Likes, favourites, retweets – the lasting mental effects of those notifications so ubiquitous on social media remains largely unknown, with terms like “Facebook depression” slowly making their way into the mainstream. A society built around a simulated form of validation surely has some effect on human psychology – especially on someone living in the public eye.
Broken Star, the first feature film from Dave Schwep, examines the effects of fame in the age of social media, following starlet Markey Marlowe (Analeigh Tipton), a young actress who craves to hold on to her fame through any means possible.
“You could also say it’s about an actress who is put on house arrest and connects with her landlord (Ontario’s Tyler Labine) in a unique way, where she discovers the depths of her darkness,” Schwep said. “But I would lean towards more the need to be seen and the need to be validated.”
Distributed by Cineplex Pictures, the film is Schwep’s first narrative feature, having previously directed the documentary Bo in 2012. He said he decided to tackle Broken Star as his first feature after reading the script by writer David Brant.
“We all deal with social media. People get their sense of their own identity based on what other people like – whether it’s a photo or a tweet, but none of that stuff is real. I think what people really want is to figure out who they are,” Schwep said. “We’re so lost in society when we’re constantly watching these videos that don’t really matter. None of that stuff really matters and what really matters is who we are. The character in the film is basing her identity off how other people think of her instead of how she sees herself.”
Though fame has been present in some form throughout history, celebrities and notable individuals have never had direct, constant access to audiences like they do through social platforms. Schwep said developing Broken Star in that context allowed him to make a film more “out-of-the-box” compared to traditional thrillers.
“We don’t really have a track record to see how (social media) is affecting the next generation. I think it’s fascinating to make a film right now about that,” he said. “I think it will surprise people and make them think – the film has more questions than it maybe has answers, which I think is also important, asking ourselves questions and not being fixated on answers – because, in the end, the answers change.”
Schwep said Tipton and Labine added layers to the characters, bringing their own experiences and perspectives to the film.
“(Tipton), she really dove into the role and brought out a lot of deeply disturbing and emotional and compelling drama,” Schwep said. “And Tyler Labine, he’s never really played a role anything like this before. He really delivered an alluring insight into the darkness ultimately within our society.”
Though Broken Star features some elements typically associated with the thriller genre, Schwep said the film was more a psychological drama, building a portrait of a psychological state.
“In this age of social media, I think anyone can relate to this topic of wanting to be seen, the toxic need for attention and validation of that attention. It’s something that plagues us all,” he said. “The film is a window into the psychology of an actor seeking out the attention of others and doing anything to keep it. It’s a dark journey within. My hope is that people will be inspired to look within themselves and be able to apply the psychology to their own lives.”
Broken Star opens in Cineplex Theatres July 20. For more information, click here.
Philippe Lesage on ‘Genesis’ (‘Genèse’), his keenly-observed second autobiographical feature
Director Philippe Lesage returns with his second autobiographical film, Genesis (Genèse), a contemplative and keenly-observed meditation on young love and adolescence. Since its North American Premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), Genesis went on to win the Louve D’Or at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma. He spoke with The Mutt prior to the film’s screening at VIFF 2018. This interview has been condensed and edited for length.
THE MUTT: This is your second autobiographical film after 2015’s The Demons. What material from your past do you tend to draw on?
PHILIPPE LESAGE: The Demons was more or less based on my own childhood. So I would say that in Genesis, the main basic material of the story is also quite close to my own personal experience or experiences that some people very close to me had. It’s pretty much based on reality. One character, the main character in The Demons, Félix, he also has a part in Genesis.
TM: How close to your actual life would you say the film is?
PL: It’s always a tricky question, because I think that, in a way, if I was writing about martians that would still be close to me. I mean I cannot give you a percentage, of course, but it’s very close. The character of Félix is pretty much accurate. What he’s experiencing in this one – he goes to a summer camp, he has this crush on this girl, and it’s like a first powerful heartbreaking or bittersweet crush he has on this girl. I consider that experience more or less exactly the same. It was ambiguous – I didn’t get to kiss the girl, but almost. That’s maybe why I’m making a film about it. If I had kissed the girl, maybe I wouldn’t make many films at all.
TM: For you, what’s your memory like of being that age and experiencing first love? Do you have a strong memory and a strong recollection of what it was like to feel that way? Because for a film like this you have to make it authentic. So in the writing process, how were you able to transport yourself back there to feel those emotions again?
PL: When you’re taking time to go back to it, it’s very easy to me to get back to that period in a way. If you ask the question now, I can still think about that summer camp and I can still remember a good part of it and how I was feeling. I think it’s funny how adults sometimes make a kind of wall between what they are now and what they were when they were kids. Adults sometimes forget how lucid kids are and how much they understand. But I would say my wall is a thin wall, in a way. These are pure emotions and I struggled in a way not to be corrupted to keep that authenticity in my life. The characters in the film are passionate. They love without trying to protect themselves, without any calculation. That’s something that I value as an adult – to jump into love without a safety net and to just try and be as authentic and truthful as you can.
TM: The film deals a lot with young love, and how that evolves and changes. What did you want to explore about that period in adolescence?
PL: I wouldn’t say it’s a coming out story in this case, but I would say that I’m interested to show in films how sexuality is evolving and moving around and changing. Sometimes we don’t notice it. You don’t want the same thing you want now that you wanted when you were 20 years old or 15. At a young age you also don’t really know what you want, and that’s the tragic aspect of loving – because first love is very rarely happy. The reason is that maybe the emotions are truthful but we’re not well-equipped to make decisions that are clear. Because what happens when we are loving at that age is we love the wrong people. We are surrounded by the wrong people, and that’s one of the tragic aspects of being young is hanging out with the wrong people and then you start to have doubts about yourself. We’ve all experienced it. But being happy has a lot to do with being surrounded with people you feel good with. Sometimes when you’re a teen you end up with a group of people and you’re trying hard to fit the group, but you’re not yourself, so you’re not well. You realize that later on when you have sincere connections with other people. That period of life, for me, is kind of fascinating and very rich. Everything is kind of built on this foundation afterwards.
TM: How were you drawn to writing autobiographically initially? Do you feel more comfortable writing in that fashion, or is it difficult? You said that you value authenticity and honesty – does that naturally translate into these types of stories?
PL: I guess so, but what happened is I started as a filmmaker as a documentarist. I had the urge to do something more personal. I’ve always been writing and writing has been a part of my daily life forever, you know, like these never-ending eternal novels. So I had a couple of these in a drawer under my desk. I was satisfied as a documentarist but I needed to mix that writing desire and also the filmmaker’s aspect to transform that kind of thing into sound and images. So it was really out of necessity that I went back to my life. The terrific side of it, and it may sound selfish, but the more honest you are to yourself, the more often it has the chance to touch other people. I travelled a lot with The Demons and I heard people say, “Your film is like a therapy for me.” Then you’re like, “OK, that’s meaningful, what I did then, it’s not just about me and my own little demons.”
TM: So do you feel there’s an opportunity then to follow these characters in future films, or would you pick up at different parts of your life with different characters?
PL: My next film, maybe I will try to do it in English first. I’m writing this script right now and thinking about this amazing cast, so I’m going a little bit less autobiographical. These are different characters, but some themes are still there, of course. There’s still a little coming of age aspect to it, even though the adults are much more present. But you know, what I try to do is I try to write films that I would like to see. So in a different time in my life I want to see different things.
TM: What’s your pitch to get people to check out Genesis?
PL: I’m trying to do films that value life for what it is, but also I’m trying to transcend the mundanity of life in order to show the beauty out of it. I think that I’m showing sometimes tough things so that people can feel less lonely if their living situation is similar to what I’m showing. But I also want to show beauty. I think that beauty gives hope.
Director interview: Michael Peterson on ‘Knuckleball’
From Calgary-based director Michael Peterson (Lloyd The Conqueror), Knuckleball is a gritty and exhilarating thriller centered on 12-year-old Henry, a young boy who finds himself in a terrifying situation after his grandfather suddenly dies in the middle of the night. Knuckleball, co-written by Peterson and Kevin Cockle, has been described as “Home Alone” meets “The Shining.”
Peterson spoke with The Mutt during the Knuckleball’s Oct. 18 screening at Imagine Cinemas – Carlton in Toronto. This interview has been edited for length.
THE MUTT: So to start off, what’s the film about? How do you tend to introduce the concept to people?
MICHAEL PETERSON: Well, there are a lot of different ways to talk about it. The elevator pitch is that it’s an R-rated Home Alone. I think on the surface that’s true, but hopefully there’s a lot more going on with it. It’s a dark thriller that seems to also connect with some of the horror crowd. It has some horrific things in it, but I would really describe it as a dark thriller.
TM: Some really positive reviews coming from a number of outlets so far – what’s your reaction to the positive press?
MP: Well, it’s pretty flattering that you put this thing out there and people are responding to it more or less in the way you hoped they would.
TM: You talked about that Home Alone comparison – do you think that adequately prepares audiences for what transpires in the film, or is that just a starting block to catch people’s attention?
MP: I think that’s really what it is. It’s a quick and cheap method to transfer information really quickly. It’s really something different, but it’s just that that film is so iconic. If you’re making anything with a kid in danger, where the kid has to defend themselves, you’re going to end up with that comparison anyways. So it might also be a way to control the conversation so people can either disagree with it or agree with it.
TM: With your protagonist being a child, what sort of challenges does that raise in terms of creating tension but also keeping things grounded and believable? Because obviously we need to be able to believe that this child is capable of fighting back. In the writing process, how did you deal with that?
MP: Well, the idea was, how would a 12-year-old – not your average 12-year-old, but a pretty smart 12-year-old, a capable 12-year-old – be able to deal with this? So we wanted to make it within the realm of possibility. Obviously, it’s still a movie, but that was an important consideration. We didn’t want to veer too far into the world of the fantastical, or like an ‘80s action film. We wanted to keep it somewhat grounded.
TM: Why did you want to explore how a kid would handle a situation like this?
MP: It’s just probably dealing with my anxiety of being a parent, is really what it is. You hope that your children will be able to deal with the world outside on their own and be safe and happy.
TM: I’m not a parent myself, but the world these days and all the crazy stuff going on, you still worry about the world-at-large. Did your experience as a parent with a kid growing up in this world influence how you approached this movie?
MP: Definitely. My kids are a little bit older now, but they’re still young. They’re around the age of the kid in this film. Yeah, I mean, you think about that. You hope they are making good decisions if they see something that isn’t right. Underneath all of that there is some other themes that are at play, like what happens if someone grows up with the absence of love and that’s normalized? How does that warp your view of the world? How do the bad things that every family has, how do they resurface and come up again, even if you try to protect your kids from those legacy-type situations?
TM: So those are heavier themes than you might find in a typical thriller.
MP: Yeah. They are there if you’re a parent when you watch the film, but I also don’t think you need to pay attention to them to enjoy the film. If you don’t want to engage in that, you don’t have to. The movie also just functions as a thriller. But you can also get a deeper experience – that stuff exists within the story and the characters in the film.
TM: Obviously, Lloyd the Conqueror was a comedy and this is a completely different beast. Did you find the transition between the two genres an easy one to make?
MP: I think the similarity between the two is you’re dealing with very visceral types of emotions. You don’t have to deal with it intellectually – either something is funny or something is frightening, and that’s how I think comedy and horrors or thrillers are similar. As a director, your ethic is to the story. Whatever the story is, you want to tell it the best way possible.
TM: I want to ask about Michael Ironside. He’s got one of those all-time great voices. What was that experience like and how was he able to complement the vibe you were going for?
MP: He was a really great collaborator. He’s someone I grew up admiring as an actor, so to get a chance to work with him was something of a highlight for me personally. I also think he fit that role really well. There were stories that he told me about his dad, not directly related to our story but character traits that he described to me that, once I heard them, I decided to put them in the script. I think it became a way for him to find a really personal connection to that character.
TM: With Knuckleball now on VOD and those screenings coming up in Toronto, what’s your pitch to folks who haven’t seen it yet to check it out?
MP: I think it’s 90 minutes of thrilling and tense, edge-of-your-seat action, with an excellent cast that bring their ‘A’ game. Thirdly, and this isn’t a reason to see it, but it’s something to hopefully be celebrated, is that it’s all Canadian. We can make really cool, watchable films that can play other countries and do well there, too.
Knuckleball plays Oct. 18 at Imagine Cinemas – Carlton in Toronto. The film is now available on iTunes and VOD. For more information, click here.
VIFF’s Future//Present expands its view of what Canadian cinema can be
Anyone who has been paying attention to Canadian cinema in recent years will have noticed a major shift in where the attention is going. Over the last half-decade, Canada has developed (or redeveloped) a new definition for its art cinema, often dubbed the New Canadian Cinema. Though this movement has existed for some years, its main festival support system has only emerged recently.
Now entering its third year, the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Future//Present has become the annual hotbed for what is most exciting in Canadian cinema that year. In its brief existence, the section has helped launch new works by some of the most impressive talent ever to come out of this country: Sofia Bohdanowicz, Ashley McKenzie and Antoine Bourges, to name a few. This time around, Future//Present aims to expand its view of what Canadian cinema can be.
Two prime examples in redefining Canadian cinema come in the form of The Stone Speakers and The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs, a pair of films that both approach the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina in distinct ways. The Stone Speakers comes from director Igor Drljaca, making his documentary debut after a pair of narrative features. In the film, Drljaca pairs images of the nation’s burgeoning tourist industry with various voiceover narrations that recount the history of the country through these landmarks. Through these two devices, modern images and detailed history, Drljaca finds a way to bridge the past with the present, while also examining the nation’s conflicts between religion, politics and economics.
In The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs, Bojan Bodružić takes a more intimate and personal approach to the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ostensibly a documentary about his grandparents spanning a decade and a half, Bodružić uses their stories to paint a portrait of a nation that has gone through turmoil. Essential to the film is the manner in which Bodružić makes the viewer aware of and comfortable in the family living space, the space where most of the film is set. Images of a nation ravished by war are paired with recollections and memories, setting the context for the film that follows. Though much of the film can be seen in relation to the nation it takes place, the scope of the film extends beyond just a history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The film also operates as a mediation on the passing of time, seen through the slowly aging subjects, as well as the various mediums used for recording. In the end, Bodružić returns to the images of the house, a house that carries the weight of history, presenting the intrinsic connection between the personal and the national.
Continuing on the documentary front, first-time director Aïda Maigre-Touchet’s Song of a Seer proves one of the greatest artistic statements in this year’s Future//Present section. Shot with great intimacy, Song of a Seer is a portrait of Haitian artist and intellectual Dominique Batraville. In its early scenes, Song of a Seer bears a striking resemblance to the films of Straub-Huillet, as Maigre-Touchet films Batraville reciting a series of texts and songs. As the film progresses, Maigre-Touchet finds her own voice in making the film. Much attention is given to Batraville’s home, a tight space brimming with knowledge, as books clutter every corner and pour out of the shelves. Despite the film’s tight focus on Batraville as the subject, there is a a strong sense of universality to the film, especially in its meditation on the self. Eschewing any traditional documentary traditions, Maigre-Touchet’s minimalist glimpse into the mind and life of Batraville is as artistically exhilarating as it is pensive.
The only director to make their return to Future//Present this year, Andrea Bussmann, makes her solo directorial debut with Fausto, following 2016’s collaboration with Nicolás Pereda, Tales of Two Who Dreamt. Taking her camera to the Oaxacan coast, Bussmann presents a dreamlike story of ghosts and myths, all shot on video transferred to 16mm. Arguably the most dense and difficult work to screen in Future//Present yet, Fausto feels like a series of unsolvable riddles, a layered meditation on history through a series of tales that feel as if they have been passed down for generations. Fausto is a modestly ambitious film that demands a lot from its viewers, but those who can find the film’s rhythm will be rewarded tenfold.
Olivier Godin, arguably the only “veteran” filmmaker in this year’s Future//Present section, makes his first entry in the section with his fourth feature, Waiting for April. Much like his last work, 2016’s The Art of Speech, Waiting for April is once again an abstract cop comedy. Waiting for April is essentially a fantasy planted in the real world, replete with assassins, barbarians, a man with a gorilla arm and a much coveted singing bone. In the film’s emphasis on the use of shadows and the makeshift irises, Waiting for April is as much-rooted in the traditions of early cinema as it is looking forward to the future of the medium. While The Art of Speech appeared to take direct cues from the later works of Jean-Luc Godard, Waiting for April is far less alienating, while retaining the core absurdity that helped make the former feature a rousing success. Much like Fausto, Waiting for April requires patience and a suspension of belief, but the simple pleasures of the film’s brutal absurdity make it one of the most instantly pleasurable films in this year’s Future//Present lineup.
Mangoshake marks the biggest risk to ever be taken by the Future//Present programmers. The first feature from director Terry Chiu embodies the spirit and aesthetic of lo-fi/DIY cinema like few films to ever play a major festival. Telling the story of two rival food/beverage carts over the course of one summer, Mangoshake is a surreal and unpredictable consideration of suburban ennui. While the characters and their exploits in Mangoshake fully rest in the realm of suburban ennui, even the film itself feels birthed out of this concept; a group of bored suburban young adults coming together to make a low-budget film to occupy themselves. While this may not be the truth of the film’s genesis, everything about the film feels born out of this. Despite its rough around the edges look, the film is oddly poetic, allowing characters to reflect on their place in their community and the world at large. Above all of this, Mangoshake is side-splittingly hilarious. In the way it plays with expectations (if you can even have any with a film like this), in the characterization, in the physical comedy, Mangoshake is brimming with hilarity and sincerity.
The finest film to play this year’s Future//Present selection comes in the form of M/M, the feature debut from Drew Lint. What initially appears as a fairly innocuous tale of a man isolated in a new country quickly shifts into a a wild psychosexual thriller. M/M chronicles a tale of deep obsession through sleek, cool style. The film feels at once both cold and clinical as well as brimming with life. Lint’s style plays directly into the tense energy and unease of the film, building and exhibiting the characteristics of the characters at the centre of it. M/M is a terse, glossy peek into the world of love and infatuation, marking Drew Lint as perhaps the most exciting new filmmaker to emerge in 2018.
Another film dealing with obsession in its own right is Spice It Up, a collaboration between Lev Lewis and directing duo Yonah Lewis & Calvin Thomas. The film tracks a young film student working on a feature-length project. Through interaction with others, she receives the feedbacks and criticisms that drive her to obsessively tinker with her project. The film is largely built on an aspect of cringe, which is honed to elevate both the drama and the humour of the film. Spice It Up is equally an observation of the artistic process and a consideration of feeling alone and dejected in the world. The end result is a film that is both beguiling and bizarre, a truly singular work unlike anything to ever emerge within Canadian cinema.
As Future//Present has shifted its focus away from films confined within Canadian borders, the program has become all the richer for it. Every film laid out in the 2018 lineup feels significant in its own right, while the program is also using this year as an opportunity to help redefine what Canadian cinema is and can be. If the first two instalments marked the introduction of a slew of new English language Canadian directors, this year is largely about diversifying the voices on display in this platform. It marks the riskiest selection that has been curated yet, but the rewards are largely bigger and more exciting than ever.