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Angelina Jolie executive producer on Ontario-backed film 

According to the Toronto Sun: When Angelina Jolie turned up at the Toronto International Film Festival recently, your tax dollar was at work.

Jolie is executive producer on an animated movie called The Breadwinner, a beautiful film about an adolescent girl in Afghanistan living under Taliban rule. After her father is arrested, 11-year-old Parvana disguises herself as a boy so she can work and become the family breadwinner.

The movie began life as a novel. An international bestseller by Ontario writer Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner has been a staple of middle-school reading lists since it was published in 2000.

How The Breadwinner became a movie — and one involving Angelina Jolie, no less — is just one of many success stories from the Ontario Media Development Corp.

The OMDC is a government agency that supports economic development in the creative industries — which are film, television and interactive digital media production, book and magazine publishing, and music.

“Creative industries” may sound like mutually exclusive terms, but this is big business, driving $17 billion to the economy annually and responsible for 215,000 jobs.

Bigger than agriculture, forestry and mining combined — who knew? — the province’s creative sector is also bigger than Ontario’s energy industry.

Kristine Murphy, OMDC’s Director of Industry Development, explains the route that brought The Breadwinner to Angelina Jolie, and how the OMDC was involved nearly ever step of the way.

“One of the things that makes the OMDC special is that we know all these industries, so we can connect them,” says Murphy. “Page to Screen is an opportunity for the OMDC to connect our incredibly awesome book publishing talent with our equally awesome, but different, film and television producers.”

Page to Screen is an annual industry development event that gets the people who have stories to sell in the same room as the people who need stories to film.

Publishers meet with film and TV producers over a whole day organized almost like speed dating — between 300 and 400 mini-meetings take place. Page to Screen is in its 10th year, and it’s been wildly successful.

Groundwood Publishing and Aircraft Pictures met up at Page to Screen in 2009 and struck a deal, originally for a live action version of The Breadwinner.

Later, some of the Aircraft crew were at Cannes — with a little help from the OMDC — where they met with well-known Irish animation company, Cartoon Saloon. The Breadwinner was re-imagined as an animated movie and became an international Canadian — Irish co-production; they welcomed a third partner in Luxembourg’s Melusine Productions.

OMDC was involved again at the beginning of 2014 when it came time to help finance the movie.

“It was an incredible package,” says Murphy. “And they had brought Deborah Ellis aboard as one of the screenwriters, so you knew this one would have a happy ending — a happy creative ending.”

Someone at Aircraft, meanwhile, was thinking about The Breadwinner in relation to Angelina Jolie, what with her interest in Afghanistan, her role as a UN ambassador and her contributions to girls’ education. The script was sent to her team; she read it and loved it.

“They had just wanted her to know about it,” explains Murphy, “but she said, ‘No, I want to be a part of this. I want to help you with it.’ She already felt quite passionately about the subject matter. And she really liked what the director, Nora Twomey, was doing with the treatment. So she came on board.”

That was in 2015. At the time, Jolie said, “Millions of young girls like Parvana are growing up today under oppression or conflict, and helping their families to survive in those condition. This story is a reminder of the immense value of their contribution.”

After that, the project grew again, and it was decided to bring on help from another animation company: Guru studios in Toronto, which just happens to be yet another OMDC success story.

“You know, sitting here, being the government funder and wanting to ensure wide use of investment, this is a perfect story,” says Murphy.

“It’s such a Canadian story — everyone co-operating.”

But wait: It gets better.

With The Breadwinner back in the headlines through this new movie, Groundwood publishing is doing two new books: a movie tie-in book for when the movie is in theatres this November, and a graphic novel, with animation from the movie, for 2018. That’s another part of the creative sector bringing money into Ontario.

“I think it all speaks to Ontario punching above its weight, in terms of great content we’re taking out to the world,” says Murphy. “This is all inward investment for the province … And yes, government incentives [for film] may be important, but it’s the quality of our infrastructure and our crews and our talent that are continuing to bring them back again.

“People will come once for money, but they come back again and again for talent,” she says.

“And that’s a great return on investment.”

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