At least one piece of enlightened legislation has managed to stay afloat during the course of this otherwise appalling legislative session at the Indiana Statehouse. The bill I'm talking about is aimed at encouraging filmmakers to come to Indiana to make their movies.
Thanks to the movies, all of us are citizens of Los Angeles, New York and London, regardless of whether we've ever set foot in any of these places or not. We know them through an almost infinite number of images and stories imprinted during a lifetime of watching movies and TV. In fact, we may feel more at home in some of these places than we do in our supposedly real hometowns.
The bill, which has so far managed to find its way through various committee hearings and weathered the Democratic walkout in early March, would use tax breaks and other incentives in order to reach this goal.
The legislation would allow free use of state-owned property, including university campuses, for location filming. Instead of shooting their campus scenes in Canada, the makers of Kinsey would have been able to afford to film where their story actually took place, the beautiful IU campus in Bloomington.
The bill would also exempt production equipment purchases from Indiana's 6 percent sales tax and reduce by up to 30 percent the tax liability for Indiana film and TV productions and give filmmakers access to existing Indiana tax credits.
Finally, the bill would permit the Indiana department of Workforce Development to help pay for job training in the film industry.
Making films and television programming is already a serious business in Indiana. According to the state's Film Commission, there are now about 2,000 people and more than 300 companies employed in various types of film production here. This work produces approximately $350 million a year in economic activity, of which only about $5 to $10 million a year involves the production of feature films.
These numbers show there is a basis for thinking that film production can be grown here. But numbers only begin to get at what's most appealing about this proposal.
If one picture, as the old saying has it, is worth a thousand words, then an entire movie that evokes an Indiana sense of place is easily worth volumes. I was living in Northern California when I first saw Breaking Away, Peter Yates' film about coming of age in Bloomington. I can still recall the feeling I had walking out of the theater that night: Indiana, with its quarries and its dreamers, summer pleasures and plain talk, was cool.
And think about the impact a film like Hoosiers has had over the years. People, not just in Indiana, still talk about it, still watch it - and with reason. The story of underdogs rising to an occasion is, of course, compelling in an all-too familiar way. But what really gives this film its staying power, what makes it stick to the imagination, are its images of tree-lined roads in late autumn, of polished wood and brick and dark leather. The pictures in this story link a timeless dedication to craftsmanship and attention to detail to a particular place, Indiana - and Indiana will forever be better off for it.
Stories are how we understand ourselves. Stories are how one generation passes along what it finds important to its kids coming up. Stories enable us to appreciate what's been lost and, more important, what needs to be saved. We pass along stories in many ways, but movies, because they rely on pictures, are the most powerful form of storytelling we have.
Thanks to the movies, all of us are citizens of Los Angeles, New York and London, regardless of whether or not we've ever set foot in any of these places. We know them through an almost infinite number of images and stories imprinted during a lifetime of watching movies and TV. In fact, we may feel more at home in some of these places than we do in our supposedly real hometowns.
When Mitch Daniels ran for governor, he made a point of traveling around the state, going to places many politicians hadn't even thought of - and telling the story of his travels on film. Daniels understood that Indiana has been cut off from its pride of place for a long time now. He recognized that in order to rekindle a collective sense of self-esteem in our state there would have to be stories and pictures. People needed to see the simple eloquence of Indiana again. Some people thought this was a gimmick. But it was no gimmick; it was a powerful message.
The legislators who are now considering a proposal making Indiana more attractive to filmmakers might be tempted to consider this bill a gimmick of sorts. They might think that making movies is frivolous compared to making, say, shock absorbers. By the time you read this, the filmmaking proposal could be another bit of roadkill left in the wake of this wayward session.
But Indiana needs this legislation, and not just for the economic benefits it might bring, real as those benefits could be. The more that Indiana sees itself - for better and for worse - reflected through the works of film and videomakers, the more reason Hoosiers will have to care about where they live.