Lights, camera, Edmonton: Shining a light on local film and television

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Like any good character actor, Edmonton has versatility.

On screen, the city has starred in everything from American westerns (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) to horror (Prom Night II, NBC’s Fear Itself) to winter rom-coms (Christmas With a Crown, 40 Below and Falling) to heartwarming documentaries (SpiderMable). 

You can also spot Edmonton in David Cronenberg’s 1979 movie about drag racers, Fast Company; in Anne Wheeler’s World War II-era classic, Bye Bye Blues; and, in Canada’s influential sketch comedy series, SCTV. More recently, HBO shot a few scenes of its dystopian road trip, The Last Of Us, in downtown Edmonton.

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A still image from the film of a winter scene with 2 people lying on the snow and a bear approaching them.
Director Dylan Pearce filmed his 2D and 3D winter rom-com, 40 Below and Falling, in and around Edmonton , including the river valley. Courtesy of Northern Gateway Films.

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Cinematic scope 

Local filmmaker Frederick Kroetsch attributes Edmonton’s cinematic scope to its mix of architectural styles, infrastructure and geography. “We’re such a hodge-podge of stuff,” he says. 

Kroetsch filmed his latest documentaries in and around the city. Snow Warrior, co-directed by Kurt Spenrath, follows a bike courier as she grapples with winter conditions in downtown Edmonton.

Blind Ambition: The Wop May Story used locations such as the Alberta Aviation Museum, an 80-year-old hangar, McKay Avenue School, built in 1904, and the river valley in autumn splendour to tell the tale of the First World War fighter pilot.

“We have a lot of different looks,” says Kroetsch. “There’s the river valley, and depending on how you point your camera, you could be in the wilderness. We get snow. We have Fort Edmonton Park. We have all these malls and museums and parks. You want to shoot an entire movie in a mall? We can do it here. There are options and variety.”

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A temporary film set up with a camera operator and his equipment sitting out of the back of a hatchback vehicle on a snowy street.
Cinematographer aAron Munson and director Frederick Kroetsch shooting Snow Warrior, in downtown Edmonton. Courtesy of Rob Millang.

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Local stories

Hundreds of films and TV shows have been shot in Edmonton over the last five decades. There is one genre, however, that seems to be our specialty. While Calgary and Vancouver’s film communities reel in Hollywood productions, Edmonton is a hub for documentary makers. 

We’re home to NorthwestFest, Canada’s oldest documentary film festival, and FAVA, a film co-op which offers workshops and camera rentals. The National Film Board also has a studio in the city. 

“People really support Edmonton stories,” says Guy Lavallee, program director of NorthwestFest and the writer/director of Family Ever After, a documentary about his blended family. “They’re local stories with universal themes.”

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Five family members standing together in the backyard.
The stars of Guy Lavallee's documentary, Family Ever After. Courtesy of Kelly Wolfert.

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Gritty charm

Eight of director/producer Rosvita Dransfeld’s recent projects were shot in Edmonton, including Dogsville (2020), a look at the world of canine agility competitions, and Broke (2010), which focused on the owner and customers of a pawn shop on 111 Avenue. She won a Gemini, the Canadian equivalent of an Emmy award, for the latter.  

Dransfeld, a former TV and print journalist, moved from Germany to Edmonton in 1999. “All my stories are set in Edmonton,” she says. 

“I made this my stage. It wasn’t always pretty, sometimes the stage was very gritty and dark. There’s something unique about the grittiness of Edmonton. It has its own charm.”

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Dogsville movie poster with title, accolades and three dogs with medals on a yellow background.
The poster for Dogsville. Courtesy of ID Productions.

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Community spirit 

A sense of community also lies at the heart of many local documentaries, including Dransfeld’s Dogsville and Broke.  

The Line, directed by Anthony Goertz, shines a light on the people who sort our trash at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. Jesse Jams, directed by Trevor Anderson, follows a young Indigenous trans musician and his mumble-punk band as they gear up to play a local festival. 

SpiderMable, directed by Kelly Wolfert, tells the tale of a young cancer patient and the city that rallies around her. “I think it really shows Edmontonians have good hearts,” he says. “We don’t don’t really care about image, we just want to take care of each other.”

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Oilers Connor McDavid and Andrew Ference are kneeling and raising their arms in celebration with SpiderMable.
SpiderMable captures the hearts of Edmonton, including two Oilers—Connor McDavid and Andrew Ference—in 2015. Courtesy of Perry Mah/Leven Creative.

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“Can-do attitude”

You’ll find this same cooperative spirit permeates Edmonton’s film community. It’s a small, ambitious group, including directors, producers, cinematographers, location scouts, actors, set designers, sound technicians and wardrobe consultants. Many take on multiple roles.

Eleven movies, eight TV shows, and dozens of short films and commercials were filmed locally in 2021, according to the Edmonton Screen Industries Office (ESIO).  

“The No. 1 thing for me is the sense of community,” says Kroetsch, director of Blind Ambition: The Wop May Story. “People still find [making movies] novel and fun. Everybody just comes together and says: ‘That’s a cool story, let’s do it.’ That’s been my experience. Edmonton has this can-do attitude.”

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A group of approx. 30 people, all in masks and some in costumes, stand outside the Blatchford hangar.
Some of the cast and crew of Blind Ambition: The Wop May Story. Courtesy of Blind Ambition: The Wop May Story.

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Film-friendly city 

To help grow the local industry, the ESIO offers several grants and free workshops. In 2021, it gave out more than 50 grants to filmmakers, video game creators, and arts organizations and non-profits. 

The ESIO, launched by the City of Edmonton in 2017, also works to create more jobs for local crews by encouraging streaming, Hollywood and international productions to film in Edmonton. 

“I like to say that we are big enough and small enough,” says Tom Viinikka, Chief Executive Officer of ESIO. “Big enough to have the big city infrastructure like skyscrapers, interesting architecture, entertainment and transportation, but small enough to not have the congestion and high costs that are associated with larger centres.

“Edmonton is a really film-friendly city and we have a really accessible permitting process. Our locations are also significantly cheaper and easier to access than other film centres like Vancouver and Toronto.”

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Black and white image of Jesse turning backward on a park bench to face Trevor’s camera.
Photographer Lyle Bell getting a close-up of musician Jesse Jams on the set of Trevor Anderson's documentary, Jesse Jams. Courtesy of Lyle Bell.

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Reel beauty 

In fact, film permits are free from the City of Edmonton. There’s also a competitive Alberta Film and Television Tax Credit. Productions can apply for a 22 or 30 percent tax credit rate. 

Other advantages of filming in Edmonton: Up to 17 hours of daylight in the summer. Four distinct seasons. Studios with a 15,000-square foot (1,393-square metre) sound stage. And, of course, our versatile crews, architecture, infrastructure and landscape. 

“I’ve been lucky as a cinematographer to travel the world and see some pretty amazing cities—St. Petersburg, Santiago, Shanghai, Tokyo, New York,” says Wolfert, director of SpiderMable.

“Edmonton is a big small town. Our skyline is getting a little more robust and I think the old bridges, the new bridges and the river really define this city. I’d put its beauty on par with some of the bigger cities in the world. People just need to come here.”

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The Edmonton Screen Industries Office also supports local video game developers. Learn more on the 75+ studios in Edmonton.  

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