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Entries in Canada (3)

Wednesday
Sep062017

WINDOW HORSES: THE ANN MARIE FLEMING INTERVIEW

Canadian multi-media artist Ann Marie Fleming has been on a three-decade journey with her creation, the indefatigable Stickgirl. The latest incarnation of the character is Rosie Ming, a mixed-race 20-something poetess who faces a new life experience when her fledgling work gains her entry into a poetry competition in Shiraz, Iran. Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming is Fleming’s debut feature, a beautifully humanistic journey of discovery bought to life by vibrant animation styles and the voices of Ellen Page, Shohreh Aghdashloo and, as Rosie, Sandra Oh, who calls the film, “Pro-girl, pro-tolerance, pro-diversity and pro-art.”

The softly-spoken Fleming (pictured, above) chatted to SCREEN-SPACE about poetry, Persia and the little stick girl that allows her a booming, creative voice…

SCREEN-SPACE: Where is your relationship at with Stickgirl? After decades together, how would you describe the life you and your creation share?

FLEMING: She’s very much who she has always been. She’s my avatar, sort of a braver, more together version of myself. She is somebody who is able to step into situations and not judge them. Having worked with her for thirty years, this is the first time she has this must exposure and the first time she has had someone els’e voice. A lot of people now associate her with Sandra’s voice, and not my own. So this is a time where she needs to go on a walkabout, reassess who she is, re-evaluate her goals.

SCREEN-SPACE: What does a ‘stick figure’ design allow you to explore about Rosie Ming?

FLEMING: Because she is just a stick character, you can put anything on her, allowing her to develop into anything you want her to be or that she wants to be. She’s an actor in this film; she’s not really Persian, her mother didn’t really die. Yet her experiences are more alive to so many people because so many people can understand and wonder about her. She is such an excellent way to enter different worlds.

SCREEN-SPACE: Was it easy to see this film to fruition? Was a humanistic portrait of Iran and its people as tough a sell as it sounds in today’s climate?

FLEMING: Many years ago, I did get development money for the film, working with my artistic collaborator Kevin Langdale, who did a great deal of the design for the film. Then, in 2009, the Iranian election happened and there was all that violence, leading to Canada cutting off ties with Iran. Suddenly, financiers and sales people were saying, “Wow, great project, but could you make it in China?” (laughs) But it was important to me to have Iran as the setting for her story, not just for political reasons but because this is a film about poetry. It is about being connected over millennia and about how deep and relevant this poetic tradition is. There aren’t too many countries where poetry is such a part of everyday life. (Pictured, above; Fleming, far-right, with voice actors Shohreh Aghdashloo and Sandra Oh).

SCREEN-SPACE: What are the benefits of animation as a platform for your narrative and the film’s message?

FLEMING: Animation is perfect for showing the imagination. So much a part of what this film is the representation of so many different points of view. Having so many different artists do the different poetry sections, coming with there own backgrounds, from different cultures, with their own skill sets, was so important. And setting the film in Iran was only possible through animation.

SCREEN-SPACE: In a world so divided by nationalism, and an administration in The White House setting such a divisive tone, are international audiences likely to be open to Rosie’s journey?

FLEMING: This story started 20 years ago, and has survived through many administrations (laughs). That’s part of the story, evolving through change. I don’t dwell on it too much in the film, but if you look at the lives of each of the poets, they each survived many different regimes or leaders or conflicts. That seems to be the story of so many artists; you are in or you are out, depending on what you say and who is willing to hear it. There have been so many wars and strifes yet through it all, poetry shows us we are still the same people, still looking at the same moon, still caring about the same things. Different software, same hardware, right?

SCREEN-SPACE: Window Horses is ultimately a film that transcends its setting, that goes beyond the borders of Iran…

FLEMING: For at least the last thirty years, most of what we hear in western society about Iranian culture is not positive. This is not a political film, but I did want to convey that point in every society where we come together as people. The poetry festival in the film is really just my experience at film festivals, where you get to listen to what artists from all over the world have to say, which is crucial if you want to converse with them. It is an environment where you can have respectful discussion, actually talk about ideas and be open to them. It is pretty special.

Thursday
Jun012017

THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT: THE KIRSTEN CARTHEW INTERVIEW

2017 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The vast, magnificent country of Canada’s Northwest Territories is home to the Gwich’in people, an indigenous population whose relationship with the flora and fauna of the unforgiving landscape dates back many centuries. In The Sun at Midnight, director Kirsten Carthew utilises the backdrop of the land and its people to tell a deeply affecting coming-of-age tale, in which a teenage girl of Gwich’in ancestry (played by Devery Jacobs) must reconnect with her heritage to survive in the Arctic Circle wilderness. “Immersion in nature supports self-discovery and mental wellness,” says Carthew, whose semi-autobiographical narrative and stunning imagery represents a remarkable debut feature. Ahead of her film’s Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, Kirsten Carthew (pictured, below) spoke with SCREEN-SPACE from Berlin, where she is accompanying the film on its international festival rollout… 


SCREEN-SPACE: It is such a unique premise for a film - the archetypal teenage coming-of-age story, but one melded with a survival drama. What inspired the narrative?

CARTHEW: The story comes from my own life, growing up as a teenager, feeling like a fish out of water, dealing with an intimate personal loss. I have moved locations many times and have always found solace and comfort in nature. Anyone who has suffered loss or felt disconnection can relate to the personal journeys of Lia and Alfred. These are the personal themes and they are universal, because as people we are so similar in our wants and needs. Additionally, themes relating to the need for greater environmental stewardship and the importance of connectivity with nature can be embraced by universal audiences, and told in The Sun At Midnight through specific references to champion protection for caribou populations, as well as for the lands and waters in the Arctic and Subarctic regions.

SCREEN-SPACE: I don't imagine the people of Fort MacPherson see a lot of film industry types. How willing and accepting of you and your crew were the population? What did you need to convey about them to ensure authenticity?

CARTHEW: The Sun At Midnight is the first feature film from Canada’s Northwest Territories. I am from a township there called Yellowknife. A feature film shoot was a new experience for Ft. McPherson, which is located at the Arctic Circle and has a population of 750 people. In 2009, I approached the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute; they shared an earlier draft of the script with elders and community members, who gave great feedback and decided to collaborate. Their participation was essential to both the story’s authenticity and the realization of the film. It took us six years to secure financing and our Gwich’in partners actively supported and contributed to the project throughout. The film was only made possible with the participation of the community of Ft. McPherson and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, who helped crew the film with locals. We held the premiere at the high school gym and had a feast for community members, who were thrilled to see people they knew on screen. The Sun At Midnight is the first film to feature Gwich’in characters, land and values and Indigenous audiences and fans of Indigenous cinema have embraced the film. We are proud of our collaboration and relationship and continued support for the film. (Pictured, above; Devery Jacobs as Lia)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your leading lady, Devery Jacobs, is such a compelling screen presence; visually, of course, but also a personality that evokes both teenage angst and an 'old soul' spirit...

CARTHEW: I was immediately struck by Devery’s screen presence during her auditions. ‘Compelling’ is exactly right. Devery is the ideal collaborator, a total pro whose acting process includes in-depth character analysis and mindful reflection. She invested fully in the role and it was easy to trust Devery to embody the role of Lia. Once Devery was cast in the role, there were some aspects of Lia’s character that organically changed now that we were co-creating the story. I loved working with Devery and value how invested, professional and just truly exceptional she is. (Pictured, above; Duane Howard as Alfred)

SCREEN-SPACE: Lia's growing respect for and unlikely friendship with Alfred is the heart of your story. How did you, Devery and the wonderful Duane Howard create the chemistry and balance in their story?

CARTHEW: We had a tight shooting schedule and little rehearsal time. I did my best to organize the shoot chronologically so that the real life relationship between Devery and Duane would develop in line with the on-screen relationship of their characters, Lia and Alfred. It was important for the performance to drive the camera-action, which meant that the camera would follow the actors’ lead. To this end, I worked alone with the actors on set to feel out the scenes before the key crew was invited to watch. I also gave the actors alone time on set before key scenes so they could be as present with each other as possible. Devery and Duane also genuinely connected and developed a friendship as individuals, which was great. I think part of their on-screen chemistry reflects their genuine respect and care for each other. 

SCREEN-SPACE: It looks to have been a physically demanding shoot, utilising locations that have been largely unseen by film cameras. What disciplines did you and your production have to master to adapt to the conditions?

CARTHEW: Over 90% of the film was shot outdoors. That’s a huge challenge because regardless of budget or location, you operate at the whim of the weather. We shot at a time of the year that should have provided the ideal filming conditions but that definitely was not the case. Instead, we experienced temperatures ranging from -5 to +22 Celsius and rain, fog, snow and sunshine. We filmed the “in town” scenes first, when it was sunny and 22 degrees.  Then, just a week later, when we started to shoot the outdoor scenes, the temperature dropped to below zero and all of our locations were suddenly under two feet of snow! We didn’t have any choice but to continue filming and incorporate the snow into the film. We had to scout new locations everyday and move quickly to stay warm, but also move more slowly to accommodate so many new technical and logistical challenges. Devery and Duane were total troopers and handled the cold with total grace. The crew was often wet, cold and, by virtue of our location along the Arctic Circle highway, forced to suck up the discomfort and plough through. We have several “war stories” from the shoot, which were a little painful at the time, but now bring us together and we laugh at! (Pictured, above; Carthew, far left, on-location with her actors)

THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT screens Sunday June 11 and Saturday June 17 at the Sydney Film Festival. Further ticketing and session information can be found at the event’s official website

Tuesday
Jan262016

THE POWER OF ONE: THE PHILLIP VIANNINI INTERVIEW

With his director Jonathan Taggart, producer Phillip Viannini spent two years documenting the off-grid existence of the sustainable communities in some of Canada’s most extreme wilderness. The result is Life Off Grid, a picturesque and profound insight into the commitment needed to live disconnected from the accepted fossil fuel-driven culture of western society. A Professor and Research Chair at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada, Viannini (pictured, below) spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the vast range of personalities his lens captured, the harsh realities of off-grid living and what Australia can do to further the off-grid cause…

When did you first become aware of the Lasqueti Island ‘Off Grid’ movement, whose residents are central to Life Off Grid?

I visited an off-grid home for the first time in 2008 whilst researching small island lifestyles and I became fascinated by the idea of living in such a different home. Where I live, the Salish Sea archipelago, many islands are off-grid and even those on-grid make use of renewable energy and practice sustainable living. I was first exposed to the Lasqueti community by a student of mine who, incidentally, now lives in Australia. When Jon and I travelled to Lasqueti for the first time I had already visited a few homes on Vancouver Island.  

Via beautiful widescreen images, you capture some extreme locales at their most photogenic. How did you settle on the aesthetics of your film?

Jon and I discussed the aesthetics of the film throughout our travels. We operated on a very small budget and, like many off-gridders--we had to make virtue out of necessity and sought beauty in simplicity. Everything we needed had to be carried by us, on our backs and hands. To get places, we had to bike, canoe, kayak, skidoo, walk, or fly small bush planes. We often stayed at off-grid cabins that we rented for the duration of our travels. Recharging batteries at the end of the day wasn't always easy so we had to carry as little equipment as we needed to recharge. So what you see is the result of a ‘Spartan’ aesthetics: one that would be as mundane as the images and sounds we captured, and therefore one as unassuming and genuine. That's why we have no aerial scenes, no camera tricks, no flashy stuff. We just let our eyes and ears dwell on what was before us--whether that was a live tree or a piece of firewood--and let that come to life. 

How has off-grid living benefitted the Lasqueti community in a ‘human’ sense? How has this living improved their outlook on life?

Practicing an off-grid lifestyle teaches anyone that life isn't easy. It's not meant to be easy. The notion that easy living, extreme comfort, and constant convenience are somehow a modern right--a cornerstone of consumer society and culture--makes absolutely no sense when you live off-grid. Whatever you get, you have to work for. And that has an interesting effect: work's results are more pleasant, easier to enjoy. Anyone who grows their own food will tell you the same thing: vegetables and fruits taste better when you work hard to grow them yourself. Living off grid is not simple, at all, but it allows you to enjoy and cultivate the simple pleasures that your labour yields. 

Has experiencing such commitment to the cause changed your views on the sustainable, off-grid culture?

It has taught both Jon and I that everything has a cost. Before I began this project I would give no thought whatsoever to simple domestic acts such as using a toaster or a microwave. Now I know how many watts/hours those appliances draw. And I am aware of the sources of electricity that generate those watts. I can tell you the precise dams that feed my house. And I know what those dams do to the local ecology.

Some of your subjects are intellectuals, academic types, who have embraced sustainable living philosophies largely because they are financially able to do so. Is off-grid ever going to be an option for the layman?

I can only recall one academic we interviewed. The reality is that most of the 200 or so people we spoke with are carefully self-taught. They're DIY craftsmen and craftswomen who have taught themselves how to wire their house or collect water or build a compost toilet. Some of these people were financially stable. Others lived below the poverty line. Most were middle class. Off-grid living is an option for anyone who is willing to (learn), regardless of income. If you want 50 coastal acres in British Columbia and require a 4 KW/h system to answer your every domestic wish then you'll need a substantial amount of capital. (But) if you can live on a 10acre lot in the prairies and can get by with less than 1 KW/h, you can still live below the poverty line but have richer existence than most people who live on the grid.

Australia seems ideally suited to off-grid acceptance. What are the steps that government bodies and commercial interests can take to inspire action?

Having just visited Tasmania, I was impressed by the solar panels I saw everywhere. I know how much Australians have worked to make their water consumption sustainable. Like Canada, Australia has a densely concentrated population in a few regions and beyond that, there are massive rural and remote lands where the grid simply isn't an option. With the acceptance of a couple of provinces, Canada does little to encourage renewable energy generation, yet it still subsidizes and promotes fossil fuel harvesting. Australia could learn from Canada's bad example and invest more, much more than Canada can possibly do, in the biggest source of energy it has: the sun. Last time I checked on my travels, there was a lot of that.

Life Off Grid will be released in Australia via TUGG Distribution on simultaneous theatrical and VOD platforms on February 4.