National Geographic coming to Yellowknife
Exploring the possibility of an NWT bush pilot documentary

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 23/97) - National Geographic film-makers will be in Yellowknife next month to investigate the possibility of producing a documentary on NWT bush pilots.

A producer and a director of photography from California will visit the city May 6 to 9 to investigate the possibility of a one-hour program.

The producer has to his credit documentaries such as Wild America, Tigers of the Snow and Secrets of the Wild Panda, to name a few.

Archie Gillies, Yellowknife film commissioner and Economic Development Authority director, has been gathering preliminary information for the group.

Operating on a shoe-string budget, he's been trying to attract film-makers to the North.

His competition in Yukon and Alaska are much better funded and he's only been able to conduct promotional activities on a part-time basis.

What funding he does get is siphoned from his own operating budget with the city and an estimated $10,000 contract with the GNWT.

Craig Hall, a spokesman for the trade and investment of the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, says in the past the territorial government has provided some financial assistance to Gillies for travel to trade shows and promotions.

"I was hired to build an economic base in 1993. After the strike (Giant Mine), the town was torn apart," says Gillies.

It was Gillies' role to unite the community, initiating programs that would diversify away from government and the mining industry when he signed on as the Economic Development Authority director and later, Yellowknife film commissioner.

As he sees it, the most beneficial areas for Yellowknife to pursue are building up the convention business and film industry.

Conventions can bring $225 to $250 a day per delegate into Yellowknife. For 50 people, that can add up to $250,000 for a two-day convention. A CGA convention slated for next year, for example, is expected to draw about 400 delegates to the city.

But Gillies says the film industry takes more time to develop.

The Yukon alone spends more than $100,000 a year promoting the film industry, Gillies says. And Alaska spent $230,000 in its 1992-93 state operating budget.

According to statistics, U.S. film companies can spend between $12 million (Victoria-Vancouver) to $500 million (Montreal) in a given year.

What's the attraction for U.S. companies to come to Canada?

There's more daylight hours and good exchange on the Canadian dollar, plus diverse and unique geographical features, says Gillies.

Gillies operates by the motto: "Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle."

He not only hopes to attract film companies, but commercial and documentary producers as well.

The economic impact for Yellowknifers would be a ripple effect, he says, for hotels, restaurants, retail -- and everybody benefits.

"And we don't have to put money into a business park -- everything here is usable."

Although he's had no firm offers, he has had interest expressed by some production companies like National Geographic, and he hopes such interest eventually bears fruit.