Author Archives: Trish Jagger

On TV: ‘Full Out’ perseverance: The Ariana Berlin story

Actor Ana Golja, director Sean Cisterna and the real Ariana BerlinCourtesy of Sean Cisterna

“I have a secret for you: this isn’t about gymnastics; it’s about life.” Wise words offered up by “Miss Val,” the celebrated UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, played by Jennifer Beals, in the made-for-TV movie “Full Out.” And no truer words could apply to the message of this inspiring film, directed by Torontonian Sean Cisterna.

I have a secret for you: this isn’t about gymnastics; it’s about life.” 

– Coach Val

Based on the life of Ariana Berlin, a talented California gymnast who suffered devastating injuries in a debilitating car accident, the film invites viewers to reflect on the true meaning of following one’s dreams in the face of adversity. Confronted with the possibility that she might never do gymnastics again, Berlin inadvertently found herself in the world of hip-hop where she discovered the strength to persevere in both body and spirit.

Cisterna has great admiration for Berlin and took seriously the job of portraying her trials and triumphs. To meet the challenges of making the film, he looked to her story for inspiration.

“We were honestly just taking our cues from this remarkable young girl’s life,” he said.

For Cisterna, the greatest challenge wasn’t shooting the dance or gymnastics scenes; the real question was how to strike a balance between family appeal and the intensity of Berlin’s story. Part of his approach in finding this equilibrium was creating a window into Ariana’s mind, giving the audience greater access to her emotional journey. It also allowed him to enter into some grittier territory, while still maintaining the lighter charm appropriate for younger viewers.

The director said that finding the perfect Ariana was a difficult task, “This was the hardest part we’ve ever had to cast because, not only did they have to be engaging and a talented actor, but they also needed strong dance ability, as well as gymnastics and athletic ability.”

Ana Golja (“Degrassi: The Next Generation”) wound up being the ideal fit – a young actor who not only possessed the dramatic range for the role, but also the physical skills and stamina for what was involved. In preparation for the part, she had to undergo eight weeks of gymnastics training. The real Ariana Berlin was also a key part of the project and performed the complicated gymnastics routines in the movie.

The film does a fine job of alternating between the loose and fun world of hip-hop and the more structured and rigid life of a professional gymnast. It is at times playful and light-hearted but does not shy away from encouraging the audience to ask themselves some hard questions.

“Full Out” will entertain viewers of all ages and, in a world where so many young (and not-so-young) people too easily embrace the words “I can’t,” the film and Berlin’s story move us to think and talk about who and what truly holds us back in life and how we might overcome. It seems Miss Val was right; it’s not really about gymnastics.

 

“Full Out” premieres Friday, September 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on the Family Channel. For additional airing dates, go to the film’s website.

Review: ‘Me And My Moulton’

It is easy to see why Torill Kove’s latest short film, “Me and My Moulton,” won this year’s Canadian Screen Award for Best Animated Short and recently garnered an Oscar nomination. The film’s simple but colourful animations accompany what turns out to be a delightful, yet quite complex, foray into family life.

Set in Norway over the course of spring and summer in 1965, the story is told through the eyes of a 7-year-old girl who longs for everything normal – and a bicycle to share with her two sisters. As the middle child of markedly modernist architect parents, she yearns to be like those around her. The family that lives below her seems the model familial unit, complete with attentive parents, two children – one boy and one girl – a dog and a cozy home with plush wall-to-wall carpeting. Meanwhile upstairs, the girl and her two sisters are encouraged to thrive in an unconventional household, but instead spend much of their time awkwardly navigating their parents’ usual ways. Even their dinner hour is made an exercise in the avant-garde, with the girls trying to eat but spending most of their time attempting, and failing, to stay atop three-legged dining chairs.

The middle daughter is lost in a sea of envy. While her father is the only man with a moustache in the entire town, the father downstairs is clean-shaven and performs manly duties, like yard work, hunting and military service. The mother downstairs stays at home, makes after-school snacks, and shops for beautiful dresses for her daughter, while the 7-year-old’s own mother makes clothing for her and her sisters out of brightly coloured and eclectic fabrics. All of this leads the little girl to a great deal of inner struggle over the notion of what a conventional family should look and act like.

Throughout the film, Kove maintains a careful balance. She takes on challenging themes of identity, envy and the differences in the ways parents and children view the world, all while maintaining a sense of whimsy and humour. As the little girl and her sisters struggle to understand why their parents have ordered a “special” bicycle all the way from England, they are also confronted with the reality that what seems normal and perfect, often is quite the contrary.

With pitch-perfect narration by Norwegian actress Andrea Braein Hovig, the audience is invited to share the variety of emotions that are portrayed – sadness, confusion, envy, loneliness. Ultimately though, it is love that overcomes and the mature realization by our young characters that their parents’ greatest flaw is not their proclivity for the avant-garde, but rather simply that their idea of what is a great bike differs from that of their daughters. What Kove masterfully reminds us is that it is through the eyes of children that we are taught that the acts of giving and receiving are ultimately ones of love.

“Me and My Moulton” is available through VOD on the National Film Board website and iTunes Canada.

The tale of two Dylans: ‘40 Below and Falling’ — pushing the boundaries of 3-D film

It wasn’t quite minus 40 when I sat down with Edmonton-based filmmaker Dylan Pearce to discuss his latest feature film “Forty Below and Falling,” a romantic comedy set in the vast winter landscape of a northern community. Pearce told me that he felt very fortunate that, during the 30-day, January-February shoot in the Edmonton area, the cast and crew did not have to brave the film’s titular temperature.

“We actually had some warmer weather than expected,” Pearce said, and joked, “I thought about changing the title of the movie, but ‘20 Below and Falling’ doesn’t sound as good.”

Dylan Pearce, director, "40 Below and Falling"

Dylan Pearce, director, “40 Below and Falling” (Tom Gunia)

 

Some might think it unusual that Pearce has chosen Edmonton to be the hub from which he is building his directing career. For many, the goal of establishing oneself as a filmmaker in Canada is only viable if you are willing to live in Vancouver or Toronto and ready to struggle amidst the throngs of other aspiring directors and producers. But Pearce, who started making movies in high school in his hometown of Windsor, chased his dream to Alberta to attend Red Deer College film school. For him, the challenge of convincing people that “you can make movies [in Edmonton]” is one well worth tackling. In fact, Festival City has not only turned out to be the place where he has found a supportive community to aid him in pursuing his craft but, with this latest project, also a creative partner who is equally inspired to make a mark on the Edmonton film scene.

Joined by Dylan Reade, the stereographer on the film, it quickly became apparent that the two men share more than a passion for filmmaking. Both have great admiration and respect for everyone who made a contribution to getting “40 Below and Falling” made.

Dylan Reade, stereographer, "40 Below and Falling" (Tom Gunia)

Dylan Reade, stereographer, “40 Below and Falling” (Tom Gunia)

 

“This really was a team effort,” Reade told me. “Many of the crew members had to don more than one hat in the process of making the movie.”

For Pearce (known on set as “Dylan 1.0”), the journey of “40 Below and Falling” began over two years ago when the script, by Calgary writer Aaron Sorensen, made its way into his lap.

The story follows Kate Carter (Jewel Staite of “Firefly” fame), a teacher who leaves her job in a remote Northern Canadian town and is struggling to get back to the big city in time for her wedding. Along the way she meets a gruff, handsome stranger, Redford (Shawn Roberts, “Resident Evil” film series) who reluctantly helps her. In true romantic comedy fashion, it doesn’t take long for hijinks to ensue. Our determined heroine stumbles into a host of adventures, from snowmobile chases to a grizzly-bear encounter, all the while just trying to get to the church on time.

Much like Kate is undaunted in her desire to get to her fiancé, Pearce was determined to make “40 Degrees and Falling” and to break new ground by doing it in 3-D. It was through this vision that he met Reade (“Dylan 3.0”), the man who has happily joined Dylan 1.0 in his dream to one day make Edmonton the centre of 3-D filmmaking in Western Canada.

Pearce acknowledged, however, that a 3-D romantic comedy was a hard sell at first. Stereoscopy is normally reserved for action films. More difficult still was that his budget for the movie was built using a 2-D financing structure. As a result, he met his fair share of doubters during the development process.

Pearce, though, is not one to shy away from a challenge. Although forced to make a “3-D film on a 2-D budget,” he remained resolute in his belief that his romantic comedy could help 3-D transcend convention by using the technique as a “storytelling tool.”

When I asked the two Dylans why they chose Edmonton as their base, it was Reade, a world-class expert in 3-D and IMAX systems, who quickly jumped in to espouse the rich history that the craft has in the area. And he would know. In 1985, Reade worked as a production assistant on the first 3-D IMAX film to shoot in the city (“Transitions”) and hasn’t looked back since. His career has spanned the globe. Among the many far-reaching and remote locations to which his IMAX work has taken him – Antarctica for “Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure and the jungles of Sumatra for “Born to be Wild,” where he discovered the perils of labouring in the heat and the joy of working with orangutans. While Reade considers the latter his greatest filmmaking adventure, he is ready for his next important journey as a groundbreaking innovator in Alberta film.

CameraFog

Filming “40 Below and Falling” (Tom Gunia)

 

“I’m motivated to create a pool of specialization (in Edmonton) and facilitate projects in whatever way I can,” Reade told me.

While this fearless stereographer would go anywhere to work with orangutans again, he said that “40 Below and Falling” provided its own exciting challenges, including the grizzly bear, fighting the elements in below zero temperatures and working with a new 3-D camera system that was specifically built for the making the film.

So what comes next for Dylans 1.0 and 3.0? On many productions, when the cameras stop rolling, the crew disbands like merry circus performers, but together Pearce and Reade are in for the long haul on their 3-D rom-com. Already in the midst of the editing process, Pearce will continue his directing duties in the cutting room and Reade will slip on another hat to become the post-production supervisor. The film is already sold in some markets and set to be delivered as early as April, so both men have their work cut out for them in getting “40 Below and Falling” on to the big screen. And, as one would expect from these Dylans, there’s no long break on the horizon.

Pearce and Reade are already collaborating on their next project, a documentary called “Building Edmonton,” which explores the city’s architectural history. It’s no surprise, of course, that it will be filmed in 3-D, as these two intrepid pioneers continue to blaze a trail for both Alberta film and 3-D storytelling.


SHARE THIS ARTICLE: