If it was gonna happen somewhere, it was gonna be Florida, I suppose.
This isn’t really film news, but it is news about film in general. As many of you know, most states have a film and entertainment department of some sort. In Massachusetts, it’s called the Boston Film Bureau — there is also the Massachusetts Film Office and the Massachusetts Sports and Entertainment Commission. They basically, through tax credits and incentives, attempt to draw filmmakers to the city to film there. It’s how movies like The Departed, Mystic River, and Shutter Island end up being shot on location. The advantage, aside from some free pub for the city, is that it also stimulates the local economies, creates jobs, etc. The principle item for most state film bureaus is tax credits — a gimmick that essentially grants tax breaks in exchange for the boons that come from filming on-site.
Florida is moving in a different direction, apparently. They are currently debating a new tax bill that specifically offers credits and incentives to films that are “family friendly.” If that doesn’t make a giant alarm go off in your head, it should. “Family friendly” in this case is likely a euphemism for films that don’t depict sex, violence, homosexuality, or pretty much anything else that’s a frequent target of the neo-conservative right. In fact, the bill outlines exactly what it means:
A certified production determined by the Commissioner of Film and Entertainment, with the advice of the Florida Film and Entertainment Advisory Council, to be family-friendly…Family-friendly productions are those that have cross-generational appeal; would be considered suitable for viewing by children age 5 or older…and do not exhibit or imply any act of smoking, sex, nudity, nontraditional family values, gratuitous violence, or vulgar or profane language.
In other words, boring movies. Or, I suppose, children’s movies, as long as it doesn’t have any racy, hot-button topics attached to it like interracial dating or excessive gayness.
I’m only half-joking. The thing is, a bill like this is likely to drive away more business than it draws in. It’s a cheap political ploy that will likely ultimately have a negative effect on the local economy, mainly because the language is vague enough that it leaves too much up to discretion. By giving the empowered bodies that much latitude, they can basically shitcan anything they want. The comments being spouted off by the local politicos and talking heads reflect those vagaries (via The Palm Beach Post):
John Stemberger, President of the Florida Family Policy Council claims it would encompass everything from “drug abuse to excessive drunkenness to homosexual families… It’s a good concept to encourage people to produce more quality family entertainment in the state.” Governor Charlie Crist, when directly asked about the possibility of excluding gay-themed films and TV shows from potential credits due to the bill’s defining language, responded by saying, “Let me define it in the positive… A traditional family is a marriage between a man and a woman. That’s traditional.”
Riiiight. State Representative Stephen Precourt says they’re looking to essentially revisit Mayberry — “That’s when I grew up — the ’60s. That’s what life was like. I want Florida to be known for making those kinds of movies: Disney movies for kids and all that stuff. Like it used to be, you know?”
Now, to be clear, this wouldn’t prevent companies from making films or TV shows that are in opposition, thematically or philosophically, to the bill’s author’s ideologies. Just that they wouldn’t qualify for this particular set of credits and incentives. That said, it’s the beginning of a precipitously slippery slope, and one that should make film lovers a little nervous.
The bill hasn’t passed yet, but it’s got a strong chance, with support from both Republicans and a few Democrats. Personally, I think it’s asinine, rife with the possibility for bias, filled with not-so-thinly-veiled homophobia, and ultimately, incredibly misguided. The folks backing it are the same folks who thought the PMRC was a great idea in the ’80s and ’90s — people who think that movies and TV and music has a much stronger effect on people than it actually does. The idea that this will create a movement of films that will hearken back to a kindler, gentler time is ridiculous. Precourt may have fond memories of the ’60s, but for every The Sound of Music, there was also a Psycho. Mayberry was not what life was like — in fact, life was never like that. Life has always been a combination of happy and sad, violent and peaceful, beautiful and terrible. Those qualities are what create the inspiration for art, and always have since the dawn of time. The blithely naive idea that things used to be so much better is one of those horribly misinformed baby boomer concepts that are repeatedly and thoroughly debunked. Life didn’t used to be better. It just used to be different.
Selecting a particular kind of film based on a political philosophy goes against the very basic concept of art and expression. The bill may pass, and they may get a few G-rated films out of it, but it won’t stop R-rated movies from being made, it won’t stop people from watching them, and it won’t ultimately do anything particularly positive for the state of Florida.