A Celebration of Cinema

CineVic’s legacy was born out of a desire to create movies

CineVic's first office.

CineVic’s legacy was born out of a desire to create moviesWalk past CineVic’s small, unassuming headquarters on a quiet residential side street near Royal Jubilee Hospital and it’s hard to fathom the legacy the film co-op has created over the past 20 years. Two internationally recognized film festivals, community collaborations like Scene + Heard and Reel to Reel, and hundreds of locally made films likely wouldn’t exist today had some recent film-school grads not gathered around a kitchen table in 1990, brainstorming ways to drum up funding for Victoria-based film productions.Nor would they exist if CineVic, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend, hadn’t stuck it out through periods of self examination, organizational revamping and the ever-changing arts-funding landscape in the province.Support for filmmakingNot surprisingly, CineVic was born out of artists’ desire to create work — and a conversation between local filmmakers James Fry and Donnard Mackenzie back in 1990.“We were sitting around the kitchen table, thinking about how we could get some support to make films,” says Fry, who was, at that time, a recent grad of the Casson Film School (now the Victoria Film School). They decided to start a film co-op based on Vancouver’s Cineworks, which Mackenzie had been accessing to work on his film Wooden Nickels. (“It never got finished, but it went on for a few years,” says Fry.) The pair called for a meeting, and found there was an appetite.“We were coming out of [film] school and ready to do something,” says Fry. “But there weren’t a lot of opportunities.”In March 1991, a board was formed — with Fry as the first president — and CineVic came to be. Members paid dues to give the co-operative some operating capital, and they set to work acquiring equipment. The first big purchase? A Steenbeck film-editing machine from CBC Vancouver.“I think it was something like $8,000, so we raised about $2,000 from memberships and put that down and then got the rest on payments,” recalls Fry. “So Donnard and myself went over in my van and we took this thing apart and brought it back to Victoria and set it up.”Initially, the film editor lived in the office of Mackenzie’s Origins Theatre Company before CineVic found some digs on Princess Avenue — the first of many locations the co-op would be based out of in its two-decade history.“Essentially, the organization was really just a locker and a set of keys,” says Bryan Skinner, CineVic’s current executive director. Thus the heart and soul of CineVic’s mandate — to provide low-cost equipment rentals and supplies for Victoria filmmakers — was established and operational.Victoria independent filmAs CineVic’s membership grew, so did its focus. While its priority has always been to provide filmmaking tools to its members, that scope expanded to workshops and seminars — folks like Carl Bessai, Jennifer Abbot and Charles Martin Smith have imparted their wisdom — and launched the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival as a co-production with Origins Theatre in 1995. Then, Fry decided it was time to step down as president.“It was up and running and a really stable and happening thing, so I decided to step down and pass it on — and Kathy Kay came in,” he says, referring to his immediate successor who went on to helm what is now the Victoria Film Festival. “She stepped up and said, ‘I’ve got lots of energy and time and enthusiasm’ and that’s pretty much exactly what it needed at that point.”The film festival eventually split off from CineVic — and Kay with it — in 1998, as did what is now the Antimatter Film Festival, which focusses more on independent, experimental films and installations.“That’s two very well thought of festivals that came out of here at that time,” says Skinner. “There was also a lot of thought about developing the film industry here . . . a role the [Victoria] Film Commission is now really involved in doing.”Indeed, CineVic would soon find itself having a bit of an identity — and funding — crisis, and would be forced to re-examine the role it played in the filmmaking community.Arts funding pulledThings chugged along for the next few years; the society managed to hire its first executive director, Elaine Dowling, launched its 24-hour film slam competition and moved into its digs on Douglas Street, where it would remain for nearly a decade. But in 2003, the co-op was dealt a big blow: the Canada Council for the Arts decided to pull the plug on its funding, saying the organization wasn’t providing any resources that didn’t already exist in the community.“I think there was confusion on the part of a lot of people as to what exactly we were,” says Skinner, who was then working as CineVic’s equipment co-ordinator. “This isn’t a slight against anybody, but I think that CineVic at that time didn’t have the clearest identity.”Enter Erin Skillen (Erin Brown, at that time) a longtime board member who had just stepped into the executive director position. She tracked the Canada Council funders down to find some answers.“I said, ‘How are we supposed to make changes if you’ve totally pulled the rug out from under our feet?’” she recalls. “I said my piece to them and they turned around and gave us some discretionary funding that managed to let us keep the doors open and make some changes.”Skillen, who now works with the Victoria-based May Street Group film-production company, also managed to secure a grant to hire a media-arts consultant to help reshape CineVic.“We looked at what was already out there. There were already organizations like VIFPA and the film commission that had that industrial focus and really more of a mandate to provide that kind of education,” says Skinner. “We needed to change our mission and mandate and get more focussed on empowering artists to tell the stories of their communities in the best and most professional way possible.”It was a change that both funders and filmmakers responded well to. “We found the niche and started seeing really excellent results,” says Skinner. “People connected here were getting into a lot more film festivals.”Unfortunately, funding cuts would rear their ugly heads again. In 2010, the provincial government cut adult-oriented arts organizations from gaming-grant funding — a stream that accounted for 25 per cent of CineVic’s budget. Despite achieving a lot of artistic success, they were forced to lay off a staff member and downsize to a smaller office on Lee Avenue. “It was a very important relationship for us,” Skinner says of the gaming funding. “As I said, this organization started as a locker and some keys, and there were times in the past that we looked at that as being a model we may have to go back to. It would be a shame.”Smaller budget, big dreamsWhile CineVic might be operating on a smaller budget in a smaller space — with only two paid staff members, Skinner and programming and community liasion Krista Loughton — they’re still a busy hub. Membership fluctuates between 130 and 170, and the co-op assists with 40 to 70 film productions each year, whether that be via providing low-cost equipment or rehearsal space, or just taking a phone call from someone with a general question. They also organize  initiatives like Scene + Heard, a collaboration between CineVic and Puente Theatre, and the annual Reel to Reel music-video competition, which fosters connections between the film co-operative and the greater community — something Skinner wants to build on.“I hope that we are able to continue to build a larger profile in our community . . . where the filmmakers that are connected at CineVic are making a bigger impact in the cultural life of the community and garnering international and national acclaim,” he says. “That’s really my goal. Similar to what the Winnipeg Film Group was able to achieve with many of its filmmakers, starting in the ’90s with Guy Maddin and Deco Dawson.”CineVic has also helped aspiring filmmakers stay in the community. Skillen says she turned to CineVic when she was in university and wanted to try her hand at making movies.“I had two choices: transfer from UVic to UBC and spends thousands of dollars, or I could go to CineVic,” she says.  “I met some really incredible people who were super helpful.”The story is similar for Jim Knox, currently CineVic’s president. Now an accomplished local filmmaker — his feature Cascadia was screened at this year’s Victoria Film Festival — he discovered CineVic in 1997.“At the time, pre-digital video, actual film was a pretty inaccessible art form because of the cost, and Cinevic ran a fantastic program called ‘Let’s Make Film’ where every participant contributed $100 and we pooled the money to make five-minute films with everyone learning the different roles,” he says. “This was the first screenwriting and directing I ever had the chance to do and I really caught the bug from it.”And while the future of both the film industry and B.C.’s arts-funding priorities are uncertain, Knox is sure CineVic won’t be disappearing any time soon.“People will always want to make and watch stories on the screen, and even though the technology is becoming incredibly accessible, it still requires a small community of artists, skilled in a multitude of areas, to make a solid film,” he says. “CineVic is going to remain the hub for developing filmmakers in Victoria even when we’re shooting them with our iPhones.” MCineVic is holding a 20th Anniversary Retrospective Screening, featuring over 20 short films from the past two decades, at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, March 6 at UVic’s Cinecenta. Tickets are $10. Call 250-389-1590 or visit cinevic.ca for more information.

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