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‘An experience of pure joy’: Forgiveness author on the forthcoming CBC adaptation

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Mark Sakamoto's memoir 'Forgiveness' – which won the 2018 iteration of CBC's Canada Reads – is being adapted into a limited series by the CBC and Don Carmody Television. Photo courtesy Jeff Noon.

Allowing your art to be adapted by an outside creative team can be difficult – and doubly so when the project in question is something as personal as Mark Sakamoto’s 2014 memoir Forgiveness. But according to Sakamoto, the upcoming CBC adaptation – being produced in conjunction with Don Carmody Television – is in good hands.

“I thought about the creative team extremely, extremely closely. I had a lot of offers and the team that I chose are the best in the business,” Sakamoto said. “Don Carmody has produced Good Will Hunting, as an example of the emotional spectrum that they’ve been able to produce. It’s outstanding, and they’ve just been wonderful.”

Sakamoto will serve as a creative consultant on the project along with Joy Kogawa, recipient of the Order of Canada and author of Obasan.

“She’s one of Canada’s great, great authors. It’s been such a privilege to come to know her very intimately. I just love her to bits,” Sakamoto said. “It’s kind of interesting – I’ve been involved in the process, but they are very much in control of the process. I’ve really enjoyed watching what these other artists are doing with my art. For me, it’s been an experience of pure joy. I feel very confident in what they’re doing.”

Forgiveness serves as a chronicle of both sides of Sakamoto’s family during the Second World War. Sakamoto’s grandfather and grandmother, both Canadian citizens, see their lives in Vancouver irrevocably change in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

“It really was an act of ethnic cleansing that the Canadian government carried out, where they emptied the west coast of all Japanese Canadians – their only crime being their ethnicity,” Sakamoto said.

On the other side of the country, Sakamoto’s grandfather Ralph MacLean grew up on the Magdalen Islands and wanted to go fight in Europe, lying about his age to sign up. Instead, he was shipped to Hong Kong where he was captured by Japanese forces, spending the entire Second World War as a Japanese prisoner of war.

“It was living through absolute hell for every single day that he was imprisoned,” Sakamoto said. “So (the memoir) is looking at those injurious years in their life, but more importantly how they were able to move on after those injurious years and live a life that was full of hope, actually, and love.”

The gift passed on to him from his grandparents, Sakamoto said, was their decision to not pass on the injury of their past to their descendants, and instead teach them how to forgive.

“Going into the book, I thought of forgiveness as rather transactional – I harmed you, you harmed me, let’s say we’re sorry and move on. It was very much rear-view mirror looking, letting bygones be bygones,” Sakamoto said. “But my grandparents really profoundly cleansed their heart. It showed me that forgiveness is really a daily act and it’s a way of life. It’s a way of ensuring that no matter how dark your yesterday was, that doesn’t dictate your tomorrow. And I really came to need that in ways I never really thought I would.”

First published in 2014, Sakamoto said Forgiveness had took on a new relevance in today’s political climate, starting as a family retrospective but becoming a sort of “warning alarm” to racism, racist policies and ugly nationalism.

“I’m very confident that the series will act as an alarm – you never end up in the basement, you always gotta take steps there first,” Sakamoto said. “Those first few steps into the basement, sometimes they’re kind of easier – they seem small. But soon you’re in the depths of a basement that you never intended or you didn’t want. Those forces of darkness and anger are powerful.”

Getting out of that basement and moving a society back into a place of tolerance and compassion takes work, Sakamoto said, and often requires citizens to fight for – and sometimes die for – that freedom. The other side to forgiveness, that of it taking root in one’s personal life, requires a different sort of work.

“You have to find space in your heart to really own that compassion yourself. It’s sort of a cliché, but you have to be the compassion that you want to feel,” Sakamoto said. “So that’s what my grandparents were able to show me, is how to really engender that kind of compassion in their own hearts, even or despite what they went through. That’s really the power of their legacy, for me personally, and hopefully one shared with other folks as well.”

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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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“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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