Longtime actor and producer Ingrid Veninger, also known as Canada’s do-it-yourself film queen, moved into the director’s chair over the course of the last decade. Throughout her career, she has amazed audiences with her dedication to indie and upcoming filmmakers — on top of developing her own films.
After a series of short films, she created her debut feature Only in 2008. Her sophomore film, and first solo directorial effort, Modra (2010) was selected as part Canada’s Top Ten 2010 and was followed a year later by i am a good person/i am a bad person (2011). Veninger and her company pUNK FILMS is also responsible for the 1K Wave feature film challenge and the Femmes Lab 2014 screenwriting project.
Veninger chatted with Toronto Film Scene to talk about her recent film, The Animal Project, which opens tonight at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
In speaking about the origins of The Animal Project, Veninger said she got the idea for the film after the 1K Wave feature films screened at the Royal.
“I was really excited by what Toronto filmmakers were able to do with $1000,” says Veninger. “Just seeing all that energy in Toronto and seeing how communities stepped up from crew and cast and locations and suppliers and post-production houses made me want to shoot something in Toronto myself, in my way, kind of guerilla style, still micro-budget.”
Veninger is known for her creative and efficient directing styles, and The Animal Project was no different. The movie was cast before Veninger had a solid concept for the script, knowing that she wanted to write roles for professional Toronto actors.
“They took a huge leap and that inspired me and made me write the script. So, I think eight different actors would have generated a different movie. But also, if this process didn’t exist, where the actors committed before there was an idea and before they knew the roles they were going to play, then I wouldn’t have written this kind of project, with people putting on animal suits.”
Shooting The Animal Project was, in some ways, a fresh experience for the experienced director. Having never shot a film in Toronto, Veninger had some reservations about shooting so close to home.
“I was always a bit scared of shooting where I lived, because I always kept where I lived sort of sacred and I protected that as being a place where I didn’t make movies,” Veninger says about her experience shooting in the city. “I always made movies elsewhere and I then returned back home.”
Despite having a positive experience shooting in the city, Veninger was nostalgic for the experience she had making her previous films.
“What I missed was the summer camp experience of taking my actors and taking a couple of crew and going to Slovakia and living together and eating together and going to sleep and waking up together. So, that as a director/writer, I of course had the script, but then I could observe things that were happening in the off hours and I could start to incorporate that in the story. I missed that doing The Animal Project, because everyone lived in Toronto, so when we finished shooting, everyone went home.”
Veninger describes the animal hijinks in the film as “Buster Keaton style, running, chasing, falling, frolicking; through the sort of obstacle course of Yorkville.” While she went in with a plan, there were times when she would improvise while shooting, even if it meant happening upon an interesting looking statue and doing whatever it took to get it into the shot.
“I would say always plan things, because you want to go out with a mission, but it’s a controlled kind of chaos that’s always open to spontaneous things happening.”
On the same day as The Animal Project‘s theatrical release at the Bell Lightbox, the film will also be getting a VOD release on iTunes in Canada and Vimeo worldwide. While she is happy for the fact that the film will be accessible worldwide, Veninger also has strong feelings about the film receiving a theatrical release.
“I love the theatrical, because that’s the live show,” says Veninger. “One aspect of the live show is touring at film festivals, but it feels that the closure for me is bringing it back home to Canada and, specifically for this film, Toronto and showing it live in person, connecting with the homegrown audience, with the cast doing the Q&A and at the same time, doing all the other platforms. But that theatrical to me, is still really important.”
Recounting why the theatrical experience is important to her, Veninger recalls an experience she had with a complete stranger at Cannes.
“I’m balling my eyes out at a film in Cannes called White God. I turn to the person beside me, they’re completely dry eyed. They look at me and say ‘You really liked that yeah?’ I go ‘Yeah, I really liked it.’ Then I see them on the street later and we end up having a 25 minute conversation about that film and having differences of opinion and whatever. That is exciting to me and that happens from sitting next to that person.”
“I am sort of curious about who will stumble into The Animal Project and see it, maybe vibe with it, that otherwise never would have come across it. And I think that it’s still so important to have the theatrical, so people can find our films on VOD.”
The Animal Project opens on Friday, June 6, 2014 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Veninger and the cast will be in attendance for an intro and Q&A at the 7:15 pm screening on June 6 and 7.