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The titular stars of ‘Jessica Jessica’ come of age in their 30s

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Jessica H (Jessica Hinkson) and Jessica G (Jessica Greco) traverse their late 30s together in Jessica Jessica, a short film written by Greco. Photo courtesy GAT PR
Jessica H (Jessica Hinkson) and Jessica G (Jessica Greco) traverse their late 30s together in Jessica Jessica, a short film written by Greco. Photo courtesy GAT PR

One morning, two best friends both named Jessica wake up and find themselves having very different mornings – one, Jessica H (Jessica Hinkson) wakes up after a one-night stand while the other, Jessica G (Jessica Greco) finds herself despondent outside an ex’s house post-breakup. And though neither of them find themselves in traditional romantic partnerships, it’s clear the central grounding relationship in their lives is their deep friendship, one that persists throughout the humorous and often confusing time period that is one’s modern-era late-30s.

Jessica Jessica was written by Greco based on a “sort of mashup of anecdotes” she and Hinkson told each other over the course of their real-life friendship, often over brunch. These real-life escapades often made them laugh at (and with) each other, leading the pair to realize they wanted to work together and begin creating content out of their stories.

The resulting 12-minute short, which premiered on CBC’s Canadian Reflections Nov. 15, has gone on to take home a number of awards at a variety of festivals, including the Best Screenplay award at the 2018 Vancouver Short Film Fest. Greco spoke with The Mutt prior to the film’s CBC screening to discuss the origins of the short film, writing about one’s 30s and of the importance of female friendships. This interview has been edited and condensed for length.

THE MUTT: Where did you and Jessica (Hinkson) meet, and why did you decide to start working together?

JESSICA GRECO: Jess and I met a million years ago in theatre school in New York. She was living on the west coast and I was living back in Toronto and we met in New York and after school we went our separate ways. It wasn’t until many years later when she moved to Toronto that we reconnected here. So we’ve known each other and became friends as adults, because we were kids when we went to theatre school. I think chemistry is a big thing. In this industry you always want to work with your friends but you’re at the mercy of being cast opposite your friends. It was the sheer desire to work together, knowing we probably wouldn’t get the shot if we waited around for someone else to do it. So we made it happen for ourselves.

TM: Who are your influences in comedy and what’s the aesthetic of this film?

JG: I mean, the aesthetic was really important. We wanted it to be beautiful, like Sofia Coppola dreamy visuals. We wanted to tell a coming of age story, but a coming of age can happen at any time. So we had this idea of making this beautiful watercolour sparkly coming of age story and snuck in all these dirty jokes that no one expected. It’s kind of subversive, this mashup of a sex comedy meets a beautiful auteur’s version of a female-driven short. As far as influences, there’s so many… like the first ones that come to mind, of course, are the Tina Fey, Amy Poehlers of the world. The first guy I found funny was Michael J. Fox. In terms of great standup, I think Iliza Shlesinger is amazing, John Mulaney. There’s all kinds of great sketch comedy out there. Even locally, the Baroness von Sketch Show. Aurora Browne, she’s amazing.

[Next to read on The Mutt: Our interview with Baroness von Sketch Show’s Aurora Browne]

TM: What unique and modern perspectives did you want to express in Jessica Jessica about being in your late 30s? 

JG: I think there is a real parallel in terms of your late 30s and adolescence, for women specifically. I think your late 30s, you’re looked at by society to make some real serious decisions about your life. Whether you want to have kids, how you’re going to do that, where you are in your career, there’s a real sort of rollover that happens right before 40 for women. I think it happens in your late teens, leaving high school as well. If you haven’t got married and haven’t had 2.4 children and have a regular 9 to 5 job, there’s a whole segment of the population for women that are left out in terms of representation, who didn’t do the thing their mothers maybe did. That story doesn’t necessarily exist, and if it it does, it’s a punchline – unless it’s a side character’s arc of, ‘Ha, ha, she just never gets her shit together, she’s that funny aunt.’ It’s a stereotype, and we wanted to represent women in a different way, to say, ‘No, there’s a whole bunch of us out here. We’re not mothers, we’re not wives, but we’re not failures.’

TM: Humour that comes from an honest place tends to be the funniest stuff. Was that something you kept in mind in the writing process?

JG: Absolutely. It was a lot of fun to do, and it was kind of humiliating and terrifying when your character’s name is your real name.

Jessica Greco, writer of Jessica Jessica, said the film will make you laugh at its honesty - especially if you share the demographic of its titular characters. Photo courtesy GAT PR

Jessica Greco, writer of Jessica Jessica, said the film will make you laugh at its honesty – especially if you share the demographic of its titular characters. Photo courtesy GAT PR

Jessica Jessica is available to watch now via the CBC’s website.

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There Are No Fakes is a shocking journey into the world of art fraud

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Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions
Directed by Jamie Kastner, There Are No Fakes is a shocking feature-length documentary that centres on the work of Norval Morrisseau. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

Some of the best documentaries of the past two decades involve hard left turns – films that begin in one direction but end in another due to events that unfolded during production. There Are No Fakes, directed by Jamie Kastner, joins that select company of documentary as its comedic opening slowly morphs into something much darker.

There Are No Fakes centers on the work of Norval Morrisseau, the Indigenous Canadian artist of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation, sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Morrisseau, who died in 2007, sought to remove forgeries of his art from the marketplace, establishing the Norval Morrisseau Heritage Society in 2005.

After Kevin Hearn (of Barenaked Ladies fame) buys one of Morrisseau’s paintings, he starts to doubt its authenticity and discovers a bizarre feud consolidated around Morrisseau. It’s this conflict, and the dark secrets hidden beneath it, that form the backdrop of There Are No Fakes.

Kastner (The Secret Disco Revolution, Free Trade Is Killing My Mother), who was friends with Hearn in high school, learned through conversation about Hearn’s ongoing lawsuit surrounding the Morrisseau paintings. It became clear to Kastner that such a story would be perfect for his next project.

“It was almost unbelievable. There was so much crazy stuff in this story, I couldn’t quite believe it,” Kastner said. “I told him if I was going to proceed with it, though we were friends he would have no editorial control. As a journalist, I would be talking to both sides, and he agreed.

“I went off on my own doing my own kind of digging and research. Lo and behold, everything he told me and then some turned out to be the case.”

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the "Picasso of the North". Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

Norval Morrisseau of the Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation was sometimes referred to as the “Picasso of the North”. Photo courtesy Cave 7 Productions

As the story unfolded and as Kastner continued to meet a succession of larger-than-life characters, he found himself shocked at what he uncovered. Bringing footage back to his editor provoked a similar reaction.

“He’d say, ‘Holy f***!’ Then I’d do another one, and he’s quite an even-keeled guy, and he’d say ‘holy f***,’” Kastner said. “So it was a series of ‘holy f***’ moments. I tried to recreate that experience for the audience.”

Documentaries can often unfold much as expected, with a known story dictating the outcome of the production. But given the fluid situation surrounding the events of There Are No Fakes, Kastner followed the story as it led him, knowing he had been handed an incredible gift.

“It’s definitely a privilege and a responsibility (to tell this story). You’re dealing with the legacy of one of our most important artists,” he said. “You wind up dealing with very serious issues of abuse of different kinds, so I felt a real responsibility.

“You have to handle it very carefully as a documentary filmmaker. It really is so unique and unusual and special and horrific and inspiring and a whole range of things that you don’t usually get in one film.”

There Are No Fakes made its world premiere at Hot Docs 2019, receiving highly positive reviews. Kastner said the film provided fascinating insight into the legacy of Morrisseau, touching on multiple problems still at play in Canada.

“It’s a very dramatic story. People can’t believe that they’re real people. They seem like characters out of some HBO series or something,” Kastner said. “I think it’s a very entertaining, edge of your seat, jaw-dropping type of story that happens to be a documentary.”

There Are No Fakes will screen at multiple locations throughout Canada in July 2019. For more information, click here.

Next to read on The Mutt: Tantoo Cardinal propels Falls Around Her in first leading role

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Isabelle brings psychological terror to an idyllic neighbourhood

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Starring Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoë Belkin and others, Isabelle returns to Canada for a theatrical run starting June 28. Photo courtesy GAT PR.
Starring Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoë Belkin and others, Isabelle returns to Canada for a theatrical run starting June 28. Photo courtesy GAT PR.

In a quaint New England neighbourhood, a charming young couple (Adam Brody and Amanda Crew) find the perfect home to move into. But what they find in that home complicates their dream to start a family, as darkness and paranoia emerges in director Rob Heydon’s Isabelle.

Following in the footsteps of other psychological horrors such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, Isabelle comes from a screenplay written by Donald Martin (Milton’s Secret). Having grown up watching genre films like The Omen and The Shining, Heydon approached the project looking to put his own stamp on psychological terror.

“Reading the script, I just got into it cold. Then once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down,” Heydon said. “I thought a lot about what other references it could be like and how I could help bring something to the story and the storytelling.”

Much like other films in the genre, Heydon’s intention for Isabelle was to emphasize the psychology of the terror as a priority. That meant slowly building up the characters and introducing new elements throughout the runtime of the film.

“In a sense, it’s trying to tell a story in three arcs and build the audience’s expectations up to the third act,” Heydon said. “We used the combination of cinematography and editing and music to bring the audience into the mind of the main character and have the audience experience what our main characters are going through.”

Isabelle made its world premiere in South Korea in October 2018, and has since played at 33 film festivals around the world. Photo courtesy GAT PR

Isabelle made its world premiere in South Korea in October 2018, and has since played at 33 film festivals around the world. Photo courtesy GAT PR

The strength of the cast – which includes Brody, Crew and Zoë Belkin as Isabelle – was essential given the nature of the material. Brody was the first to sign on, but other cast members took longer to materialize.

“Amanda Crew wasn’t available at the same time. So it took almost two years to put together the cast,” Heydon said. “But when their calendars lined up, we also got some amazing talent to surround them. Belkin, Sheila McCarthy, who played Isabelle’s mom… we were really lucky.”

Isabelle shot in Hamilton, Ont., with old Victorian homes posing as New England. Beyond the locale, Heydon said the cost savings attained shooting in Hamilton were significant.

“In Toronto, to rent a house for a day might be 10 or 15 thousand per day. In Hamilton, we were lucky to get three houses right next to each other for 20 days for $20,000,” he said. “You just can’t find that anywhere in Toronto.”

Having initially premiered in South Korea as part of the Busan Film Festival (along with fellow Canadian horror Lifechanger), Isabelle will now open to a larger release in Canada. Heydon said genre aficionados should find much to enjoy in Isabelle.

“I’d say read what the film’s about and check out the trailer – I think the trailer says it all. And if you’re interested, come check it out,” he said.

Isabelle begins its theatrical run in Toronto June 28 at the Carlton Cinema. For more information, click here.

Next up on The Mutt: Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart

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Horror materializes in unconventional ways in Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart, the first feature from director/writer Hussein Juma, plays June 2 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma
Things Fall Apart, the first feature from director/writer Hussein Juma, plays June 2 at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

Those familiar with Hussein Juma, director and writer of Things Fall Apart, know that it’s somewhat fruitless to attempt to fully summarize his work. That’s largely by design – Juma himself says he enjoys injecting ambiguity into his projects.

But more than that, what’s exciting about Juma as a director is his ability to create a sense of atmospheric dread based heavily on context and character and not cliché. So horror fans on the hunt for films that are likely to surprise should take note of what Juma says about his first feature, Things Fall Apart.

“If you like arthouse cinema, things that are going to challenge you and even scare you a little too, I think this film would be for you,” Juma says. “If you’re interested in new ways to tell stories, in indie cinema and the way it can reframe things and put them in different contexts, I think there’s a lot to think about with this film.”

That unique approach to story was evident throughout Juma’s 12-episode web series Horse Mask, a surreal horror that centres around a missing daughter, a forest and many mysterious masks. Though Things Fall Apart is Juma’s first feature, he says working on Horse Mask helped prepare him, given the fact that the runtime of that web series evens out to be around the length of a feature.

Set during a dinner party, Things Fall Apart lets audiences act as a sort of fly on the wall as tensions and emotions emerge.

“Things progressively get more tense between the characters. I think there’s a good balance — there are those moments where you’re going to feel uncomfortable, there are moments where you’re going to be scared, there are moments where you’re going to feel like, ‘What the hell is going on right now?’” Juma says.

Furthering his desire to tell a story in a fresh way, Juma says he employed improvised dialogue throughout Things Fall Apart, making up 80 per cent of the dialogue. Though actors were provided with full scripts, dialogue was written in beats that guided where conversations would go.

“When we finally selected our actors, we extensively rehearsed it multiple times. That was a really cool process,” Juma says. “I had a bare-bones, skeleton idea of where I wanted each conversation to go, but these actors got so into it and took it to interesting places. (Many times) I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great. We have to keep that.’”

Through using improvised dialogue, Juma says he was able to capture the essence of a dinner party, complete with moments of levity, tension and awkwardness. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

Through using improvised dialogue, Juma says he was able to capture the essence of a dinner party, complete with moments of levity, tension and awkwardness. Photo courtesy Hussein Juma

The cast, which includes Chengis Javeri (one of the leads in Horse Mask), Bobbi Goddard, Gina Lorene and more, was already familiar to Juma, giving him confidence that they would be able to pull off the improvised dialogue. Juma says surrounding himself with smart, funny people led to a number of happy accidents that made their way into the finished product.

Other times, Juma says he would play off what he knew about the actors themselves.

“If I could see even a sliver of tension between them in the real world or a sliver of something in a look that I see, I can kind of harness that in the film,” he says. “I think that worked really well in terms of when I wanted to play someone against another person. Because I worked with them before, I knew things I could whisper in their ear before a take to throw them off.”

Ultimately, Juma says he wanted to make a film that he would want to see himself. Based on his track record, it’s likely that horror fans looking for a surprising, experimental feature with strong character work will find it in Things Fall Apart.

Things Fall Apart plays June 2 at 2 p.m. at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. For more information, click here.

Next up on The Mutt: The story behind Uwe Boll, the so-called “worst filmmaker” ever

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