City entertainment officials are highlighting our diversity as a strong selling point to lure more TV, film and digital business to Toronto.
Well-known Toronto actor Zaib Shaikh has been hired to serve as film commissioner and director of entertainment industries. He will help promote and expand Toronto’s TV and film business, which now generates about $1 billion annually.
Shaikh is known for his lead role in the TV series “Little Mosque on the Prairie”.
“Our plan is to showcase the media and entertainment diversity of Toronto to the world and bring the diversity of the world to Toronto,” Shaikh told Share in an e-mail.
He takes over the full-time role in about two weeks.
“It will take not only a diversity of people but also a diversity of platforms to make Toronto a global media and entertainment playground,” said Shaikh.
Toronto rapper Maestro Fresh Wes performed two of his hits during the appointment last week at City Hall.
Mike Williams, the General Manager for Economic Development and Culture, said his officials are working on other income-generating initiatives, including one to attract some Bollywood-type productions to Toronto.
“We made connections when we hosted the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards,” Williams told Share. “We have started to introduce Toronto to the Bollywood world.”
Top Bollywood stars enjoyed visiting Toronto, where they have a huge fan base, during the successful IIFA awards in June 2011.
He said Toronto has enough production and studio space to cater to Bollywood movies.
More than 25,000 Toronto residents now work in the TV and film sector, officials said.
Toronto political leaders hope the industry will generate about $2 billion annually in about five years and are working to attract more productions by offering tax incentives, a skilled work force and its diverse city.
Councillor Michael Thompson, Chair of the Economic Development and Culture Committee, said more emphasis will be placed on expanding the music sector.
Toronto has been studying the staging of a music festival similar to that held yearly in Austin, Texas. Thompson and Mayor Rob Ford were part of a delegation that travelled there last September to study the event.
He said a priority is being placed on digital and gaming opportunities, fields in which young people can obtain jobs.
“This is a great opportunity that will benefit all communities,” Thompson told Share. “This is a growing industry and these are high-paying jobs.”
He said more money is generated in Toronto by local production firms than by global movie studios.
But, the picture is not all rosy for women and visible minorities working in the TV and film sectors.
A “Women in View on TV 2013” report examined 21 Canadian action TV series, which, in 2010-2011, received a total of $99.1 million in public funding from Canada Media Fund Productions. The report found 84 per cent of directors were men and 16 per cent women in a study of 272 episodes that represent 21 series on TV.
It found 11 of the 21 series did not employ a female or visible minority director. And that 13 of the 21 series employed no visible minorities or First Nations writers of either sex.
Ironically, Shaikh was the only minority actor playing a leading role on a Canadian TV series, according to the report. He also starred in Deepa Mehta’s 2012 film “Midnight’s Children” and has produced and directed films for TV.