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Troubled water 

Earlier this year, FilmNS’ Bridge Award was cancelled, leaving a lot of filmmakers to wonder what’s next.

Short films are the future of the industry---now left with one less funding option. - JUSTIN LEE
  • Short films are the future of the industry---now left with one less funding option.
  • Justin Lee

It was a big year for Halifax at the Academy Awards. Ariel Nasr picked up a live-action short nomination for Buzkashi Boys, while NSCAD graduate John Kahrs walked away with the Best Animated Short Oscar for his film, Paperman. Sadly, emerging artists back in Nova Scotia will have to make do with one less funding option now that the short film producing Bridge Award has been cancelled.

"It's been a great initiative for us," says the CBC's managing director for the Maritimes, Andrew Cochran, "but it's run its course."

A partnership between the CBC and Film Nova Scotia for the last 11 years, the Bridge Award helped upcoming producers cultivate a professionally made short film which was then made available for broadcast. As its name implies, it provided a "bridge" between low-budget independent shorts and feature- length films. The award was a stepping stone, so it came as something of a shock when Film NS sent out a press release January 8 advising the award would be scrapped.

"It was a great program and it was a very successful program that ran for 11 years," says Film NS director of marketing Abbi Hennigar. "Both Film NS and CBC are going to remain committed to the growth and development of producers in the province. We continue to support emerging filmmakers through funding like the First Features project and we partner with the Atlantic Filmmakers' Cooperative on their FILM 5 program."

FILM 5 offers funding and a rigourous training process for producer/director teams, which according to Blackbird co-producer Marc Almon, makes it stand out in contrast from the lackadaisical funding the Bridge Award offered. "The problem with the Bridge Award was it was just sort of one award per year, and I think it was difficult to build a training program around," says Almon, whose short film The Motorcycle was put together through the Bridge Award with his producing partner Tarek Abouamin. "If I was to suggest anything, I'd say put some of the money from the Bridge Award and invest in the FILM 5 program. Then there's more opportunities for people to make shorts, to experiment and to learn through making mistakes."

It's unlikely though, given the budget cuts CBC has had to weather in recent memory--- $115 million over three years---that any previous Bridge Award funding will find its way to other programs. Cochran admits the national broadcaster is at a "different budget level" than when the Bridge Award was created. "A lot has happened, budget-wise, over 11 years," he says. "But also, I believe we're doing more today for emerging producers than we were 11 years ago."

Cochran lists the 3-2-1 short film award in PEI and New Brunswick, as well as the CBC's Short Film Faceoff and Download, which provide a showcase for locally produced short films. The effort to make a short film has also, Cochran argues, drastically changed.

"If you look at just the tools and funding structure, it's really dramatically different now," he says. "You can shoot now on digital SLR cameras, you can edit really well on a Mac or Windows machine. The whole cost structure has changed dramatically, which has changed what used to be the so-called barriers of entry for who could qualify to do short films."

Though Almon agrees the entry barriers have lowered in terms of filmmaking technology, he feels a greater quantity of short film productions does not necessarily mean greater quality. "You look at the short films nominated for the Academy Awards this year, they're very well-made," he says. "They have a big budget behind them that allows a certain production value and a look that lets them stand out. Those kind of films are hard to do in Nova Scotia.

"I just hope they continue to support short films," he adds, "because that's the future of the industry."

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