The blessing and curse of filmmaking in Canada is state funding. Raincoast Storylines, a British Columbia-based prodco, experienced this dichotomy firsthand with Captured Rain, a story about American rights to Canadian water. Public money gave the project life, after a successful pitch to the CBC’s ‘Witness’ strand, and then very nearly killed it. ‘Witness’ senior producer Hilary Armstrong explains: ‘The Telefilm Canada rules changed, which meant we had to put more money into each project to get them through the funding agencies, which in turn meant we could only extend money to six projects instead of ten.’ According to Armstrong, Captured Rain was one of the projects at risk of falling through the cracks.
The Raincoast team – producers Bette Thompson and Terence McKeown and writer/director Jerry Thompson – was not prepared to give up so easily, however. After brainstorming, they approached Discovery Canada and the CBC with an unusual suggestion. Says Jerry Thompson, ‘We came up with the bright idea of doing a two-hour film that we would divide in half; we would give the political/free trade side of it to CBC ‘Witness’, and we would do the science/engineering/environmental angle for Discovery.’ Despite being market competitors, the pubcaster and the cablecaster agreed to become coproduction partners under this arrangement and share the license fee.
Armstrong says she couldn’t be happier with the results, and observes that both channels profited from the collaboration. ‘I think there had to be a separation of content, but there was an economy of scale. It was one production, one application to the fund, one set of research. It meant that we both did well out of it.’
The CBC version of Captured Rain focuses on an American businessman, Jack Lindsey, who made a deal with the B.C. [provincial] government to import water into the U.S. during a drought period. When the deal didn’t go through, Lindsey decided to sue under the North American Free Trade Act. Says Armstrong, ‘There was all this debate about the moral, legal and political obligations of sharing our water with the Americans. That was the larger issue. It’s a really important story. Little bits and pieces about it have been written and reported, but I hadn’t seen a full-length doc on this issue for some time.’
Jerry Thompson says the CBC put in a slightly larger portion of the program’s CDN$400,000 (US$260,000) budget, and so won the right to air its version first in December 2000. But, Discovery broadcast later the same week and had the benefit of advance promotion for its version at the end of the ‘Witness’ show. ‘It was good,’ Armstrong notes. ‘We did joint publicity, and even sent out a press release from Discovery and ourselves.’
As for Raincoast, Thompson says the prodco is currently working on a project for Canadian broadcaster CTV called The Parkinson’s Enigma, which may follow a similar pattern to Captured Rain. ‘We came back with so much material that we’ve shown CTV a rough-cut that could be a 90-minute or two-hour film. Of course, what they wanted was one hour. So, one possibility could be dividing it in half – CTV would take one hour and, say, Discovery would take one hour. It hasn’t gone to that stage, but it could happen again. It worked once before.’