Originally created 09/13/03

Films are last on priority list



ATLANTA - Films produced by the Georgia government have won regional, national and international awards.

Consumers can buy videos from the state Department of Natural Resources over the Internet on topics from the Civil War to fishing tips.

But in the battle for dwindling tax dollars, neither the film and video program's reputation for quality nor its ability to help defray its costs is expected to save it from oblivion.

The program's fate appeared to be sealed last month when it turned up 22nd and last on the DNR's priority list.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has asked all state agencies to rank their programs in order of importance, part of his effort to cut spending in the wake of the sluggish economy's effects on tax revenues.

The fiscal 2005 budget recommended recently by the Board of Natural Resources calls for abolishing the film-and-video unit, which would save the department about $236,000.

Although that's just a small part of the DNR's pared-down $89.8 million spending request, it's a part that Natural Resources Commissioner Lonice Barrett has decided the agency can live without.

"That program is our outreach to schoolchildren," he said. "But in the big picture, I have to look at whether I'd rather have engineers, biologists and law-enforcement officers.

"It basically comes down to which of your kids do you want to shoot."

While many of the film-and-video unit's projects are designed for classrooms, they also include orientation films and interpretive videos for state parks and historic sites, museums and visitor centers.

Among the unit's most recent productions are a video replacing a 50-year-old film that's still being shown at the Little White House historic site, the former Georgia home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a program the DNR's Wildlife Resources Division ordered for hunting safety classes.

Producer/director Becky Marshall, one of the program's two full-time employees, said the unit once produced many films for television.

Today, however, most of the productions are too short for broadcast and are primarily for educational or instructional purposes, she said.

"When you go to a historic site, you're not going to sit through a 30-minute video," she said.

Rather than doing away with films and videos, Ms. Marshall suggested that some DNR divisions might respond to the unit's demise by farming out their film-and-video projects.

"The need will still exist," she said. "It will just cost them more because they'll have to contract with independent producers."

But Becky Kelley, the director of the agency's Division of Parks and Historic Preservation, said there simply won't be any money available in the DNR budget for film projects until the economy turns around.

"We're looking for ways to economize and save our core missions," she said. "(The film-and-video unit) will be dormant until the sun comes out again and we can revisit it."

"That program is our outreach to schoolchildren. But in the big picture, I have to look at whether I'd rather have engineers, biologists and law-enforcement officers. It basically comes down to which of your kids do you want to shoot." - Natural Resources Commissioner Lonice Barrett, on DNR's film-and-video unit

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 681-1701 or davemns@mindspring.com.