with the Alberta Motion Picture Development Corporation?
White. Mostly good. Lorne McPherson was a real champion for us. What we lacked at that time, Fil, was people who were knowledgeable about the way the industry worked, in both television and film. We didn't have the mentors we needed. English Canada was not up to speed with film. And you know that as well as anyone else; you made films at that time [in the 1970s]. You were one of the pioneers in making films here.
F. How important were governments, particularly in regulation and support for that industry?
W. Extremely important. I grew up before the world of grants. We didn't have support: there was no such thing as a student loan. It was like Wonderland to find that governments would actually give us money to travel to Europe or to take courses. I found that marvelous. I couldn't get over it. From that standpoint, yes, I thought it was good. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to move ahead without their encouragement. I would probably have given up. Even today, we don't get a lot of private support or private investment. It's mostly government.
F. So, are filmmakers better off today than before?
W. In some ways, but now there's more interference in terms of the creative stuff. You must remember that when Telefilm started, their mandate was to give independent producers complete control. It was not to interfere in any way with the producer. I know that when we made Connecting, Telefilm did give us money. But the CBC was nervous. We did our first little series with the CBC. The manager here in Calgary was worried about some of the topics we were doing; he was a little nervous about sex. But, he couldn't interfere with us at that time.
F. Let's explore that a bit more. Where did the interference eventually come from and on what grounds did Telefilm try to explain it?
W. Well, it was basically a case of them saying that they had the money (and therefore the control) when I was developing a screenplay based on Voltaire's Candide. I had a young writer from Saskatchewan doing the script; he was taking a modern look at Candide and updating it to a futuristic world. Everything that I sent to the Vancouver office of Telefilm was forwarded to the head of Telefilm in Montréal for scrutiny. Then, I would get word back from Montréal telling me what he wanted to see more of in the script, or what he felt was going too far.
F. How did you deal with that?
W. I finally said, “Forget it!” The script had changed into something that I didn't want to do. The story was universal: it was basically about the folly of man, the folly of going around wearing rose-coloured glasses and not really looking at the world as it is and doing something about it. I thought the story had real meaning, but it was being changed into something else. It wasn't what I wanted to say with the film. So the writer and I just said goodbye. We never did it.
F. You just walked away.
W. Yes, I just couldn't do it.
F. And you left a lot of money on the table.