Banff beats SARS, war and mad cow disease

Attendance numbers down 10% from last year

BANFF — Organizers drew a collective sigh of relief as the Banff TV Fest wrapped without hitch on June 6.

“I think Banff had a lot going against it this year,” says Dreamsmith Entertainment producer Tim Hogan. “The war, SARS — even though that was Toronto I think these things tend to paint an entire country. Mad cow disease and the rising Canadian dollar didn’t help either.”

Attendance numbers were down 10% on last year at 1,600.

But “the encouraging thing was, everyone was predicting that we’d be off by 30% to 40%, and we’re not,” says Pat Ferns, prexy and CEO of the Banff TV Foundation.

It was a week headlined by seemingly contradictory themes.

A Tribute to U.S. Television included an Award of Excellence for “Sopranos” creator David Chase and Lifetime achievement awards for PBS’ Peter McGhee, sitcom vet James Burrows and HBO’s Sheila Nevins.

“It is odd to be an American here when the Canadian industry faces so many tumultuous problems,” said Nevins in accepting her award.

Discussions on the sad state of the Canadian TV industry saw execs wringing their hands over funding cuts and U.S. screentime dominance. A coalition of unions issued a statement calling the decision to honor the U.S. at a time when the local industry is in crisis “ironic.”

Indeed, Canuck programming picked up just one award in the Banff competition honoring the best in international TV from a field of 83 programs in 14 categories.

“Le Mozart Noir — Reviving a Legend,” a co-production by the CBC, BBC and TV5, won in the performance programming category.

The main award, the Global Television Grand Prize, was given to “Chavez –Inside the Coup,” charting the overthrow of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his return to power 48 hours later.

The docu is a Power Pictures production in association with the Irish Film Board, BBC, ZDF, ARTE, NPS, CoBo, RTÉ and YLE.

“It is our obligation to our delegates to bring the major markets here,” says Ferns. “We’ve brought Germany, France and the U.K. It was the U.S.’s turn. And the U.S. makes some of the best TV in the world. I think there’s no resentment of the talent. There are just some worries when you get mediocre material crowding out our own.”

The crisis in Canadian drama was well chewed over, with little apparent headway, and a report issued June 11 by the Documentary Organization of Canada added to the gloom by noting that while doc production is up, public financing is dwindling and the average doc budget has shrunk 30% in the last decade.

“It’s funny to hear all this,” says John Sullivan, whose “Farang Ba (Crazy White Foreigner,)” received the Banff Rockie award in the sports category, “because in the U.S. I’m a member of SAG where all the talk is about runaway production to Canada.”