Issue: April 2015 - Immigration & Culture

Life is sweet: director Jacob Tierney discusses Preggoland

When director Jacob Tierney began reading the screenplay for the comedy Preggoland, which opens in theatres May 1, he says he realized the story was one too rarely seen on the screen. It was a story filled with women just being funny, flawed, fascinating people. “You don’t read that a lot,” Tierney told Toronto Film Scene over the phone from Montreal. That wasn’t the only thing that attached him to the film – one that eventually premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. “Most importantly, it made me chuckle,” he says. “That’s the great thing about comedy: if you’re not laughing, it’s not working. And I laughed the whole time I read the script.” Preggoland must have impressed Tierney, who had never directed a feature film before that he had not written. He was a friend of Vancouver character actor Sonja Bennett, whom he had worked with on a pilot for the Comedy Network years earlier. Bennett wrote the screenplay and sent it to Tierney. The comedy, set in suburban Vancouver, tells the story of Ruth (also played by Bennett). She is a woman in her mid-thirties who still lives at home, doesn’t have a boyfriend and makes a paltry wage as a grocery store cashier. As many of her close friends are ditching her for their newborns, Ruth decides to fake a pregnancy. Even with the bizarre premise, the...

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A different tune: Brad Dryborough and Arabella Bushnell, stars of Songs She Wrote About People She Knows

In Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, Arabella Bushnell stars as Carol, a shy woman who beings singing songs to people so she can express her true feelings for them. That may initially sound like a good idea, but when her songs are actually revealing the kinds of things that you would normally keep to yourself, trouble is likely to follow. When Carol sings a song called Asshole Dave to her boss, played by Brad Dryborough, the reaction she gets is unexpected. It reignites a passion for music in Dave, who convinces Carol to help him achieve his dreams. Going along for the ride, Carol really just wants to sort out her life, and it’s her honesty in song that will get her there. Toronto Film Scene had the chance to speak with Dryborough and Bushnell just before the film opens in Toronto on Friday, May 1, 2015, after a number of successful screenings at festivals across North America, including TIFF in 2014. Songs She Wrote is a wonderfully funny film, and you can tell how so much of that comedy comes from its stars. Both Dryborough and Bushnell are hilarious to speak with, which helps out when it’s Dryborough who gets stuck with the oddly funny nickname of Asshole Dave in the film. A quick glance through his credits in film, television, and even voice work for the video...

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Refusing to be corrupted by power: Alex Garland on Ex Machina

Ex Machina, the directorial debut of novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, is a film about interrogations. It follows Caleb, a young programmer who is summoned to his employer’s home and asked to administer the Turing test on an artificially intelligent robot named Ava. Caleb finds her confined to a glass chamber. He sits on his side of the partition and peppers Ava with questions, hoping to determine that she is sentient. These interrogations give Ex Machina its structure as well as its narrative thrust. Title cards bill them as “sessions”: Session one, session two—seven sessions in all. On a rainy Monday afternoon, Alex Garland walks into a suite at Toronto’s Trump Hotel and settles in for his latest session. Ava’s pen was also filmed in a hotel: the Juvet, in Valldalen, Norway. While the desperate opulence of the Trump is a world apart from the Juvet’s crisp lines and penal austerity, the suite’s layout establishes a similar interrogator-interrogatee dynamic. Thus, Garland makes a beeline to the hot seat. He sits in front of one Ex Machina’s promotional posters in such a manner that Ava—Alicia Vikander’s face alloyed with a body made of glass, mesh, and textured silicone—is looking over his shoulder. On the poster, she’s not in her enclosure. She’s not the one being interrogated today. We’ve got a lot of reason at the moment to be paranoid as...

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Fathers and sons: an interview with The Forger’s Tye Sheridan and Director Philip Martin

Actor Tye Sheridan isn’t even 20 years old yet, but for his first three on screen appearances he was lucky enough to work with some great directors and actors that those just starting out in the industry often have to wait for. He first appeared in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life as one of Brad Pitt’s sons. From there he would move on to Jeff Nichols’ Mud, opposite Matthew McConaughey. Then he would show up opposite one of Nicolas Cage’s best performances in David Gordon Green’s Joe. He has certainly packed a lot into a short amount of time. That good fortune – and a recent string of characters that find themselves drawn towards criminal types – continues this weekend with the release of The Forger (now playing at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto and available on VOD nationwide) and a role that pits him opposite a pair of other acting heavyweights: John Travolta and Christopher Plummer. Texas native Sheridan plays Will Cutter, the son of an infamous Boston area art forger, Ray Cutter (Travolta), who also has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Ray has recently been released from prison, and he wants to spend time with his son while he still can. Ray moves back in with his con artist father (Plummer) and sets about on “one last job” with the help of his son: steal and forge...

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Documenting the immigrant experience in Canadian film

While Canada is not a prolific film culture, there are more than enough films to look at to do a survey of how the multicultural fabric of the country has changed the stories we tell on screen. It would seem, however, that Canadian fiction films looking at the lives of immigrants who are new to Canada are out there, but not in the numbers that one may expect from a country that is so incredibly multicultural. There are a vast number of foreign born Canadians (as well as first or second generation Canadians) in the film industry, and they make some of the most fantastic films Canada has to offer. It just seems that very few of these films are focused specifically on the immigrant experience in Canada. Documentary films on the subject, however, seem to be growing. This is less surprising when you start to look at the history of Canadian film, with its and how it’s really dominated by documentary work. The industry really began in 1897 with a series of films detailing life on the Prairies by James Freer, a Manitoba farmer. These films, including Arrival of CPR Express at Winnipeg, and Six Binders at Work in a Hundred Acre Wheatfield were so popular that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) sponsored a tour of England for Freer and his films. Right from the beginning, documentary was the choice for filmmakers, and...

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Small town secrets: Matt Shakman, director of Cut Bank

Small towns aren’t only incredibly different from the city because of their size, but also because of the ways in which people live. You normally escape from a small town to head to the big city, not the other way around, and if you’ve grown up in a small town, you can understand how it can actually be difficult to break away from them at times. Director Matt Shakman illustrates these facts with deadly consequence in his film Cut Bank. The story follows Dwayne (Liam Hemsworth), who inadvertently films a murder while out with his girlfriend Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) one afternoon. Since the murder involves a postal worker, there’s a large reward offered, and Dwayne feels like it will finally be his way out of town with Cassandra. Things never go quite as planned though, and it seems that the town of Cut Bank may not be ready to release its hold on Dwayne as things begin to fall apart. The impressive cast of the film includes Hemsworth and Palmer as the younger residents looking to get away, but also features stars like Oliver Platt, Bruce Dern, Billy Bob Thornton, and John Malkovich. In fact, it was Malkovich that Shakman credits with helping the film. “Malkovich was the first guy to come on board. I met with him years ago and he sat with the project for a really long...

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Interview with Matt Sadowski and Dov Tiefenbach, director and star of Pretend We’re Kissing

Once upon a time, a young man named Matt Sadowski watched a film called Before Sunrise.  It was long before the sequels to that film were made, and audiences were still in the dark about what happened to those two characters who met and spent a night.  Sadowski had a theory though, that there was a fragility just beyond the small window of time they were together, and that marked the conception of his first narrative feature Pretend We’re Kissing. “I wanted the original title for Pretend We’re Kissing to be ‘The Next Morning’, and it was called ‘The Next Morning’ because of Before Sunrise. I kept on feeling like these guys had the most amazing time, meeting on a train, traveling around Europe. What if they had another day to spend together? Not 10 years later but like the next day, and my money was that they probably would end up kind of walking away from each other,” Sadowski explains. Pretend We’re Kissing was 10 years in the making, a tale of romance that evolved from mumblecore to comedy. Sadowski credits story editors Jonas Chernick and Christopher Warre Smets for their assistance, who helped get the script to its current state. Casting was also a hurdle for Sadowski over the years, having never come across the right actors he thought would be suited for the lead roles. That all...

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