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“A poem for the planet”: Metamorphosis’ visual meditation on climate change

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Metamorphosis employs sound and the work of various artists to create a “visual language” to explore climate change. Photo courtesy NFB.
Metamorphosis employs sound and the work of various artists to create a "visual language" to explore the current state of climate change. Photo courtesy National Film Board of Canada.

Metamorphosis, a feature-length documentary from filmmakers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper, takes a notably different approach in its examination of climate change when compared to features such as An Inconvenient Truth (2006) or Time To Choose (2015). Ami and Ripper sought to make a cinematic, “almost experimental” documentary, favouring sound and image over more conventional documentary components like talking heads.

“We aren’t putting a lot of tags or text on it. It gives you more stories and ideas,” Ripper said. “The solutions are intended to be design principles, and they’re all very visual as well. And then there’s a soundtrack that is very involved and layered. We make good use of the 7.1 audio space as well as it’s shot in 4K – so visually, it’s really punchy.”

Metamorphosis weaves the work of artists using ecological themes to further illustrate a sort of “visual language,” Ami said, that combined with drone shots and time-lapse footage helps to create a poetic feeling throughout the work.

“(That visual language) allowed us to explore some of those themes that are more conceptual. Like art, the film asks questions and (doesn’t) necessarily spell it out for you – there is room for your own interpretations and your own understanding to come into play,” Ripper said. “It’s a very reflective journey and we hope people will find it a transformative journey – and we are seeing that happen.”

Directors Nova Ami (left) and Velcrow Ripper (right) began developing Metamorphosis after witnessing the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Photo courtesy Grant Baldwin.

Ami and Ripper began developing the film just more than four years ago, around when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, killing at least 6,300.

“We were talking about making a film together and I had spent a lot of time in the Philippines and my family is from the Philippines, so that really weighed heavily on us. We talked about how an event like that could change a person,” Ami said. “That led to further conversations about how we deal with change in a time of climate crisis, how we resist change, how we move through change. That led to conversations about metamorphosis – the title came up and we decided to explore that theme and how that relates to us at this point in time.”

Four months before Ami and Ripper went into production, they had a child. Ripper said that experience further informed the development of Metamorphosis.

“I think choosing to have a child in this era is in itself a statement of hope. I think it really made us think, ‘What can we do to help create a world that is thriving as he comes of age?’” Ripper said. “So the hope we have is not so much optimistic based on the facts – I think the facts are very, very dire and we are in a time of emergency – it’s based on a kind of heroic hope that we want to do everything we can and making the film was one of our gestures.”

Making the film as two Canadians, Ami and Ripper found themselves approaching the content in a specific context when compared to major American features done on similar topics. Though the United States has received significant criticism for its recent action on climate – such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement – Ripper said Canada was still “not that well-regarded” on the international stage.

“I think it’s in our culture to want to be on the right side of history, but we’re not there yet. We have a big transition to make,” he said. “We have to do this in a way that protects workers and we shouldn’t be pitting jobs against the environment. That’s a false dichotomy. We have to transcend that dichotomy. We need to respect those fears and address those fears but we also have to create a future – literally.”

The film was co-produced by and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)’s Edmonton studio, the North West Studio. Thanks to the footage used and the way the film employs sound and music, Ami said Metamorphosis was an experience best suited to see in the theatre, on a big screen.

“It’s a really cinematic experience,” she said. “It’s a film that sparks the imagination in terms of what’s possible. It’s a climate change film you can go on a date with.”

Metamorphosis plays at the Globe Cinema in Calgary until July 5. The film will screen in Saskatoon and Regina on July 13, followed by international festivals and other Canadian screenings. For more information, click here.

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22 Chaser is an ‘urban western’ staged in Toronto’s underbelly

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22 Chaser, directed by Rafal Sokolowski, portrays the seedy underbelly of Toronto and the tow truck “chasers” that operate there. Photo courtesy levelFILM
22 Chaser, directed by Rafal Sokolowski, portrays the seedy underbelly of Toronto and the tow truck “chasers” that operate there. Photo courtesy levelFILM

Whether it be an office tower or old-of-control train, hardened cop or reluctant ex-military officer, many thrillers lean hard on familiar settings and characters, opting to get to the action quick and deal with character-building later. But 22 Chaser, the directorial debut from Rafal Sokolowski, aims for a unique target – setting its central conflict in the world of tow truck “chasers” and developing the film’s conflict as a complement to its characters.

“I have heard so many opinions (of the film) like, ‘I had no idea about this subculture, about this world, and I will never, ever look at tow truck drivers in the same way,’” Sokolowski said. “For myself, now, my eyes go – I see them everywhere. They were really tucked away. Now, I’m sensitive to this, so I see them and I say, ‘I know what you’re doing.’”

“Chasers” refer to those tow truck drivers that race to the scenes of accidents, looking to offer services or refer those involved in accidents to repair shops, often getting confused or distressed individuals to agree to inflated prices. Sokolowski said that in order to understand the subculture properly, he spent time with chasers near Toronto, sitting with them in their trucks and waiting for accidents to happen.

“There is an accident, and then it becomes really dynamic and very traumatic. You arrive on the scene of the accident and you never know what you are going to encounter,” he said. “You’ll encounter broken cars and broken people. Amidst the panic and the trauma and blood and very often death, there are these people who negotiate their jobs, trying to make a buck by pulling a wreck out of that.”

Produced at the Canadian Film Centre, 22 Chaser follows Ben (Brian J. Smith), a man from a small town working long hours as a tow truck driver to support his family. But when he is pulled into the world of tow truck chasers, he finds himself facing up against some major moral challenges.

“We see someone who gets corrupted and kind of sells himself. It’s upsetting, but I’ve always found this really interesting thematically. In order to get ahead, you kind of need to sell yourself,” Sokolowski said. “I found it fascinating that dreamers, they need to learn how to be assholes to move ahead. That’s the reality of the modern world. I’m generalizing, obviously, but I see a lot of examples of that.”

Though Sokolowski sought to develop a consistent sense of tension throughout 22 Chaser, he also wanted to ensure the world he had witnessed first-hand was depicted authentically on-screen.

“With that excitement comes responsibility. This is the first film that portrays this subculture,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re not exploiting this freaky thing – it’s rooted in reality.”

The film is set to open July 6 in Toronto before moving on to a Video on Demand release. Sokolowski said he hoped moviegoers would come out to see a “character-driven story set in this unique, fascinating world.”

“We don’t know about (this world) because it hides in the underbelly of our own Toronto. That’s the super exciting thing – it’s very much a Toronto film,” he said. “It’s not this American big urban centre. No, it’s Toronto, we’re shooting Toronto. I’m actually super thrilled how Toronto came out in this film. It’s beautiful and ugly, it’s punk rock, it’s western and slick, but also has a very filthy underbelly.”

22 Chaser, directed by Rafal Sokolowski, portrays the seedy underbelly of Toronto and the tow truck “chasers” that operate there. Photo courtesy levelFILM

22 Chaser plays at Imagine Cinemas Carlton starting July 6. For more information, click here.

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Paper Year is a modern take on love and its maturation

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Paper Year, starring Eve Hewson and Avan Jogia, follows two 22-year-olds as they navigate the evolution of their young marriage and the challenges associated with growing older. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media.
Paper Year, starring Eve Hewson and Avan Jogia, follows two 22-year-olds as they navigate the evolution of their young marriage and the challenges associated with growing older. Photo courtesy Red Eye Media.

Paper Year, the first feature from writer-director Rebecca Addelman, begins where many romantic comedies might end: Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia), both young and in love, decide to commit to what seems to be the ultimate romantic gesture – marriage. It’s only after that seminal moment that the realities of life begin to crystallize: bills, conflict, temptation, all while Franny and Dan’s love moves out of one stage and evolves into another.

Addelman, who most recently wrote for New Girl (Fox) and LOVE (Netflix), said the story for Paper Year emerged out of her own divorce in her mid-20s, at a time when she said she had many “big feelings” she needed to get out onto paper.

“The funny/ironic thing is that I thought I was doing this big, rebellious, crazy thing. Getting married young wasn’t what people around me were doing at the time – everyone was waiting and waiting and hemming and hawing,” she said in an email to The Mutt. “I felt by taking the plunge I was being different. A real renegade! Which is hilarious since there’s nothing more mainstream than marriage.”

Hailing originally from Ottawa, Addelman moved to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto after completing high school. She moved to Los Angeles in 2008 and eventually became a featured member of the Upright Citizens’ Brigade Theatre.

“I didn’t have a job in LA, any friends in LA, or a legal visa to work in LA. It was a perfect plan!” she said. “Ten years later, things have worked out alright, but let me tell you, those first few years were pretty shaky.”

While working on the script for Paper Year, Addelman made a conscious decision to distance herself from the characters in the story, focusing on developing the characters and moving away from what she had initially penned in the first draft.

“I was hoping to capture a more modern take on young marriage — one that casts marriage as a fun, sexy, impulsive decision,” she said. “A byproduct of this impulsive marriage is that the young couple in the movie then has to figure out how to grow and grow up together AFTER making a monumentally huge decision.”

Though Addelman had previously completed a short film, 2016’s The Smoke, directing a character-based drama like Paper Year meant the authenticity of the film’s two leads was paramount. Addelman said she began casting the role of Franny first, as she said the role was “near and dear to” her heart.

“As I had my first Skype meeting with (Hewson), she basically leapt out of the screen and grabbed me by the throat with her humour, vivaciousness, razor-sharp intelligence and emotional honesty,” Addelman said. “She was the whole package! And then I met Avan and, like half of the planet, fell in love with him.”

Throughout the production process, Addelman found herself following the scenes where they took her, which sometimes took the film to places typically untouched by the conventions of the standard romantic comedy genre.

“Some scenes took on a life of their own. Sometimes a scene worked best when it veered more into the drama and sometimes we found unexpected comedy,” Addelman said. “I always tried to stay open to the fact that a scene had to be what it wanted to be – and not necessarily what I wanted it to be.”

Paper Year is currently available on Video On Demand. For more information, click here.

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The Beaverton executive producer on the show’s season three pickup

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The Beaverton, a satirical TV show on the Comedy Network based on the popular website, was renewed for a third season on June 7, 2018.
The Beaverton was picked up for a 13-episode season three on the Comedy Network, Bell Media announced June 7. Photo courtesy Bell Media.

Since 2012, Luke Gordon Field has worked as editor-in-chief on The Beaverton, the online Canadian satirical news site. He’s penned many of the site’s most viral articles (“Local man just wants to have a respectful debate with these Libtards“) and still writes for the website while pulling double-duty as executive producer for The Beaverton on the Comedy Network, which was confirmed for season three on June 7. He spoke with The Mutt on future plans for the series, the challenges (and potential joys) of covering Premier-Designate Doug Ford and the show’s place in the Canadian comedy continuum.

The Mutt: What comedy voices do you think influence The Beaverton and your own comedy writing?

LGF: Obviously, The Onion has been around a lot longer than us and is a huge influence on everyone who tries to write satire, whether it be us or any other TV show. That’s definitely the most direct influence and then beyond that, I’m 31, so like a ton of people my age, Jon Stewart was kind of my hero growing up. When the Colbert Report started, it started when I got old enough to stay up to watch it. So those were my two guys throughout my teenage years because it was perfectly timed for me. Those are definitely huge influences on me as a writer for the show, but also the website. Everything you enjoy influences you in some way or another.

TM: You mentioned Jon Stewart — he always talked about doing a show with intention and a point-of-view. Is that something that you incorporate in your writing?

LGF: Yeah, absolutely. When you’re doing a satirical show, the funniest joke is great. But the jokes I think work the best are obviously funny but also have a very strong point-of-view. We’re so privileged to make the show, so if we don’t use the show to push a positive agenda, an agenda for change and use it to speak truth to power and defend people who are marginalized, then really what’s the point of doing the show? So that’s always the goal, and of course you have to balance that with trying to be entertaining. You can’t just be lecturing people for 22 minutes every Wednesday night. It’s a constant balancing act, but it’s also a lot of fun to do.

TM: With things being so polarized now, especially online, do you find that when you guys do take on a point-of-view, does a kind of vitriol tend to come back at you? Say, when you go after Trump?

LGF: I mean, we’re in an interesting place in Canada because I think Trump supporters don’t know what to do with us. They come across us, they don’t know the name, they don’t know the website, so when that crossover happens it’s usually more confusion than anything else. Certainly, as much as we talk about the vitriol in the United States, Canada’s not immune to that. So when we write pieces about hot-button issues, whether it be abortion or Rebel Media, things that tend to get people very fired up, they definitely come after us and use a certain level of vitriol. At the same time, we dish it out so of course we have to take it. There’s nothing that we can really get upset about. Honestly, I don’t worry about it very much because I have a very strong policy of, I don’t read the comments. So whatever people are saying, I don’t really see it.

TM: Doing 13 episodes per season, you’re in a unique space compared to a Daily Show or even a 22 Minutes. When you guys are talking about what you want to cover content-wise, how do you balance it out? Obviously, Trump tends to take the air out of the room, so how do you balance that coverage against other shows who are covering that news on a daily basis?

LGF: Doing 13 episodes really allows you to find where your priorities are. It allows you to not spend as much time on the day-to-day craziness of, ‘Trump tweeted this’ or ‘Trump said that’ kind of stuff. You can focus more on the issues that are actually important and actually ripe for satire. And focus on the stuff that isn’t necessarily front page of the newspaper or the front page of Reddit that day. Which is the stuff that, not to sound arrogant, but it’s the stuff that matters more to people’s day-to-day lives.

TM: In that way, do you feel like you’re almost in a situation like Last Week Tonight?

LGF: The nice thing is that there have been a lot of weekly satire shows — Last Week Tonight, (Full Frontal with Samantha Bee) — it’s less of a daily thing. Obviously everyone still loves The Daily Show, but there’s also Seth Meyers and Kimmel and all these other people who are in the satire world now. So being a weekly show, we do look more to the weekly shows because like us they’re able to have that kind of broader lens in which they look at the world and not get so focused on what happened that day. I’m also a really big fan of some of the UK shows that popped up, like The Mash Report and the classics like Brass Eye. Those were also huge influences on us.

TM: Coming as a satire show in Canada and following the legacy of some of these Canadian satirical shows, how do you see your place in that continuum?

LGF: Yeah, there’s such a great legacy of satire in Canada. I’m not sure enough young people appreciate that 22 Minutes was doing their thing way before Jon Stewart came along. We certainly want to carry the torch and carry on the great tradition of those shows, including Mercer obviously, but we also thought there was room for something that was a little bit sharper and a little bit younger in outlook. I mean, I’m 31 and my writers make me feel ancient. It’s a nice way to appreciate the tradition that came before and do our own thing. It’s not exactly the same as what came before, but we want to pick up on what the shows that have been so successful have done.

TM: So, I gotta ask you about Doug Ford.

LGF: [Laughs] Oh, god.

TM: Especially considering you’re located in Ontario. Are you excited for the prospect of covering him or are you exhausted already?

LGF: I actually am excited. With Trump especially, who is kind of clearly a parallel for Doug Ford, that first year was so insane that I think what you’re seeing now is a bit of Trump fatigue. I think with Doug, it’s going to be similar in a sense that that first year is just going to be nuts, and then after a while we might get sick of talking about him. But right now, it’s very much in the mindset of, ‘What could happen next? This is exciting! Terrible, but exciting!’ I am excited to satirize him and go after him. Don’t get me wrong, I hope he turns out to be a great premier and there’s nothing really to make fun of, but I think the odds of that are pretty slim.

TM: This new season of The Beaverton, any changes in terms of format? How do you see it evolving?

LGF: I think you always want to keep improving, unless you’ve created an absolutely perfect TV show. I’m very proud of the show and think the best thing we did from season one and season two was made it a more topical show, made it more relevant to the news of the week. I certainly think we can continue improving that while also not forgetting those issues that aren’t necessarily front page but are still very vital. But I think we’re definitely going to introduce new segments, we always want to be on the lookout for new talent and new voices we can add to our writing staff as well as our cast. We’re still in the very early stages of working on season three, but it’ll definitely continue to evolve and grow which I think every show that gets lucky enough to get renewed has a responsibility to do.

Follow Luke Gordon Field on Twitter.

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