Issue: August 2015 - Family

Into the wilderness with Adam MacDonald, director of Backcountry

On his way to speak to me about his film, Backcountry, director Adam MacDonald was attacked by a dog, arriving with a bloody gash on his leg. MacDonald took it in stride. After all, this is a man whose first film brought him and his actors face-to-face with a real, live black bear, and features a violent attack. MacDonald isn’t afraid of taking risks. Backcountry, which MacDonald also wrote, is an ambitious film for any director. Not only did it require working with a dangerous animal, it was made with a cast of four. The film is spare, stylistically, which means that everything is out in the open — there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, just gritty reality. However, that’s exactly how MacDonald likes it. An accomplished actor, MacDonald decided to transition to directing after appearing in a string of comedy roles, which he wasn’t particularly keen on. He made a short film for Bravo called Sombre Zombie (2005), but continued acting because he didn’t know how to properly transition into the director’s chair. Then, something happened. “The whole resurgence of the Splat Pack came out — the French extreme movement of film, that really high tension, Devil’s Rejects. It just kind of hit me so hard: ‘I’ve gotta make movies.’ With those films, you get this emotional connection with violence, and there’s something appealing about that.”...

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Apocalypse then: Munro Chambers and Laurence Leboeuf, stars of Turbo Kid

On what was certainly one of the hottest days Toronto had during the summer, Turbo Kid stars Munro Chambers and Laurence Leboeuf were keeping cool in the cafe at the TIFF Bell Lightbox when I arrived for our interview. It was appropriate weather, since the film is about a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland facing a water shortage —something that was starting to hit home once I stepped out into the afternoon sun. Turbo Kid features Chambers as the Kid: a young man who is simply trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic world of 1997. He soon meets Apple, played by the perpetually smiling Leboeuf, a girl who is cheerier than any person should be post-apocalypse. When they stumble across a murderous group led by Zeus (Michael Ironside), they’re forced to fight for their lives, which becomes a bit easier when the Kid finds a turbo blaster belonging to Turbo Rider, a hero he has read about in comics. Despite the lack of clean water in the film, Chambers and Leboeuf always seem to look perfectly clean and well groomed, much like they appear when I arrive at the café. There had to be a secret — some sort of post-apocalypse trick we could all use to look our best in the end of days. It’s Chambers who finally reveals it: “I think the Kid’s secret is bubbles. He has a bubble machine that he...

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The stuff dreams are made of: director Jeffrey St. Jules on Bang Bang Baby

For his debut feature, director Jeffrey St. Jules, much like his leading lady, Stephanie Holiday (Jane Levy), had a dream: “a dream of making a film that throws everything out the window — that has that dream logic.” Also like Stephy, the road to achieving this dream was not without its bumps. When you create a film with such an open concept, “you’re throwing away all your crutches of story and you’re relying on something else to keep people engaged.” For Bang Bang Baby,this method of engagement came from tapping into the emotional core of the central character and was developed via song. St. Jules discovered the power of the musical while filming his short film, The Sadness of Johnson Joe Jangles, in 2014. Initially an absurdist, Western comedy, St. Jules “had this off-the-cuff whim to put in a musical number, so I wrote a song with my friend and put it in there. In the film, it was this really touching, romantic moment between these two characters, but it was also this absurd situation. It’s an inherently absurd thing to break into song for no reason. I just love that contrast; I love those two things going together — being funny and absurd — but still being emotionally engaging. That’s kind of what I love about musicals.” Shortly after, St. Jules began to write Bang Bang Baby. [Bang...

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Baa-Baa’s day out: a chat with Shaun the Sheep Movie filmmakers Mark Burton & Richard Starzak

For his first major big screen outing, the UK’s most beloved sheep decides that he’s fed up with the humdrum everyday life on his Mossy Bottom farm and opts for a day off. Shaun and the rest of his flock devise an elaborate scheme that goes awry, leading to a decidedly less than restful day of nothingness while they track down their beloved farmer and caretaker who has ended up in the big city with a case of amnesia. Don’t ask. It would take too long to explain. Just as Shaun’s big plans don’t amount to a day off, his filmmaker benefactors, writer/directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak, can relate to their wooly protagonists. It’s hard work to make Shaun’s lack of hard work look so good. It’s especially hard when Shaun — and the rest of the lovingly animated film’s cast — never utters a word. Burton and Starzak have been tasked with shepherding Shaun to the big screen in Shaun the Sheep Movie (in Canadian theatres nationwide on Wednesday, August 5, 2015), a formidable gig considering that the wide-eyed, lovable little bugger is the second most lucrative creation for stop motion animation powerhouse Aardman behind the equally beloved (and equally bumbling) Wallace and Gromit. Star of his own television series in the UK, Shaun was an endearing institution that everyone at Aardman agreed was due for his...

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Everybody dies: death in family films

It’s a bit of a joke to talk about Disney films and how they always seem to kill off one, or both of the protagonist’s parents. That’s just something that most of us have come to accept, but there’s a shocking revelation hiding behind our uncomfortable laughter, and that’s the fact that animated films are filled with death. A study done by The BMJ (originally the British Medical Journal) published in December of 2014 compared 45 animated films from Snow White (1937) to Frozen (2013) with 90 films categorized as Drama. It’s no surprise to learn that the animated films featured more on-screen deaths than the comparison films, but why does this happen, and what kind of an impact can this have on children? There are actually a number of reasons why so many of these films feature the death of a parent, as well as one odd story for the specific reason it happens so often in Disney films. An interview with Disney producer Don Hahn (Maleficent) for Glamour eventually led to the question of why so many Disney films lacked a motherly presence. Hahn spoke of the death of Walt Disney’s mother Flora, who passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty furnace in a home that Disney had just bought for his parents. It suggests that Disney felt guilty about the death and this led to it playing...

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No such thing as monsters: the fractured American family in A History of Violence

Few films made in the 21st Century have culminated with a scene of such power and clarity as David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. The scene contains no dialogue but the tension, aided by composer Howard Shore’s score, is thick. In it, a mother, son and daughter sit around a dinner table at their country home and eat. When the father walks in to find an empty place setting, he hesitates to sit down. Heads hunched, the mother and son avoid eye contact with the father. Meanwhile, the daughter gets up from her place and sets a spot for her dad. The son then passes his father the meatloaf. The mother looks across the table, meeting her husband’s gaze, searching for a sign of comfort and support on his face. On the surface, it is a routine family dinner, but A History of Violence is both a more intricate and ambiguous family drama than it first seems. Directed by Canadian auteur David Cronenberg while baring few of his cinematic trademarks, the film is a deeply unsettling look at an ordinary American family – or, what seems like an ordinary family on the surface. Even if this unit of four can sit down and eat together at the end of the day, can this fractured family mend the scars of the past? This finale echoes the first time we observe the Stall...

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Finding your family: a visit to the set of The Space Between

The Space Between is an upcoming film from actress and director Amy Jo Johnson, probably best known for her work in television series such as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Felicity, and Flashpoint. The film tells the story of Mitch, played by Michael Cram, a new father who learns that he’s not actually the father of his new child. Upset at the news, Mitch heads off in search of the real father, learning what it means to be a father and making some new friends along the way. I set off on my own journey to Guelph, Ontario to visit the set of The Space Between and learn a little more about this first feature film from Johnson. Discovery and understanding play a huge role in the film, and seemed as if it would also play a very large role in my own journey to the set that day. The film’s synopsis doesn’t exactly explain all the details (nor should it), and my time spent with cast and crew revealed details about the movie that only increased my excitement to finally see it on screen. Shooting had reached the midway point on the day the set was open for visitors to the set and the location found cast and crew stuffed into a very small bar. I arrived before most of the actors and crew film to find Johnson working on some final...

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