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.
Acquainted takes a raw and honest look at modern love
In Acquainted, a new romantic drama from Toronto-based director Natty Zavitz, high school classmates Drew (Giacomo Gianniotti of Grey’s Anatomy) and Emma (Laysla De Oliveria of The Gifted) reunite with each other at a bar and instantly connect, discovering they share some serious chemistry. Problem is, the pair are both in serious, long-term relationships.
The script for the film was partly inspired by the deterioration of Zavitz’s last major relationship, said producer Jonathan Keltz (Entourage, Reign), who also plays Allan in the film.
“(Zavitz) sent me the script almost four years ago and I just connected so deeply and was so blown away by his script,” Keltz said. “(I was blown away) by how defined his voice was. I was completely moved by it.”
Inspired by films such as Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset trilogy, Acquainted is an honest look at relationships and adulthood, exploring the subject matter with introspection. Keltz said the film examines fidelity and infidelity from a judgement-free place.
“The characters are not villains or victims. It’s a raw and honest look at being in relationships, to have these type of things happen and how to deal with that,” he said. “The relationship with the self and the seeking to find out who you really are is really what’s crucial to the building of a relationship with somebody else.
“It’s about taking the time to do that work that puts you in the best position to be a partner with somebody and to be an adult in this world.”
Many of the cast and crew on Acquainted have worked in Toronto’s film community for years, making the set of the film a reunion of its own.
“In front of the camera and behind the camera, (the film involves all) kinds of amazing artists. It’s really a Canadian film and a Toronto film,” Keltz said. “It’s not trying to either hide that or beat you over the head with that.
“I think that’s done in a very unique way, and in a way that is both Torontonian and Canadian but also universally and commercially viable.”
Keltz said he thought the film would be emotionally affecting to audiences, offering perspective that could help to contextualize modern love and relationship.
“I think this is a really raw and honest and beautiful film about what it means to be in love, to be heartbroken, to be devastated, to be inspired and to try and build a life for yourself and figure out what that means,” Keltz said.
Acquainted is now playing at Cineplex Movies Yonge and Dundas in Toronto, International Village in Vancouver and at Landmark Cinemas nationwide.
Next up on The Mutt: With maturity and depth, An Audience of Chairs reflects on mental illness
With maturity and depth, An Audience of Chairs reflects on mental illness
Based on the novel of the same name from Canadian author Joan Clark, An Audience of Chairs is a complex and contemplative look at mental illness, a wise film that approaches its subject matter with significant emotional maturity.
Much of that refinement and subtlety is found in the original work, but director Deanne Foley and screenwriter Rosemary House build upon it, drawing an affecting performance from Carolina Bartczak, who plays Maura.
“(Maura) has a very complex and tormented relationship with her children and her career and her marriage,” Foley said. “It’s really about one woman’s journey of survival. For me, it’s a powerful redemption story.”
Upon reading House’s adaptation of An Audience of Chairs and in digesting the original novel herself, Foley said she identified scenes and moments that she felt were illustrative as to Maura’s character.
“It was a lot of time trying to find those moments, being able to strip away all the dialogue. Because there is so much that is not said,” Foley said. “We were telling visually the story of a woman with a mental illness. So even using the way we lit the house, there was light and darkness within her environment. That helps in being able to illuminate her mood.”
Portraying mental illness on screen in an effective and responsible manner can be a challenge for any filmmaker. Foley said she felt that responsibility, even feeling a level of trepidation prior to beginning work on An Audience of Chairs.
“We wanted to make sure it was authentic and it was an honest portrayal of this woman,” Foley said. “We contacted a psychologist, who (Bartczak) worked with closely. That psychologist gave us reassurance that whoever wrote the script had a strong understanding of bipolar disorder.”
Foley said she established a rule on set that if something were to occur in the film that wouldn’t take place in real life, it would not make it into the film. Maura’s physical and emotional responses were also checked by the psychologist to ensure their authenticity.
The film’s resulting approach to mental illness is factual and genuine, something Foley said was a goal for the filmmaking team from the outset.
“Even though her life isn’t perfect, (Maura) is still able to function in society,” Foley said. “I wanted to give a message of hope, that no matter how broken a person can be, they can still manage to find the light again.”
Next up on The Mutt: Tantoo Cardinal propels Falls Around Her in first leading role
9 Canadian films screening at the 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival
Returning for the 16th year, the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) is set to once again showcase the best in genre film at Calgary’s Globe Cinema April 22 to 28. Brennan Tilley, lead programmer at CUFF, said this year’s festival (CUFF’s biggest ever with 30 features and 33 shorts) included a strong Canadian lineup.
“(With our lineup), it’s not like we’re saying we’re going to just pick the 12 best Canadian shorts or six best Canadian features. It really is that these are the films that we love,” Tilley said. “As long as Canadians and Albertans keep making great films, those are exactly what we’re going to want to show. There’s so many good ones.”
This year’s Canadian lineup includes Harpoon (directed by Rob Grant and produced by Michael Peterson and Kurt Harder), Brent Hodge’s Who Let The Dogs Out and the debut feature from Calgarian Cameron Macgowan, Red Letter Day.
Tilley weighed in on nine of the exciting Canadian productions featured at this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length.
Harpoon arrives at CUFF after having made its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film follows three best friends stranded on a yacht under suspicious circumstances.
“Rob Grant is the director (of Harpoon) and he’s someone we’ve worked with before and are pretty familiar with. And the producers are friends of ours, and we’ve had their stuff come through our festival before,” Tilley said. “It’s quite an exciting selection to be part of that at Rotterdam and we were so happy for them to get that. And we’re so excited to host the Canadian premiere.”
WHO LET THE DOGS OUT
From CUFF alumnus Brent Hodge, the documentary Who Let The Dogs Out traces the curious origins of Baha Men’s hit song of the same name. Hodge’s previous film, Freaks & Geeks: The Documentary, took home the 2018 CUFF Audience Award for Best Documentary at last year’s festival.
“(Who Let The Dogs Out) just had its world premiere at SXSW. It’s a terrific Canadian film,” Tilley said. “I think it’s something in pop culture that so many people know but don’t really know the story behind it. A lot of people know at least know two or three lines from that song but don’t know what the song’s about. But this is about the history of it – it’s a great comedic documentary about copyright law.”
RED LETTER DAY
Calgary director Cameron Macgowan’s first feature film Red Letter Day, a satirical horror/thriller, is set to screen at CUFF 2019. The film was a selection at the 2019 Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, Cinequest 2019 and the 2019 Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival.
“We’ve gone way back with (Macgowan) as a filmmaker. To have his feature debut screening with us is very exciting. That’s another film that is very much in the wheelhouse of the types of films we play,” Tilley said. “It’s really a film for video store nerds, as well as people who would rent a horror film on VHS and watch it over and over all night. I think it harkens back to that better than any film I’ve seen in quite some time.”
From director Alexandre Franchi (The Wild Hunt), Happy Face is a part autobiographical drama and Franchi’s second feature film.
“This film is just so raw in its portrayal of its (characters). Every (character) featured in the film is playing a version of themselves, and in a way that really exposes them in quite an amazing way,” Tilley said. “You really feel for these characters. It raises questions about how people with deformities or disfigurements are treated, and how people deal with sick family. Plus, it has Dungeons and Dragons in it.”
“We’re really excited to be championing it. This filmmaking team is on the cusp of greatness. (Lipvosky and Stein) have made such a compelling film,” Tilley said. “It goes in unique directions and really pushes boundaries. It’s a science fiction thriller with a real family angle. It has some twists and turns that are really exciting for fans of genre-bending thrillers.”
Fast Horse (screened before Ask Dr. Ruth)
“That’s one that actually won the Best Director award at Sundance,” Tilley said. “So it’s really great given all the success it’s been having to be able to play it for a Calgary audience. That’s exciting, especially because it’s about the Calgary Stampede.”
Love After Ann (screened as part of the package Shorts: The Shape Of Things To Come)
“(Love After Ann) is by Darrin Rose, who is a pretty big standup comedian known throughout Canada,” Tilley said. “This is a real quick hit short all about Henry the 7th, basically on speed dating. It’s terrific.”
Memento Mori (screened as part of the package Shorts: Friends And Lovers In Confusing Times)
“Memento Mori is from Alberta. It’s quite a raw portrayal of a young woman coming to terms with her cancer diagnosis,” Tilley said. “It’s great.”
I Swallow Your Secrets (screened as part of the package Shorts: An All-Consuming Fear)
“That was made through SAIT,” Tilley said. “That’s really great to see them coming up and getting festival play.”
The 2019 Calgary Underground Film Festival runs April 22 to 28 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. For full lineup information, visit calgaryundergroundfilm.org