Tag Archives: feature

Interview: Andrew Cividino on his coming-of-age drama ‘Sleeping Giant’

“Sleeping Giant”Courtesy of Film Forge
Andrew Cividino’s “Sleeping Giant” has a strong sense of place: Lake Superior. During a boring summer vacation in rural Ontario, young Adam (Jackson Martin) starts hanging around with two local boys, Riley (Reece Moffett) and Nate (Nick Serino), while attempting evermore reckless stunts. As Adam and his new friends allow their emotions to run riot, their experiences become increasingly intense and unpredictable – and with disastrous consequences.
Andrew Cividino                   Courtesy of Film Forge

Andrew Cividino                   Courtesy of Film Forge

Canscreen talked to writer-director Andrew Cividino at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival where “Sleeping Giant” screened after earlier festival dates in Cannes and Munich.
The film’s North American premiere takes place at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

 

What is it about Ontario specifically that had you setting your story about troubled teens on Lake Superior?

The location and the struggles of the boys connect in a few ways. From a tone perspective, there’s the idea that this is a landscape that, beneath the surface of beauty, there’s a menace and danger to it. And if you don’t respect that threat, it will come bubbling up from below. So I liked the idea of that happening to my characters.

What was it precisely about young boys on summer holiday that fed your film’s subterranean premise?

We’re never closer to our primal instincts than at that age. I wanted to get a sense from that setting of just how thin that veneer of civilized behaviour is, and that beneath it is not so much immoral as amoral behaviour, a kind of chaos with not a lot of structure to it. I felt like putting these in a state of nature would allow me to play visually and symbolically with their lives.

You’re also playing with the sheer recklessness of youth, without in the natural outdoors a safety net as might be found in the big city to catch them?

Yes, there’s all the bravado and pride and adrenaline-seeking side of youth, there’s definitely the potential for negative things to happen. And I know people in the community in which we shot die every year from jumping off cliffs, and yet there’s a cliff-jumping culture that I and others grew up with. There was no cliff that I’d rather not jump off of, to avoid feeling the shame of not jumping after my friends had jumped. There’s this weird one-upmanship where your pride and the potential harm don’t seem to figure as a balanced equation. You just have no choice, and so you end up doing stupid things.

Tell us about the three young boy characters, each of whom is different and yet feed into your coming-of-age storyline.

A still from "Sleeping Giant"     Courtesy of Film Forge

A still from “Sleeping Giant” Courtesy of Film Forge

For me, these three characters I see as being on completely different trajectories, and there’s a point of intersection for them. Adam and Riley both want something from each other. Riley is drawn to the stability and the seeming normalcy of Adam’s middle-class existence. He’s got a father and mother figure in a complete family that Riley covets. And Adam has bubble-wrapped parents that are far too protective and don’t engage with or understand him. So Adam is drawn to the recklessness of the other two boys.

Nate is the third character and can come across as a jerk. But he’s the only character who shows true honesty. And even including the adults, he’s the only person in the film who knows exactly who he is and where he’s going in life and is comfortable with that. He’s already figured that out.

So his (Nate’s) cruelty is armour. He and Riley come from a difficult family situation. Riley’s response is to seek comfort, to which there’s a vulnerability. Nate deals with it in the complete opposite way, through sarcasm and cruelty.

So Adam, drawn to reckless boys like Nate and Riley, becomes evermore reckless himself to deal with his own coming-of-age insecurities.

Jackson Martin as "Adam" in "Sleeping Giant"       Courtesy of Film Forge

Jackson Martin as “Adam” in “Sleeping Giant”       Courtesy of Film Forge

He (Adam) kind of lives in a space where things happen to him a lot, and he’s a fairly passive character. So it takes a lot of hurt and sense of helplessness to jump-start a sense of agency within him. And he starts to act out and take control of his situation, but hasn’t figured out how to control that and the sense of consequences that might ripple out. That’s where the title came from – an awakening for Adam, the idea of coming to terms with the fact that he does have power.

The film climaxes with a cliff-jumping scene where Nate leaps not with fear but curious nonchalance. Why did you choose that motivation for his character?

This cliff they’re up on is virtually impossible to jump. And Nate really doesn’t think Riley will ever jump. So we end up with both boys playing chicken with each other. And Nate banks on knowing Riley and knowing he won’t jump and being able to shame him. But when they get up, Riley is too hurt and frustrated. He means it and will jump. By then Nate can’t talk him down. So he jumps with Riley because that’s how loyal he is, at the end of the day.

So Nate, despite his villainous facade, has an inner honour code?

He absolutely does. When you see him becoming more cruel during the film, Nate knows who he is, and Riley is the closest person for him. They really only have one another in their lives. And Riley is trying to spend time with this other family. Riley wants to experience a different future than the one Nate sees for both of them. So he’s losing his closest companion. That’s where a lot of the aggression comes from, towards Adam in particular.

You screened your film in Cannes as part of International Critics’ Week, in Munich and in Karlovy Vary. How have European audiences received it?

The audiences have been so far really great. It’s fun to sit with an audience for your film and experience how they shift as they respond to your material. They’ve responded well to the humour in the film. There’s a lot of story and character to talk about that’s quite serious, and I’m glad that’s what they’ve talked about. But they’ve also recognized the humour in the film.

The “Sleeping Giant” North American premiere takes place at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 15 at 9 p.m. at the Winter Garden Theatre. The second screening is on September 17 at 9 p.m. at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

For more information, check out the TIFF web page and the “Sleeping Giant” website.

 

 

TIFF: Review: Mina Shum’s ‘Ninth Floor’

“Ninth Floor”Vero Boncompagni/Courtesy of NFB

With “Ninth Floor,” filmmaker Mina Shum (“Double Happiness”) jumps into feature documentary filmmaking with heavy subject matter and a new take on talking-head formats.

Shum’s film booms deeply; its focus is the controversies over the 1969 protests and riots at Montreal’s Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University). The events were sparked when a group of Caribbean students voiced concerns that a professor had directed racist comments and actions toward them. The university’s handling of the complaints caused students from across the city to band together and the situation evolved into a war with the administration.

The heated events took place over 40 years ago, but the outspoken individuals who are interviewed in “Ninth Floor” vividly recount every harrowing instant of the sit-ins, protests and occupation of the university, honouring the significance of this tumultuous and tainted moment in Canadian history. The audience can feel the film reverberate with passion throughout, and the feeling is astonishing.

That overpowering sensation that Shum builds so well with archival footage and courageous interviews plays more quietly in the latter half of the film, but the use of cinematographic styles and crisp editing keep “Ninth Floor’s” heart continuously beating like a steady drum.

“Ninth Floor” has its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Saturday, September 12 at 7:15 p.m. at the Scotiabank Theatre.

The second screening will be on Monday, September 14 at 2 p.m. at the TIFF Lightbox.

Missed the TIFF screenings? Keep an eye on the “Ninth Floor” web page on the National Film Board of Canada’s site.

Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s ‘Le Dep’: A Quebec director gets real about the biggest problem in Aboriginal Canada

Eve Ringuette in Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s “Le Dep”Courtesy of Silversalt PR

Genre films are often driven by polarities between the lead characters: good versus evil, strong versus weak, new versus old. This offers instant conflict and resolves dramatic tension by answering key questions for audiences. And if an auteur director can get viewers to see more than simple human discord, they can also be left with a message of hope and renewal.

That’s a lesson that director Sonia Bonspille Boileau learned with her first feature, “Le Dep,” a character-driven crime thriller set in a rural Quebec community riven in two by the collateral damage of Canada’s residential-school era. By the climax of this heist pic, hero and anti-hero alike are allowed to heal and move on with their lives.

“The characters are based on people in my life. I won’t say who. But I wrote them with people in my life and my circle, and the storylines are based on situations that I know of, and everything has to do with how the store runs is based on (Eve Ringuette’s) experience, who worked as a store clerk,” Bonspille Boileau told CanScreen at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where “Le Dep” had its world premiere.

In this moody, theatrical drama, Quebec actress Ringuette plays a young Innu woman named Lydia who works the cashier at her father’s convenience store. One night, just as Lydia is about to close up shop, a masked robber (played by Charles Buckell-Robertson), holds her up at gunpoint. The danger is compounded when she discovers the identity of her attacker, forcing her to decide the fate of those closest to her.

But the intense interplay between characters in “Le Dep” occurs amid community polarities of parent against child, criminal against police and outsider against establishment. The result is no simple crime thriller. Bonspille Boileau has instead created a multi-layered drama in an aboriginal context about a community in turmoil, and yet a film in which the characters convey universal themes of family bonds, failure and retribution.

“There’s family dynamics that go way beyond whether you’re aboriginal or not. I didn’t want it to be this very narrow, only aboriginal film. It could be about anyone,” the director explained.

In this French-language movie, what at first seems a simple corner-store robbery-gone-wrong becomes a far more complex hostage situation. As Lydia attempts to keep her gun-toting kidnapper at bay through a cat-and-mouse storyline, “Le Dep,” with pace and precision, deals with questions of family betrayal and revenge.

Bonspille Boileau’s decision to depict in her film some of the tragic polarities in Canada’s First Nations communities even involved whether the robber, a drug addict desperate to pay off a debt, should eventually be killed off.

“I was still in the (film) treatment phase and I had the robber die. He was shot by the police officer that came back. But my script editor said, ‘If you do that, your main character has no hope whatsoever because her boyfriend kills him. You’re leaving her in despair,” Bonspille Boileau recalled.

The director was being told not to leave her audience without hope.

“He put doubt in my mind. I’m the first aboriginal female filmmaker out of Quebec to make this type of film. This is what I’d be setting,” Bonspille Boileau explained.

The solution to the scene was instead to hand agency back to Lydia.

“I wanted to make sure she remained the person in control of the situation, right to the very end. It’s a power shift. (The robber) has control at the beginning. But as the story goes on, (Lydia) slowly takes control, loses it at one point, and then regains control and has the power in the end,” Bonspille Boileau said.

The director explained that putting Lydia in the driver’s seat was no easy task.

“I don’t want to sound like a feminist, but I had mainly men giving me feedback, and it was really hard to tell them, ‘No, (Lydia’s) the lead, he’s not.’ They would have control shift to him. After all, he’s holding the gun,” Bonspille Boileau said.

“Action films always have a man with a gun and we’re going to follow him. I wanted (“Le Dep”) to be from her perspective,” she added.

As it happens, Ringuette plays Lydia stoically for most of the film. But her coolness shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of anger. In the movie’s final scene, Lydia erupts emotionally, as she finally takes command of events.

“I wanted to build up for this scene,” Ringuette said. “I knew I would find it hard to play the last scene, where I pop out. I just wanted her to look like she was still calm, and that she wanted to have control.”

Bonspille Boileau added that Lydia is not so much passive as not willing to show her fright or stress, as “Le Dep” slowly reveals a surprising bond between robber and captive. The film diverts Lydia’s anger away from aggression and towards constructive engagement and healing.

“When we were rehearsing, it was important that the characters have balance. (The robber’s) over the top. He’s yelling and bouncing around. So (Lydia’s) thoughts and emotions are more interior, so it didn’t turn into a shouting match,” she explained.

“And I wanted her to not show the robber that she was afraid. You can feel her stress, but also she’s trying to remain calm. And at the end, I said, let it all out,” Bonspille Boileau added.

“Le Dep” producer Jason Brennan of Nish Media explained that Lydia’s stoic nature for most of the film reflects the reality of many aboriginal women.

“They’ve seen so much crap, so they’ve built this stoic character. Having dealt with so many emotions, it takes a lot to push them over the edge. So the last scene is (Lydia’s) breaking point,” he said.

The final scene also ties into the ravages of substance abuse and violence faced by the residential-school generations.

“These people grew up not knowing how to parent their own kids. They have all this anger built up, and turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve their pain,” Bonspille Boileau said of the backdrop to “Le Dep.”

But despite being held at gunpoint by a desperate robber, Lydia wants to be the glue that holds a family and a community together.

“At the end, even when I was writing, I knew the final scene would work if she became the child that saw the dad beat the mom. That’s what we discussed – (Lydia) going into that little girl zone, going back to being the innocent kid,” the director explained.

The end of “Le Dep” holds a surprise for those Canadians who have long assumed that this country’s First Nations can never overcome the ravages of poverty, violence and substance abuse to reach a place where all is reversed and the damned can be saved.

The return from Karlovy Vary to Canada of “Le Dep,” which also stars Yan England and Robert-Pierre Cote, is timely as it comes during a political thaw. The residential-school era, where cultural genocide was disguised as Christian charity, is at long last being talked about by Canadians.

“Suddenly there’s more of an openness. So our film arrives at a good time,” Brennan said.

But as much as the film was well received in Karlovy Vary, Bonspille Boileau is wary about how Canadians will respond to “Le Dep.”

“We don’t really want to see it (the impact of residential schools) because it’s our backyard. The relationship between First Nations and Canada is still fragile,” the director said.

“Le Dep” has its Canadian theatrical release on August 7 and is distributed by K-Films Amerique in Quebec. For more information, check out the “Le Dep” website.