A Canadian Movement: Toronto's DIY Filmmakers
A group of young Toronto filmmakers are getting their projects made, even if it means doing it themselves
The Toronto DIY Filmmakers are a group of young, Toronto-based filmmakers who have emerged since 2010, graduating from some of the city's top film production schools (including York and Ryerson). Their films are linked by a youthful engagement with the city and its surroundings, along with a vital, lively sensibility.
The origins of the movement can be traced back to 2009-2010 with the completion of Kazik Radwanski's MDF Trilogy and Matt Johnson's Nirvana the Band, The Show. Since then, many other new filmmakers have emerged who continue to provide new perspectives on growing up and living in Toronto.
Catch Johnson's latest film, Operation Avalanche, at TIFF Bell Lightbox starting Friday September 30, and Radwanski's latest, Tower, from October 14.
These filmmakers offer a unique perspective on contemporary Toronto through their films: the anxiety-ridden protagonists of Kazik Radwanski’s cinema; a retreat to cottage country to recover (The Oxbow Cure) or spend the summer growing up (Sleeping Giant); the stress and difficulty of finding work after university in Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson’s films; or dealing with grief and bereavement, as in the films of Fantavious Fritz and Rebeccah Love.
Although I would include many other artists in the Toronto DIY Filmmakers movement, these five figures offer a compelling portrait of some of its major preoccupations, aesthetic sensibility and distribution strategies. Read on to hear from them about their work and how they see the state of Canadian cinema now.
Director: Tower (2012), How Heavy This Hammer (2015). Programmer: MDFF Screening Series
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE YOUNG TORONTO FILMMAKER SCENE RIGHT NOW? I SEE A FILM LIKE TOWER (2012) AND THE MDFF SCREENING SERIES AS A PAIR OF CENTREPIECES TO IT.
KAZIK RADWANSKI: It’s exciting. When I made Tower and my first few shorts it really felt like I was all alone. I looked up to people like Denis Côté and Nicolás Pereda but there was no one making English-language films that I really related too. When I look around now it’s a very different story. Not only are there guys like Matt Johnson and Andrew Cividino who are starting to get a lot of attention, but it feels like there’s a whole new wave of directors that are about to break through. I’m really proud that MDFF has been able to present a lot of incredible shorts in our screening series by directors like Martin Edralin, Ashley McKenzie and Fantavious Fritz.
YOU’VE MADE FILMS BOTH INDEPENDENTLY AND WITHIN THE MORE TRADITIONAL FUNDING AND PRODUCTION STRUCTURES OF THE CANADIAN FILM INDUSTRY. WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCES ARE BETWEEN THOSE TWO WAYS OF WORKING?
KR: While there are some obvious advantages to working with more money and resources there are also hidden traps. There are a lot of intangibles in cinema that you can’t buy. When you have less money to work with it forces you to ground yourself and focus on the core elements of a film.
HOW DO YOU ENGAGE WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO IN YOUR WORK? WHAT KINDS OF STORIES DO YOU LIKE TO TELL?
KR: I like to tell stories that I feel are true to Toronto. I’m not sure exactly what they are but I know what they are not. I don’t want to force big stories on the city.
WHEN AND HOW IS HOW HEAVY THIS HAMMER (2015) GETTING RELEASED?
KR: This summer. It will have a theatrical run likely in August.
WHAT CURRENT PROJECTS DO YOU HAVE IN THE WORKS?
KR: Hoping to continue to make short films. I am also writing my third feature.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE TO OFFER EMERGING TORONTO DIRECTORS?
KR: Only make films if you have to. Only do it if it's something you absolutely need to do.
Producer: The Oxbow Cure (2013), Sleeping Giant (2015)
HOW DID YOU GET INTO PRODUCING? WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DOES THE JOB INCLUDE? AND HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF IT BEEN SO FAR?
KAREN HARNISCH: I went to film school at Ryerson's School of Image Arts, and produced four thesis films during my final year there, including one I wrote and directed. Producing wasn't something I had always dreamed of doing, it was just something I fell into, I think because of my personality – I'm very driven, and very motivated by challenges. After producing several shorts and two features, I've come to see producing as a job well-suited for a generalist. I interface with so many aspects of the filmmaking process, from crucial creative stages such as script development, casting, building a team of key creatives, production and editing, to business, financial and legal processes, technical matters such as camera selection and production/post-production workflow, and of course, strategy surrounding distribution, branding, promotion and exploitation. A producer is a facilitator and a shepherd, both of which require humility and great collaboration skills but also leadership. I would be bored if I focused on only one aspect of the multifaceted filmmaking process for too long.
So many of my films were made for very little money. Learning to produce on a "shoestring," while still respecting and honouring one's collaborators is so hard, and it's created a lot of discomfort in my practice. My professional maturation can really be characterized by learning to embrace discomfort. It's never easy to get money. It's never easy to work intensely with a group of people for a very long time. Perhaps hardest of all is realizing the very best iteration of a script and a director's vision. Because of these things, completing a film and having it received by the world is among the most rewarding things I've ever experienced.
THE OXBOW CURE AND SLEEPING GIANT ARE BOTH SET IN THE COUNTRYSIDE IN THE COTTAGE COUNTRY. HOW WAS IT TO MAKE THESE FILMS? AND WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAKING FILMS IN THE CITY AND IN THE COUNTRY?
KH: Filming in rural and remote locations is really tough logistically. A crew needs to be very prepared, planning ahead with every specialized tool and supply required by the script and the technical process itself. Financially, though, filming in the country can really add value. Locations don't cost as much to secure, and folks in rural places tend to be very friendly, curious, and genuinely helpful. For the uninitiated, filming is an intriguing spectacle. People often want to observe and engage with it.
There's also the matter of nature itself. I think both of my features illustrate that nature is at once nourishing, healing, and unforgiving. This was true of production on both films – both experiences were physically exhausting and spiritually fulfilling.
WHAT KIND OF PROJECTS DO YOU LIKE TO TAKE ON, AND WHAT IS YOUR TYPICAL RELATIONSHIP WITH A FILM’S DIRECTOR?
KH: These are my general criteria for adding a film to my slate: a), do I connect with the film's director on a personal level, and do I look forward to spending the next two to five years working closely and intensely with them? and b), is the story one I need to see realized – does it provoke or evoke a lived or imagined experience that the world needs to see onscreen?
Before and during film school, I saw a few films that moved me so deeply, they irrevocably changed my worldview. Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, Kore-eda's Nobody Knows, Van Sant's Gerry and Elephant, and Coppola's Lost in Translation are just a few of them. I am certainly motivated to tell stories that get to the core of things, that nudge us to confront problems of existence and identity. Increasingly, I want my films to be subversive and hilarious because I think audiences really respond to those things.
I have tended to work with writer/directors. We end up becoming great friends, it's a very intimate sort of collaboration. You end up being exposed to the best and the worst of each other, because both producer and director are under so much pressure to deliver.
SLEEPING GIANT IS NOW GETTING RELEASED. HOW HAS ITS FESTIVAL RUN BEEN SO FAR, AND HOW HAVE YOU BEEN PREPARING FOR THIS RELEASE?
KH: The journey we've taken with Sleeping Giant has been absolutely nuts. We've travelled the world and had the good fortune of showing the film to thousands of people from many different cultures. It's been amazing to see how many commonalities audiences have found with the film's characters – matters of adolescent experiences and emotions, social class, and performing gender in very normative settings. A producer's job is truly never done, though – I'm still dealing with the film's delivery, and of course we've been gearing up for the Canadian release.
In distributing Sleeping Giant, we've attempted to strike a balance between grassroots promotion and a more standard theatrical distribution model, with a substantial and concerted investment in press and advertising. The film is very relatable and comes from a very humble place, so we've been trying to engage directly with people on social media in some of our target markets – in particular, Thunder Bay and other small cities and towns across the country. We're also doing a great deal of mainstream press, trying to build awareness with the general public in big centres. The film is genuinely enjoyed by a wide demographic of people, our many festival screenings have demonstrated that. So it's now really about building a critical mass of awareness, capitalizing on word-of-mouth reviews and making the film's theatrical release an "event" worth a part of. We've been very fortunate to work with D Films on the release, and I think they're doing a great job.
WHAT NEW PROJECTS DO YOU HAVE IN THE WORKS?
KH: I'm in post-production on a debut feature by writer-director Drew Lint, M/M, which was shot in Germany last November. It's a surreal thriller about two lovers starring Antoine93 and Edgar Retro as Matthew and Matthias, and deals with sex, obsession and sehnsucht set within a contemporary vision of Berlin. I'm also working on a documentary about Ilona Staller aka Cicciolina, the Italian porn star-turned-politician and former wife of Jeff Koons. She's a force, I see her as proto-feminist, someone who has shaped discourses around art and sex-positivity in European society. That one will be directed by journalist and photographer Darryl Natale. I'm co-producing Antoine Bourges' next feature with Dan Montgomery of MDFF, and have films in development with writer-director Sarah Goodman and Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis. I run my company Film Forge with Andrew Cividino, so we have several long-format collaborations in the works.
Directors: Everyday is like Sunday (2013), Diamond Tongues (2015), Sundowners (in post-production)
WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING WITH SUCCESSFUL MUSICIANS AND COMEDIANS WHEN MAKING YOUR FILMS? HOW DOES THEIR ART IMPACT OR CHANGE YOUR OWN?
PAVAN MOONDI: Working with musicians and comedians has become an important part of the films we make. Our films have fully written scripts, but we maintain an openness and flexibility to allow us to collaborate and we’ve come to expect the actors we work with in major roles to bring themselves to the characters.
Musicians and comedians are used to revealing themselves already, more so than actors in many cases, who are at times more focused on embodying somebody else than showing themselves.
But a musician or a comedian is not necessarily a good actor – more than anything else we’re just looking for people who have strong, interesting personalities and are comfortable being who they are in front of the cameras – and those requirements have found us gravitating towards musicians and comedians so far.
BRIAN ROBERTSON: Collaborating with artists who are comfortable with who they are in front of the camera has definitely been the most important element to our films. Because these people perform for the most part on a daily basis, they have a tendency to open up and find their way into a groove fairly quickly.
The first two films Pavan and I made together were shot incredibly fast. We didn’t have the luxury of shooting over an extended number of days, so it was imperative that our actors became comfortable in front of a group of people they more or less didn’t know as quickly as possible. Everyone we’ve worked with so far has been great at finding that groove fast.
HOW HAS THE DISTRIBUTION MODEL FOR FILMS CHANGED FOR YOU IN THE LAST FEW YEARS? HOW IS THE EXPERIENCE DIFFERENT WHEN SCREENING YOUR FILMS AT LIVE EVENTS OR FESTIVALS VERSUS A THEATRICAL RELEASE VERSUS STREAMING ON AN ON-DEMAND SERVICE LIKE NETFLIX?
PM: The Slamdance Film Festival was a great launching pad for Diamond Tongues, with a packed premiere filled with an engaged audience who could relate to our main character’s struggles more than most. The DIY mentality of the festival suited the way we made the film and it did well enough there to find U.S. distribution with Factory 25, which is one of our absolute favourite distribution companies.
We’re on Netflix in Canada and Fandor in the US - both are subscription services, which is important because that allows people to find your film who may not have otherwise heard of it. Often iTunes or Vimeo on Demand sales are for people who have already discovered the film - which when you have a zero dollar marketing budget makes those people few and far between. As the films get bigger and hopefully better marketed, I think Vimeo and iTunes or Broadcast VOD will become more integral for us, but at this stage it’s Netflix and Fandor that have resulted in the most interest in the film.
Theatrical release in Canada is very difficult. We were lucky to screen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and our premiere was extremely well attended, but we learned that the theatrical release in Canada is treated by most distributors as a means to an end to generate press (if that...) and not something worth spending any effort and definitely not any money on. I think if we had enough money to hire even a publicist that we could’ve had a decent run in a handful of major Canadian cities - the film is pretty accessible, I think. We were the third-highest grossing Canadian film on our opening weekend and that was on a single screen, screening twice a day instead of four. I think we over performed, and hope we can leverage that into a longer and slightly more expansive theatrical run on the next film.
HOW DO YOU ENGAGE WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO IN YOUR WORK? WHAT KINDS OF STORIES DO YOU TWO LIKE TO TELL?
PM: We try not to think about it too much. We’ve made films featuring characters who live lives that are familiar to us and so our approach has been to just show the city as we interact with it on a daily basis. The new film I’m currently editing is the least Toronto film we’ve made (it mostly takes place in Mexico) and the plan is for the next one to be mostly set elsewhere as well. The films themselves usually are a mix of comedy and drama - the percentage mix may shift from film to film - but they’re character-driven films that are ultimately about being human.
BR: For the most part we’ve maintained a sense of true geography in our narratives. It feels awkward when you see a film set in Toronto (and is meant to celebrate this city on some level) and yet the characters you follow move to and from, and in and out of locations (often Toronto landmarks) with no sense of geographical continuity. Anyone who’s not from Toronto doesn’t notice and that’s fine. Our characters have lived and breathed in those real spaces you would find yourself in if you happened to be living there with them. If the story takes place in the west end, that’s the Toronto you’ll see featured in the film.
We’ve had people who no longer live here comment on how it’s been a nostalgic experience for them watching Diamond Tongues. Seeing the side streets and little bars and alleys they remember from living here years ago have made people miss it. The city is also changing so rapidly. Neighbourhoods develop and expand and the familiar bars and cafés get pushed out. I imagine I’ll look at Diamond Tongues in 15 years and get that nostalgic feeling for these neighbourhoods that don’t appear to exist anymore.
DID WORKING FOR THE ONLINE FILM MAGAZINE THE SEVENTH ART HELP SHAPE YOU TWO BECOMING DIRECTORS?
PM: Shooting and watching those interviews and getting to meet so many of our heroes was definitely inspiring and made me approach things as a filmmaker with more thought, because the interviews were so highly analytical. From a practical perspective, we were shooting those interviews with absolutely no money and they looked better than just about any similar interviews being done anywhere. We learned how to work quickly, developed our style, and more importantly it kept us really sharp between films.
BR: Pavan and I met right before we founded The Seventh Art and started producing those interviews. We implemented this DIY attitude making these episodes for the web and became pretty efficient with the style. Working so often and so quickly probably fast tracked us into making the first film together, which lead immediately to Diamond Tongues, which was also shot extremely quickly.
Being able to connect (albeit briefly) with so many artists whose works I’ve enjoyed was also just inspiring. After sitting down and listening to people talk about making films so often, it made me want to go out and finally just do it myself.
HOW CHALLENGING IS IT TO SECURE FINANCING?
PM: The first film was the hardest because we were completely unproven. It’s been hard every time. Diamond Tongues was funded completely privately - which was very difficult - and then Telefilm came on-board in post-production. The new film was funded mostly by Telefilm and a pre-acquisition from Search Engine Films, which was great, but there was a whole other set of challenges that came with shooting a film mostly abroad that made it an insanely difficult task.
The process has been difficult for us but that has only made us want to work even harder to make the films as good as we possibly can and not let that work go to waste. Making a film is hard, but making a good film is even harder, and that’s what we’re focused on. There’s probably somewhat of a correlation between films that are easily financed and films that aren’t very good. Hopefully the process will get easier as we make more films, so they key for us will be to just continue to hold ourselves to a standard we believe in.
BR: It’s been difficult. I think what’s been helpful to us is that we’ve been very practical with our budgets. On the first film, we were working with little to no money. We could have waited around to try and secure more financing to make things a little easier on the production, but we also knew we could make the film we wanted to make if we kept things lean. There was an immediacy we both felt at that time that we wanted to make that film right then and not wait around. We secured enough financing to be able to produce the film we wanted and we went out and did it.
Diamond Tongues was somewhat bigger but we maintained that attitude and kept our budget realistic. Our new film is bigger than Diamond Tongues, but shooting a large part of the film in a foreign country, and bringing cast and crew with us there was restrictive posing completely different limitations. We produced this film with the same attitude and spirit as our last two and I think that will come through.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE YOUNG TORONTO FILMMAKER SCENE?
PM: There’s lots of exciting talent that is starting to establish themselves. Big fans of Matt Johnson and his creative team; Kazik Radwanski and Dan Montgomery; Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart. Excited to see upcoming films from Nadia Litz and Kevan Funk and hoping to see first features soon from Evan Morgan, Claire Edmondson, Fantavious Fritz and more.
BR: There are so many great films coming out of Toronto. It’s a big city but it’s still small enough that people generally know one another and that’s important. As a filmmaker it’s inspiring to see everyone coming out and finding ways to make their films and tell such diverse stories, and it’s exciting knowing there are talented, young people here who are also just getting started. It’s good knowing there is a wealth of really great films to come.
Director: Lewis (2016)
WHAT ARE THE FILMS YOU MADE AND PROJECTS THAT YOU WORKED ON OF WHICH YOU FEEL THE MOST PROUD? AND WHERE CAN PEOPLE SEE THESE WORKS?
FANTAVIOUS FRITZ: Looking back at my past work, I think what I feel most proud of are the actual experiences of making the films, along with the community of people who have made these films happen. I work with a small group of collaborators, all of whom are great filmmakers in their own right. We collaborate on each other’s projects and I think it’s created a really healthy ecosystem for filmmaking. Some of the films we’ve made together are Kosmos, Tuesday, Paradise Falls, Lewis and a bunch of music videos. Most of them are on my website www.fantaviousfritz.com
HOW DO YOU ENGAGE WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO IN YOUR WORK? WHAT KIND OF STORIES DO YOU LIKE TO TELL?
FF: I grew up in Calgary so I’ve only been in Toronto for about five years or so. As a Calgary kid I think it was hammered into me at a pretty young age that Toronto smelled bad and was super full of itself so it never occurred to me to move here. When I finally moved for university, the first place I lived was on Lansdowne. It was a real shit hole and it had a super bad bed bug infestation. Apparently only 50 per cent of people are allergic to bed bug bites, so they didn’t really affect me much, but one of my roommates kept getting these huge welts all over her arms and legs and it got to the point that a doctor told her they might have to amputate one of her fingers because the swelling was getting so bad. Eventually we moved out, but the first couple months I was pretty paranoid about somehow giving someone else bed bugs, so I didn’t really make friends at school until four months in. It was a pretty solitary existence and it also happened to coincide with the summer the big garbage strike was going on, so the whole city smelled disgusting, like melting dirty diapers. Anyway, it was a pretty rocky start in Toronto to be honest, but now I think it’s awesome.
My most recent short film, Lewis, is about a cat observing the lives of people in the Weston neighbourhood of Toronto and I guess in a lot of ways I imagine myself kind of like that cat. I don’t know if I really consider Toronto my home yet, but I have wandered around the past couple years trying to listen and observe as much as I can. It’s a city that has a lot going on underneath the surface if you give it a chance. Without a doubt it has the best filmmaking community in North America!
HOW WAS MAKING LEWIS AND HAVING TO WORK SO CLOSELY WITH ITS MAIN PROTAGONIST (GIVEN THAT THE FILM STARS A CAT NAMED JEAN-LUC PICARD)?
FF: We took a very observational approach to the film, which was an exercise in patience. At times, it felt very much like filming a nature documentary, we would wait with the camera nearby until Jean-Luc was doing something that made sense with our story before rolling. For me, a small part of the desire to make the film had to do with the cliché of the impossibility of making a film about a cat.
I enjoyed the challenge and I also thought it was really funny given the new internet cultural context of cats in social media. The cat is a character in the film, but it is also a cinematic vessel used to observe the people in the story. I wanted to create a portrait of a neighbourhood as a living organism. The cat offered an alien perspective on the neighbourhood and this distance was really important to me — I liked the idea of the cat’s gaze kind of democratizing the various forms of life it comes into contact with and also how its relationships with people go beyond language. The cat’s relationship especially with Aldona’s character was something that I felt could only be done justice through this kind of intimate observation only cinema can articulate.
ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS OR DREAM FILMS THAT YOU WOULD LOVE TO MAKE?
FF: There are a few top-secret projects I’m working on right now in various stages of the writing process. Also, I’m finishing up a music video where we played the music for someone who has been blind since birth and asked them to describe images they imagined in their mind’s eye as inspired by the music. We filmed all the things she described and put it together so the video is kind of a tour of the imagination of someone without vision and their interpretation of music.
Director: Abacus, My Love (2014), Drawing Duncan Palmer (2016)
HOW DO YOU ENGAGE WITH THE CITY OF TORONTO IN YOUR WORK? WHAT KINDS OF STORIES DO YOU LIKE TO TELL?
REBECCAH LOVE: I was born and raised in Toronto. It wasn’t until I became a teenager, when I began navigating public transit for the first time, that I began to understand the extraordinary bonds found in the micro-villages that make up the neighbourhoods of Toronto. Once I had the subway map memorized and could make connections between places, I abandoned the transit and took to the city on foot, becoming a sort of flâneur. It is amazing how a place is brought to life when one is traveling through it not out of necessity, but out of pleasure... how the local coffee shops bursting with artists facilitate collaboration and discussions of the day’s hottest news items, how the flyers on local lampposts can paint an accurate picture of the local musical and dog walking and junk removal scene, how the giant construction pits on the street can remind us all of how are city is changing. My relationship with the city became something of great importance, and meaning.
My first film, Pitching for the Heights, dealt with two young men exploring their own memories and pain in one of these micro-villages, Regal Heights. It’s a residential neighbourhood, the one in which I grew up, and within its boundaries are contained many of my own cherished memories from childhood. The film is a celebration of public parks, street corners evoking potent memories, the homes that housed us and the feelings we feel when the spaces we once loved suddenly are no longer available to us.
My latest short, Drawing Duncan Palmer, is also set in Regal Heights, though the story is not as closely linked to the specific neighbourhood. In this short, the landscape of the city becomes a vessel for big emotions, something soothing to help absorb the shocks and disappointments of life’s daily struggles.
On top of setting my films in Regal Heights, I make as big an effort as possible to engage my neighbourhood in all aspects of my filmmaking practice. I called on my neighbours to play baseball players in Pitching for the Heights, they have been more than generous in my fundraising campaigns, and I make a point of screening all my work to this point at the local bistro on St. Clair, DeSotos.
Props Girl, a very short short which is currently under production, features a young woman working in the art departments of various productions, sees the protagonist jumping around from bus station to bus station, eating chocolate bars at the Cumberland Rock, in Philosopher’s Walk, at the Spadina Bloor domino sculpture. I really wanted to get out of my own neighbourhood for this piece, in which the city becomes an antidote for loneliness.
I look forward to exploring more of the city through my work.
DD: HOW IS IT GETTING YOUR FILMS MADE? WHAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP DO YOU HAVE WITH YOUR PRODUCER OLIVIA TRAN AND WHAT DOES SHE CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR PROJECTS?
RL: I am only able to make my films due to the extraordinarily generous community to which I belong. It is not always a question of financial donations that make these projects possible. I can’t count how many times a friend or neighbour or even acquaintance has donated a dozen hours of carpentry, or sewing, or acting, or script edits, all for the sake of the project.
I’m so fortunate to work with Olivia as my producer. So far we’ve worked on three very diverse projects. Abacus, My Love was the largest project I’ve ever directed, and it was my first time working with Olivia. We had a combined cast and crew of over 100 people for that film, with a considerable budget, and therefore the potential for stress and headaches was great. Olivia led the project with such a calm attitude that I don’t think I lost a minute of sleep throughout the whole experience. She has a remarkable sensibility and positive approach to producing, and while she primarily takes charge of the logistics, her passion for storytelling is very powerful, and our films would not be what they are without her creative input.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON CANADIAN CINEMA IN GENERAL? WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BRING TO IT?
RL: I have a great love for Canadian Cinema. My favourite film of all time is Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg... his celebration of urban and personal mythology hit me hard when I watched the film as a seventeen year old. I also have a great love for Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. The way era and emotion are evoked in that film through the use of music is totally flooring. I have heard time and time again that whatever the state of the Canadian Film industry is, it’s not good. I think that Canada’s cinematic landscape is full of exciting secrets and gems, and that if people made a more concerted effort to explore what’s on offer, they wouldn’t be disappointed.
I really love the films that make extensive and exaggerated use of their art departments. The works of Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofksy and Baz Luhrman come to mind. Two of my shorts, Circles (which I wrote by was directed by Zachary Ouellette) and Abacus, My Love, seek to celebrate a more stylized filmmaking style. Sometimes I look at Canadian cinema and wish that filmmakers had more fun with their visuals, with colours, with texture, with stylization. More fun with music.
At the same time, I am very drawn to stories that spend very little on their art department. I loved Chloé Robichaud’s Sarah Prefers La Course, and I daydream about a Toronto equivalent to Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha.
ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS OR DREAM FILMS THAT YOU WOULD LOVE TO MAKE?
RL: Last summer I watched Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, and it made for five of the most riveting hours of my life. I have fierce daydreams to create a film such as this (though, not as long), set in Canada, but what would that even look like? There is something about the landscape of an Italian farm in the early 20th century that just cannot be imitated. But oh, his eye for beauty – even in the ugliest of circumstances, every shot of his is just so lush, just teeming with life, with colour, with ideas, with movement and feeling. His ability to capture an era, to bring us there, and leave us with impressions that will never fade.
I always felt that Robertston Davies’ book Fifth Business ought to be turned into a Benjamin Button-style feature length film. A real blockbuster, with a real budget – it is such a cinematic story... the snowball, Paul Dempter’s magic show. It’s a staple of most Ontario high school English department’s reading lists... I think many people would enjoy the story. Potential for sequels too, isn’t that what Hollywood’s all about right now?
A more realistic project would follow a young woman’s experience in the city, something that would try and capture as much of Toronto as would fit in the edit. Something about the interplay between community and isolation, the struggle to be creative and the specific places that absorb our most intimate moments.
I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to write a modern day Margaret Laurence-type story, or how to tell a Jane Austen-type story, but set it in a Canadian landscape. I try to think about how a Jane Jacobs text could inspire a short, or what kind of stories could include the music of Debussy, or Young Rival, or Aphex Twin.
I’m currently halfway through a Master’s of Creative Writing at the University of Guelph, and have been working on a number of different screenplays, with a few film ideas brewing at the back of my mind. At this point that’s all I’ll say.