In 2007, the world sat up and took notice of a young Canadian by the name of Richie Mehta when his first feature film, Amal, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. He followed up with Siddharth in 2013, which secured Mehta’s spot as one of the emerging filmmakers of Canadian Cinema.
His most recent film, I’ll Follow You Down, brings Mehta back home after shooting his two previous films Delhi, India, in addition giving him the opportunity to work with some Hollywood A-listers to bring this sci-fi drama to life. Mehta sat down with us to talk about making I’ll Follow You Down, his approach to science fiction, and his thoughts about how supportive Canadian filmmakers are.
I’ll Follow You Down has been in development for a long time. When did you start writing and developing the story?
I started writing it in 2000. I worked on the script on and off for 12 years and we went into active development through Telefilm in 2010.
That’s a long time. How has the script evolved over time?
It was almost like a play in the first version. But the very beginning and the very end were always the same, everything in the middle changed. I was 22 when I started writing it, and now I’m 35, so in that time as I changed and evolved, as I was in relationships, and as I saw the world, the movie evolved with me.
Haley Joel Osment and Gillian Anderson bring a lot of science fiction experience with them. What did you want to bring out in their performances that audiences had not seen before?
For Gillian Anderson, she has zero sci-fi scenes. She just plays a mother who is completely heartbroken, and I think that’s probably something that attracted her to it. Her role was the hardest because her character essentially has no redemption, which is a tough thing to play. With Haley, of course Artificial Intelligence was a massive science fiction film that he was in, and The Sixth Sense is a fantasy film, so he has that experience, but again here it was very much about adolescence and youth and young love and passion and idealism. These are the things that we talked about. The sci-fi is all secondary. I think everyone was attracted to that, fundamentally you could remove the sci-fi element and the heart of the movie is still there.
When did your interests in sci-fi originally take root?
I was 12-years-old, on the playground in school and a thought hit me that there may be absolutely nothing after this life. If that’s the case, then this is all we have. That’s obviously a terrifying thought, I don’t actually know if I believe that, but it’s a possibility. That’s when I first started thinking about these things, about cause and effect, and choices that we make. That’s how I got into movies.
You were looking for the answers in movies?
I think other people are looking for answers in the movies. People who are making these things are trying to figure the same thing out.
Your previous films were dramas with little to do with science fiction. Is I’ll Follow You Down a return to your original interests or a departure from the filmmaking we know you for?
I think I actually have approached my other films, the India projects, like science fiction films. It’s all in the same world of filmmaking, because I tried to make it so that those environments are alien to you. You would watch a film that was shot in Delhi, and you would be like “Everything here is foreign to me!” The light is foreign, the way people are acting is foreign, their activity is foreign. It could be a different planet, it could be Mars! Then over the course of the film you acclimatize to that environment. There’s a point where you feel “Oh my god, this is not an alternate world, this is my world!” and that to me is also what sci-fi is about. It goes really far to illustrate something about us. I’m going to India sometimes to do that, and in this case I’m going into science fiction to illustrate something about us.
How did shooting at home compare to shooting in Delhi? Was there anything that was actually more challenging about shooting Toronto?
I would say I was getting used to shooting in Delhi because I did the two films back to back there. We were doing the I’ll Follow You Down airport scenes, and we had hundreds of extras, and I realized they were not going to move until I tell them to. We have to tell them exactly what to do and how to do it individually…I’m like “Wow, in India you just show up and three thousand people just doing their thing.” They’re just there! This is real and we just have to control our one actor and our crew, so it actually became a huge challenge. I was trained here, I made films here, but it had been 10 years so I had to remember that in this situation you really are controlling every aspect of the frame. People from here go to India and are like “Oh my god, I can’t control anything!” I’d figured out how to work that.
You’re among the new crop of young Canadian filmmakers, heirs to the Toronto New Wave of the ’80s, who are receiving worldwide recognition. What are your thoughts about Canadian cinema and the attention you’re receiving?
A lot of the times, if you come from a small town, when you leave that small town and get recognized outside, the small town is like “oh he’s one of ours!” That’s definitely happening here. I think before it used to be a little bit different, where filmmakers slowly built their name within Canada, and then reached a certain point where it just like a volcano erupting, and internationally they would say “oh we better look at that”. It’s become a bit of the reverse, where you go out, you get that international recognition and then you come back and the market says “ok this person has value”. I think in English Canada we still have a huge problem of getting people to come and see the films because we’re competing with Hollywood. We need to change that, not from a marketing standpoint, from a content standpoint. So I’m trying to use a lot of devices from the Hollywood school to get people into interesting things.
Are there certain peers that you identify with or are influenced by?
Yeah, there’s a lot of filmmakers here that I love and I’m influenced by. There’s tons, but I will say the thing I love the most is that we don’t have a sense of competition. It’s not about that at all. We’re really trying to build on each other. I really love that we’re not in a bubble, we’re not isolated from each other, which is really nice.
I’ll Follow You Down opens on June 20, 2014 in Toronto.