Editor Tim Bousquet’s note: I’m increasingly uncomfortable with this article. It relies on one source — the article by Elissa Barnard in the Local Xpress — and I’m not sure how reliable that is. I’ve been contacted by several people who tell me that the decision to film in Newfoundland was made previous to the cut in the film tax credit. I’ve attempted to speak with the producer of Maudie, but she hasn’t yet returned my calls.

The decision to publish was mine, and I bear responsibility for inaccuracies and mistakes. I should have held it back until I could fact-check the reporter. My apologies.

A Newfoundland village stands in for Nova Scotia in this still from the hit movie Maudie.

Can any political leader be trusted not to break promises made in the heat of an election campaign? That was the overriding theme during last night’s lively 90-minute roundtable discussion with moderator Steve Murphy on CTV.

Like a bad sequel, the changes the McNeil Liberals made to the film tax credit in the spring of 2014 surfaced again as an example of  broken trust.

Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie asked Liberal leader Stephen McNeil if he wasn’t “bothered” that his government had abruptly slashed funding to film and TV producers in the 2014 budget after promising during the 2013 election campaign to expand  the tax credit? Host Steve Murphy wanted to know if he regretted the decision that resulted in Maudie —the hit movie based on the life of Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis — was filmed in Newfoundland and Ireland instead of the province where she lived and worked?

Maudie left before we changed that policy,” said Stephen McNeil. “Look it up.”

I did look it up, in part because everyone who has seen Maudie loves the film and feels a kinship that is tarnished by the fact the location is not authentic to her rural Nova Scotia roots. I also worried that what the Liberal leader had said might, like the movie itself, be a fictional version of a harsher truth.

I started with Wikipedia (who doesn’t) and there it was:

The film was shot in Ireland and Newfoundland rather than Nova Scotia, where Lewis painted, after the Nova Scotia government reduced its film credit program”.[9][10]

The references lead to an April 11,2017 article by Elissa Barnard in the Local Xpress, the online newspaper put out by Chronicle Herald journalists who have now been on strike 16 months, with no end in sight. Barnard, a veteran entertainment writer, interviewed Aisling Walsh, the director of Maudie. Here’s part of what Barnard reported on April 11:

Long before shooting Maudie, director Aisling Walsh sat in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia staring at Maud Lewis’s tiny, painted house.

“The first time I saw it I was really moved,” she said in a phone interview from her London, England, home. “For me that’s her greatest work of art and it is a life of art on those four walls. It’s amazing.”

Starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, Maudie is the fictional story of the love that grows between the charming, feisty Maud and the churlish Everett Lewis and the artist’s life as a painter.

A Canada-Ireland co-production, it was written by Newfoundland’s Sherry White and shot in Newfoundland in a little house by the side of the road mimicking Maud’s enchanting, roadside house in Marshalltown outside Digby.

Maudie, opening Friday in Halifax, could not be shot in Nova Scotia because “the industry was in collapse” after the Liberals cut the film tax credit, Walsh said.

Maudie was filmed in Newfoundland and Ireland in the summer of 2015 with financial assistance from the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation. That’s the same year film production virtually ground to a halt in Nova Scotia as production crews left for work in Toronto and B.C. amid the uncertainty created by the sudden shift in the film financing landscape. By 2016, the industry (after much consultation and public uproar) had rebounded on the strength of a new and equally generous TV and Film Production Fund and a low Canadian dollar.

Since its April 17 release, Maudie has played to packed houses in Atlantic Canada and has earned more than a million dollars at the Canadian box office. It opens in the United States June 17 and will be shown in Europe, the U.K. and Japan later this year.

Try hard not to think how much more the movie could have done to promote tourism in the Nova Scotia had the fabulous coastal scenery standing in for Digby County actually been Digby County, and had the credits rolling across the screen been for Nova Scotia instead of Newfoundland and Ireland.

And try hard not to think about why Stephen McNeil gave the answer he did.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Films do change locations with short notice all the time and this happens on a global scale. A key skill of an art department is to make the location appear accurate in spite of it not being shot in the “real” location. It would not be surprising if the movement of this particular film happened on short notice. Often the reasons are directly tied to the financing. The tax credits are, like it or not, on the menu in many jurisdictions (for good reason, they attract business–this case proves the point).

    1. Both the New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives have promised to bring back the Film Industry Tax Credit.

  2. I am certain I saw a televised interview with a person involved with the production of this film who said they chose NL because it offered incentives while Nova Scotia did not. McNeil doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt

  3. It is quite clear that this is a bad example. The guy covering it back in 2014 had no idea what was about to go down. And the thing was actually shot in 2015. Would have not been easy to move it that fast anyway. It would have been committed.

    So when is the retraction coming?

  4. Once we had the fourth largest film industry in Canada. Today it a shadow of its former self, much less what it might have been if left unmolested.

    Stephen McNeil made a clear promise in the 2013 election to continue the Film Industry Tax Credit for another 5 years. Like those in other jurisdictions FITC was operated as a payroll rebate, and had been shown to return more benefit to the province than it cost in 2008. Today it takes the form of a grant out of a Crown corporation, operated by patronage appointees responsible the the minister of business.

    Having undertaken no economic impact studies (not even a Google search of what happened when Saskatchewan did something equally dumb in 2012), and without making any effort to consult the affected industries, McNeil and Diana Whalen ambushed our screen industries with a swift, unexpected change to fiscal foundation of the industry. In the process he paralyzed a vibrant, healthy film industry. We lost good money and we good lost people. Not only was this dishonest, it was really bad management.

    It was clear immediately after the budget that the government had no idea how film finance worked. Had it had not been for desperate appeals from Screen Nova Scotia, in their ineptitude the Liberals might well have killed it off entirely.

    Seeing no prospect of business here any more, key infrastructure industries like camera and lighting rentals packed up and left. Eventually other key artistic, technical and production people left as well. There was no work for them here. These were mostly young, well educated people with an entrepreneurial bent. Families were uprooted as these folks tried to re-establish themselves in a province that appreciated their contribution and understood how film finance worked. The one thing these folks will not be doing is waiting by the phone for the call to come home to NS. They ARE home.

    McNeil et.al would have us believe the governments of Ontario, BC and Quebec were nowhere near as smart as his, and are all being ripped off. To this day, he refuses to admit he and Whalen made a horrendous mistake. He will tell you this is all just film industry ‘negativity’. Last I heard, he refused the read the report compiled by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, an international auditing firm with film experience, that underlies the errors his government made. (http://contrarian.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Economic%2BStudy%2Bof%2BScreen%2BIndustry%2BApril%2B13%2BFINAL.pdf)

    Yes, our film industry did regain consciousness and is starting to walk again, but once it had been able to leap tall buldings with a single bound. Sadly, there are good reasons why Maudie was not made here.

    In the end, this goes to a basic compact of electoral democracy: Voters make choices based on policies parties promise to deliver. When a party leader has no respect for their word, then I don’t see how any of their promises can be trusted. Think about that when you vote. Both the NDP and Tories say they will restore the Film Industry Tax Credit on which our industry was built.

    It’s not every day a Premier of Nova Scotia gets to almost wipe out an entire legal, flourishing industry. This Tuesday he’s asking you to give him another chance.