Michelle Ehlen is a filmmaker and actress who began her career on the stage, cast as a man in her third grade play; she was the only one dedicated to memorizing all of the lines. After gaining a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Film from Smith College she moved to L.A. In L.A. she studied at the L.A. Film School and graduated with a concentration on writing and directing. In 2003 her thesis short film Half-Laughing aired on HUGO and Here TV. In 2007 she wrote and acted in her first feature film Butch Jamie a comedy about a butch lesbian who gets cast as a man in a film. She has since developed a sequel entitled Heterosexual Jill where self-proclaimed ‘ex-lesbian’ Jill is determined to hunt down her ex-girlfriend Jamie to prove to herself that she is no longer attracted to her.
Reelout Rita: Was it always your plan to do a sequel to Butch Jamie or did the inspiration come later? In either case, what was your inspiration for Heterosexual Jill?
Michelle: I didn’t come up with the idea to do a sequel until we were shooting “Butch Jamie”. On set I realized I really liked the dynamic between Jamie and Jill, and thought it would be fun to further explore their relationship in another film. Since that film focused mostly on gender, I liked the idea of doing another installment that focused on sexuality. And I’m actually writing a third film in the series right right now called “S&M Sally,” that will focus on relationships and one’s changing identity within a relationship.
Reelout Rita: What Queer films/videos or filmmakers have left a lasting impact on you?
Michelle: The film that had the most direct impact on me, while not really a queer film, was the comedy “Best in Show.” I had done a lot of acting growing up but hadn’t really been drawn to doing comedy until I saw that film and it just really clicked with me – the idea of doing comedy in a very straight-forward and grounded way, which made it hilarious to me as an audience member, and it felt do-able for me as a filmmaker and actor. As for queer films, my two personal favorites are “Tipping the Velvet” and “Kissing Jessica Stein”, mainly because they’re both a lot of fun and don’t take themselves too seriously.
Reelout Rita: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Michelle: I started acting when I was a kid, mainly because I was shy and it was an outlet for me. That eventually lead to directing theater and doing short video projects. When I graduated from college, I moved out to L.A. to pursue a career as a film editor, both because I enjoyed it and because it seemed somewhat practical as a job track. Editing other filmmakers’ projects reignited my passion for telling stories, so I then decided to go to the L.A. Film School to study writing and directing.
Reelout Rita: It must be both very difficult and very rewarding to be writer, director, producer and act in the film. Do you have any comments on this?
Michelle: It has its challenges, although I’m used to working that way and compartmentalizing my different roles, so mostly I find it very rewarding. I like keeping the productions small to minimize off-screen stress, and everyone seems to have fun working on the film, which helps in translating that fun energy to the screen. I believe strongly in letting the actors come from a more spontaneous and intuitive place, so in some ways I think getting out of their way and just being present in the moment helps. Every actor works differently, but I know for myself, as an actor I prefer not to have a director since I do my best work when I’m not overly concerned about how I come across. Not having to please anyone is incredibly freeing. Then when I put my editor hat on, I can watch the footage with a more critical eye.
Reelout Rita: What is the biggest thing you hope viewers will take from this film?
Michelle: I’ve found that regardless of where people identify on the sexuality spectrum, they find something that either resonates with them, makes them think, or just makes them laugh. I think everyone takes something different away from it, and I like that idea. I know for me, the main themes I wanted to explore were double standards in sexual identity, and people being overly attached to who they think they are or how they should behave.
Michelle Ehlen’s Film HETEROSEXUAL JILL at 7pm Saturday, February 8th at The Screening Room (120 Princess Street).
ADAM KIRKHAM (Writer/Associate Producer) is a Toronto-based writer, producer and collaborator. He holds a BA in Theatre from York University, specializing in both Theatre Production and Collective Creation. Adam is a core collaborator with the Flemish Beauty Film collective. His first screenplay, “The Inquisitive Snail”, was produced by Flemish Beauty and has screened across the world. When screening “The Inquisitive Snail” at the Victoria International Film Festival in 2009, Flemish Beauty Films was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 20 Promising Filmmakers by a panel that included producer Michael Donovan (Bowling for Columbine), director Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) and Maclean’s film critic Brian D. Johnson. Adam is also part of the team at Hot Docs as Sponsorship Marketing Manager where he manages a portfolio including the Hot Docs Canadian International Festival, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Prime Time in Ottawa (with the CMPA) and theWorld Congress of Science and Factual Producers.
He is the producer of the gay zombie short HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHAD screening this year the Reelout festival.
Reelout Rita: What’s your favourite zombie movie and why?
Adam: Tough question – there are so many great films out there! Having to choose one, I’m going to go with Shaun of the Dead. It’s a movie that has a lot of personality and was built through a collaborative process with a group of artists who have worked with each other over various projects. The cohesion built on their past successes brings a lot of charm to the film while honouring the Zombie genre and giving audiences plenty of laughs, scares and an interesting plot line to tie it all together.
Reelout Rita: Your film premiered at the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto last May. What was that experience like?
Adam: Screening at Inside Out was a really enriching experience. It’s our home-town LGBT festival, and it was the premiere of the first collaboration between Jason and I; that made it feel extra special.
Having real, public audience watching and reacting to your work is a thrill, and it was also great to see the work of so many other filmmakers – and to meet the people who work day in and day out to build opportunities for queer filmmakers. When working on queer focused projects, it can feel a bit daunting that your work will be lumped into one category and one stream of opportunities. It’s very encouraging to feel supported by a community of people who say ‘yes, your film has LGBT themes, but let’s talk about what else it is too’.
Reelout Rita: What Queer films/Videos or Filmmakers have left a lasting impact on you?
Adam: John Waters & Divine are pretty fantastic for the fact that they really just followed their dreams, didn’t hold anything back and created films that were extremely unique for their time. If you aren’t familiar with their work, check out the documentary “I am Divine” and you will love them too.
Another thing I’ve always loved about LGBT cinema, is that there are so many little gems by first-time and one-off filmmakers. Make LGBT Cinema something regular on your rental, festival or download list and try new things with an open mind
JASON SHARMAN is a Toronto-based filmmaker and performer with a BFA in Theatre from York University. Having a passion for the arts, Jason has studied film, acting, directing, playwriting, piano, graphic design, photography, painting, and dance. Jason has appeared on stage in shows like “Rule of Thumb” (Toronto Fringe 2008 – “Outstanding Ensemble” NOW Magazine) and “Vacancy” (The Creative Ensemble). He has also appeared in numerous film projects including a lead role in the independent horror film “Queen of the Zombie Punks”.Jason is also part of the team at Behind The Scenes Services where he does the Business and Legal Affairs for many television and film productions. He has worked on productions such as “Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh”, “Sanctuary”, “Bump!”, and “Textuality”.
The zombie short “Happy Birthday Chad!” (playing in the OUT THERE! Shorts presented by Inside Out LGBT Film Festival Toronto at 2pm SAT Feb 1 at The Screening Room) marks his directorial debut.
Reelout Rita: What is your favourite zombie movie and why?
Jason: My favourite zombie film would have to be “Return of the Living Dead”. It scared me as a kid but I love it today. The dark humour, the special effects make-up, the music and the over-the-top acting are so unapologetically ‘80s and I absolutely love it. Plus it has a punk rock chick named “Trash” dancing around naked in a cemetery rocking some fierce pink legwarmers.
Reelout Rita: Your film premiered at the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto last May. What was that experience like?
Jason: It was my first film festival experience attending as a filmmaker so it was pretty exciting. For me, seeing our film play on the big screen for the first time (and it being at the TIFF Bell Lightbox) was the most exciting and memorable moment of the festival. I also loved having the opportunity to meet the other filmmakers and other industry professionals. At the filmmakers’ brunch we met a member of the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre and they are now the distributor for “Happy Birthday Chad!”. Then to receive the Emerging Canadian Artist Award at the end of the festival was the cherry on top to an already incredible experience.
Reelout Rita: Jason, you had the chance to attend Out Fest in L.A. How was it a different experience from Inside Out?
Jason: The experience of simply being in L.A. to screen our film was pretty surreal. The main difference I noticed with Outfest would have to be the amount of events. Everyday there were several functions or opportunities to meet and schmooze with industry professionals while enjoying an Absolut Vodka. A couple of the highlights for me were the Horror Panel (with Bryan Fuller and Kimberley Peirce) and the filmmakers’ pool party in the Hollywood Hills.
Reelout Rita: What queer films/videos or filmmakers have left a lasting impact on you?
Jason: Some of the first queer films I saw as a teenager (“Beautiful Thing”, “Get Real”, and “But I’m a Cheerleader”) had a huge impact on me. I was in the closet and these movies really helped show me that it was okay to be gay and there were others like me. Later on I discovered Charles Busch and fell in love with his films. “Psycho Beach Party” and “Die, Mommie, Die!” are hilariously over-the-top and just a lot fun.
If you visit www.thirzacuthand.com (and you should) the first thing you’ll learn about Cuthand is she’s a “Filmmaker, Performance Artist, General Troublemaker”. Her short, experimental narrative videos have been huge hits with not just Reelout audiences but with audiences around the world. Here works have been screened at Tribeca Film Festival in NYC, Hot Docs in Toronto, Frameline in San Francisco and Mix Brasil in Sao Paolo. She completed her BFA majoring in Film and Video at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. In 2012 she was an artist in residence at Villa K. Magdalena in Hamburg where she completed Boi Oh Boi playing in the DEAR LESBOS WITH LOVE program at 4pm Saturday, February 8th at The Screening Room (120 Princess St) where audiences will have the opportunity to engage with Thirza. Reelout Rita chats with Thirza in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Reelout Rita: In addition to your new work Boi Oh Boi, Reelout is screening older, memorable works by Canadian artists from the past 15 years including your short “Helpless Maiden Makes an “I” Statement” in our Laugh Out Loud Shorts on Friday, Feb 7th at 7pm. Can you still relate to the films you made 15 years ago?
Thirza: It’s different now, I understand the thoughts I had when making them, but I really feel it’s the voice of someone dealing with Youth issues. I’ve come to accept that I can’t really talk from the viewpoint of a youth anymore, so I let them stand on their own.
Reelout Rita: Do you often wish you could go back and address the same issues again with the wisdom and life experience you have now?
Thirza: Not really, sometimes I think about revisiting issues, but like I said I have accepted that some of the youth related videos I made need to stay as being made by a youth.
Reelout Rita: Why do you think there is so little work about two-spirit identities in queer film?
Thirza: I think it’s a combination of people being closeted in First Nations cultures, for whatever reason (i.e. living in small rural communities where being openly queer is frowned upon), and also feeling like the issues facing First Nations people as a whole may be more important than issues facing a smaller segment of First Nations people. I think it is changing though as these issues get easier to talk about within our communities.
Reelout Rita: What queer films over the past 15 years have inspired you?
Thirza: I was really inspired by the work of Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan. I also have felt inspired by feature filmmakers like John Cameron Mitchell and Todd Haynes. I remember when I was just coming out I was watching I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing by Patricia Rozema, it’s such a Canadian classic, I think that has probably influenced me in some way.
Reelout Rita: What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a web series about Indigenous People going to Mars in a Soviet-era spaceship because they just landed a major land claims deal. It’s a comedy, I’ve been working on the idea since 2001 when it was birthed as a performance piece. Some of the crew members are queer, because I am trying to expand my work to include marginalized people where they are just there, it’s not about their queerness being an out of place thing.
Meet Thirza Cuthand at the 15th anniversary Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival. See 7pm Laugh Out Loud Shorts on Friday, February 8th and Dear Lesbos With Love the following day at 4pm. Both screenings are at The Screening Room (120 Princess Street). Buy tickets for these and other screenings ONLINE at TicketScene HERE.
Laine Zisman Newman is a PhD student at the Centre for Drama, Theatre & Performance Studies and the collaborative program in Sexual Diversity Studies. After receiving an MA in Drama from the University in Toronto in 2010, Zisman Newman completed her MFA in Documentary Media at Ryerson University in June 2013. Her current research focuses on how queer women’s performance practices are shaped and transformed by the ephemerality of queer women’s spaces and the cultural and political policies that mediate them. In addition to her academic pursuits, Zisman Newman currently works as a dramaturge with Pat the Dog Theatre Creation and her documentary short, “You’re Not My Target Audience.” is screening at Reelout in our DEAR LESBOS WITH LOVE program at 4pm Saturday, February 8th at The Screening Room.
Reelout Rita: Can you remember the first time you attended a queer film festival? Where was it and what memories do you have of that experience?
Laine: I think I attended my first queer film festival in Toronto, shortly after I came out. I grew up in a very progressive household and went to see a lot of queer theatre when I was younger, but for some reason had never gone to a queer film festival. I remember going to my first festival and being amazed that there were queer movies made by queer people — It was a revelation seeing representations of queer bodies on screen that I could relate to.
Reelout Rita: Your research focuses on women’s performance practices and I wondered which artists inspire you?
Laine: There are so many incredible women performers and creators who produce challenging, unafraid and provocative work. In addition to the three women in my film, who truly are inspirations in my own academic and creative practice, Split Britches does wonderful work, as well as Nina Arsenault. Earlier this year Toronto-based artist Allyson Mitchell constructed “Kill Joy’s Kastle: A Lesbian-Feminist Haunted House,” which, for me, was one of the most notable recent accomplishments in queer women’s space making. The performances and the event itself were great creative achievements and inspirations.
Reelout Rita: What queer films made in the last 15 years have left an impact on you either personally or professionally?
Laine: I will be honest in saying that But I am a Cheerleader (1999), which I first saw when I was too young to understand it, had a wonderfully playful influence on who I have become personally. There are so many really beautifully made films that have effected me. One recent film that made an impact was Maryam Keshavarz’s Circumstance (2011).
Reelout Rita: During our formative years, the Reelout collective ensured that the festival programmed films that were “safe spaces” for queer women. During your research, what have you gleaned about the relevance of creating “safe spaces” for women during cultural events targeting the larger queer community?
Laine: It is so important that everyone feel invited, involved and included at an event. But, one of the things I have become aware of is how we use the term “safe space” as a catch-all statement, which wants to suggest that we can escape systemic oppression in purpose-specific spaces. It assumes we might be able to create a space that successfully disassociates itself from colonialism, transphobia, ableism, white privilege, capitalism, and sexism – in reality of course, these subversive structures inescapably infiltrate all spaces and interactions. Perhaps, working to improve our experience of space begins by recognizing that a “safe space” is not yet attainable even in isolated instances.
With that, of course I do think it is incredibly important to make space for different identity groups, not merely by showcasing works by people from diverse demographics, but also by inviting them to contribute to and spearhead curation and programming. For me, one of the most important things for cultural events targeting the queer community to do, is to recognize and to address the diversity within it. The “queer community” is no one thing and the most exciting and invigorating queer events are those, which support and promote the creation of spaces for diverse creative projects and identities.
Laine Zisman Newman will be in attendance along with fellow filmmakers Thirza Cuthand and Myriam Fougere at DEAR LESBOS WITH LOVE at 4pm Saturday, February 8th at The Screening Room (120 Princess St). Tickets are available online HERE.
Reelout audiences will be the first in the WORLD to see writer/director Eric Henry‘s first feature film SEEK at 9pm Thursday, January 30th at The Screening Room. Originally from Sudbury, Eric Henry studied Broadcast TV/Video in North Bay before making the big city move to Toronto where he is currently produces and directs corporate and enterprise broadcasts and videos for some of Canada’s largest financial institutions. Eric and the film’s costar Ryan Fisher are currently collaborating on some future film projects and the two will be in Kingston to watch their film with an audience for the first time! Our intrepid Reelout blogger Reelout Rita had a chance to catch up with Eric Henry just before the holidays.
Reelout Rita: Eric you skipped from (arguably) the bottom of the filmmaking food chain from Production Assistant to writer/director of your first feature film seemingly overnight. How did you make that happen?
Eric: After being an assistant for several years and directing many corporate videos I knew that I wanted to direct a feature film, and I had to start to work and get it done. I booked vacation time two years ahead of time, and set that as my goal to shoot the film. I worked hard getting everything together and was able to live out my dream.
Reelout Rita: This is going to be a World Premiere screening for SEEK. Excited?
Eric: Seek’s showing at Kingston is the beginning of a new journey for me. The days are counting down to the event, and there is not much more that could make me happier. After making a film which is inspired by much of my recent life experiences and made in cooperation with people that are my friends and that I admire, my excitement is also joined with the feeling of great fear. It is scary to share so much of yourself with strangers, but I also think it will be a cathartic experience. I keep imagining what it’ll be like sitting in a dark cinema and the emotions I’ll feel when Kevon Cronin’s score blares through the sound system.
Reelout Rita: SEEK’s cast is comprised of almost all Canadian actors. How did you manage to cast U.S actor/model Matthew Ludwinski?
Eric: Part of my plan was to feature life in Toronto and feature Canadian talent. I did need to have an actor who was known to a larger audience, and that is why I cast Matthew Ludwinski in the role of ‘Jordan.’ Most people familiar with gay cinema will know Matthew from the film ‘Going Down in La La Land,’ many people have asked how did you get him in the film. The short and truthful answer is I just emailed him the script, and asked him to be in the film. Luckily for the film, he said yes.
Reelout Rita: Can Reelout audiences expect to see you and your cast and crew at the screening?
Eric: It has been a long process, but I am excited that Ryan Fisher (‘Hunter’ in the film) and I will be able to sit with the first audience that sees the film.
SEEK by writer/director Eric Henry is screening at 9pm Thursday January 30th at The Screening Room (120 Princess St)along with the short films Playing It Straight by Michael P. Kenney and Straight With You by Daan Bol. Tickets are $10 or $8 with student I.D. and will be available at the door or buy online at Ticketscene here
Just a few days ago, Reelout Rita got in touch with filmmaker, Chase Joynt to learn more about his passion for storytelling. He was recently awarded the EP Canada/Canada Film Capital Award for Emerging Canadian Artist and the Jury Award at the Regent Park Film Festival so, he’s kind of a big deal. Not only does Chase appear in Buck Angel’s Sexing the Transman (the groundbreaking documentary playing at this years festival!) but he is also exhibiting an experimental documentary short at festivals all over the world. Akin explores the relationship and shared secrets between an Orthodox Jewish mother and her transgendered son (Chase). Beautiful in it’s simplicity, Akin is a touching short that Reelout is pleased to exhibit.
Reelout Rita: Your work (Resisterectomy, Everyday to Stay, Akin) is deeply personal and you are very candid about your thoughts and experiences as a trans person. What is it about your experiences that compelled you to share them with others? Why is it important to generate dialogue on these issues?
Chase: I started making this kind of work because I wasn’t finding representations of myself, or my experiences, that made sense to me. My artistic motivation has never been fueled by the belief that the existing work is “right or wrong” per se, but more so that I believe so many other important ideas are missing from the conversation. Complications, nuances, and contradictions map all over my experiences as a trans person, and I continue to wonder what it might mean to create work that pays specific attention to those missing pieces.
“Generating dialogue” as you suggest is complicated, because ultimately, you aren’t responsible for the conversations that stem from your work. Regardless, I continue to be motivated by those conversations, even when they sit in contradiction to my initial intent. I don’t make work to “fill gaps”, but rather to populate the field with other representative possibilities and personal potentials.
Reelout Rita: Akin juxtaposes the haunting sounds of Canadian group, Ohbijou, with your own voice and suburban visuals. What is it about this band that appealed to you? Does music play a large role in your life? Will it be something that will continue to permeate your experimental features?
Chase: I am drawn to music, and music makers, that endeavor to tell stories. Like film, I think music is capable of taking audiences on a journey. I am very lucky to be in a community of artists in Toronto who generously offer their talents to other projects, which is admittedly the only reason I was able to use Ohbijou’s music in Akin. Casey Mecija (the lead singer of Ohbijou) writes music that inspires pictures. I think we can all reference music that compels us to close our eyes and imagine a world different from that which we can see, and Casey’s work continues to be a source of that inspiration for me.
Reelout Rita: As a Toronto native, what is it about Toronto that inspires you to create these works? Are there other cities that inspire you?
Chase: Though born here, I left Toronto after high school for a decade of life and love in California. I returned to Canada having transitioned, and as such experienced my return to the city as somewhat of a new person. Toronto is full of artists and thinkers that remind me to keep checking my assumptions about who I am, and about what that might mean to other people.
Reelout Rita: Akin touches on some of your youthful memories but I was wondering what some other memories might be? Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Chase: I’m pretty sure my mom would argue that I was born performing and making art for anyone who would watch or listen. “Youth” as a category of time for me is a complicated place; it contains a lot of violence and instability, all the while carrying strongholds of love and unending affection. I suppose that tension is what continues to fuel my work today… mom’s (unabashedly biased) opinions and endorsements included.
Reelout Rita: If you could say one thing to your younger self, what would it be and why?
Chase: I would tell that human to hold on. To trust that things will settle. And to avoid that first tattoo, cause that shit will be embarrassing in your 30’s.
Be sure to catch Akin on Saturday, February 2 at 7pm in Cinema 1 of The Screening Room. Chase will be in attendance
This week, Reelout Rita caught up with writer/director/Jane-of-all-trades Heather Tobin about her new feature, Route of Acceptance. After starting her own independent film company, To Each Her Own Films, she has worked on multiple projects – most notably, an award-winning documentary on same-sex marriage (I Do?) and a feature film involving a young married woman whose life is transformed after meeting an exciting and openly gay woman (To Each Her Own). Now, she’s bringing us her sophomore effort, Route of Acceptance, which is a concept film that explores the possibility of destiny. The striking and talented Emily Alatalo plays aspiring screen writer, Ryan Stark, who is agonizing over which university to attend in the fall. Through various realities – and multiple hair colours – the audience is privy to Ryan’s possible futures, which change depending on the university she attends. The film, which Tobin wrote, produced, edited and directed, will be screened at this year’s festival with cast and crew in attendance.
Reelout Rita: Ryan’s *multiple* storylines don’t follow the ‘typical’ lesbian storyline (ex. a woman leaves her husband after falling for a beautiful lesbian). In fact, the film seems to challenge that sort of story as Ryan faces an array of challenges in each of her possible futures. What inspired you to write this non-linear narrative and were there challenges you faced when creating this intersection of realities?
Heather: My first narrative feature film, To Each Her Own, was just that story. Married woman Jess, meets super gay activist, promiscuous Casey. It was a little different from the typical coming out story in the sense that the characters were very young, and the film has a very youthful feel to it which doesn’t fit the norm of the “married woman” movie target market age group.
But yes, with Route of Acceptance I wanted to do the opposite of that. I didn’t want [the film] to be a story about a lesbian so much as just a story that happens to star a lesbian. I wanted to make a film that would reach a broader audience. I wanted straight mainstream [audiences] to want to see this film just as much as someone coming out would.
To me the very best movies are concept films. I tend to watch most movies in theatres; there’s just something about the theatre experience that can’t be beat, no matter how big your home television set or how good your surround sound is. And every time I see a really good movie that blows my mind and gives me the kind of goosebumps that confirm that movie making is the only thing I could do with my life, it just happens to be a concept film (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cloud Atlas). So I wanted to bring a really unique idea and concept film to the lesbian movie scene. Non-linear films are my favourite and I wanted to challenge myself as a filmmaker to see if I could pull one off. What I like about RoA is that, like all good concept films, the first time you watch it you won’t get everything. In fact, some people may not even understand what’s going on (unless they’ve read the description of what the film is about) until they are almost at the end of the film. But I like that each time you watch the movie, as a viewer you’ll discover more and more things about it.
Keeping the realities straight was a challenge. It was hard because Emily Alatalo (Lead, Ryan Stark) had to dye her hair three different colours and we had to shoot accordingly. And with an ultra low budget film where the cast and crew are volunteering their time, you also have to work around everyone’s “real jobs” so scheduling-wise it was a nightmare having to work around Emily’s hair colours which meant having to shoot around that and [everyone’s] availability. There was this one shoot day where we had a picture up in the room from a wedding that hadn’t occurred yet in the timeline so we had to reshoot the master shot. Little challenges like that all add up when filming something so complex with so many layers that jumps time frames so much.
Reelout Rita: Did you have a clear vision of what Ryan’s character might look like? What made you choose Emily Alatalo for such a challenging role?
Heather: For me, casting is without a doubt the absolute most important thing. I think the only reason my no budget films are able to compete with movies with funding is in fact casting. I truly believe that Hannah Hogan of TEHO and Emily Alatalo of RoA are in fact undiscovered super stars. And it won’t be long until they are rocking mainstream media and hopefully bringing more awareness of the existence of TEHO and RoA.
So to answer your question, yes I had a vision going into casting of what Ryan Stark should look like and no Emily was that original vision. But she is now exactly what I picture for Ryan. Emily blew me away with her talent and although she didn’t fit my original intentions of the super dyke look, emily totally rocked the roll and became a better vision of Ryan than I could have ever imagined up. It is my firm belief that you cast the best actor who auditions regardless of their physical appearance and that if she’s as good as you think, the vision will form around her because she will work to become it. Emily and I did a lot of research and put a lot into her becoming Ryan Stark, the one in my head that I wrote and I think she did a stand up job of that.
Reelout Rita: At the beginning of the film, Ryan and her brother Cory engage in some playful banter in which she says, “Gay is just a word and I refuse to empower that word by letting it bother me.” What are your thoughts on the stigma surrounding those sorts of words and do you share any of Ryan’s views?
Heather: I have mixed thoughts around the word “gay” as being used as a word to describe something someone doesn’t like. It’s really a popular word right now, although I do agree with what I wrote that getting all worked up over someone saying the word “gay” when they don’t mean any offence to gay people is probably counter productive. On the other hand, “that’s so gay” is derived from hatred towards things that are in fact gay, so how can that not be offensive!? You can only truly control what you do and by being the change you want to see, so I think that at the very least the queer community itself should refrain from calling things “gay”. Sometimes we can be the biggest contributors to using the word in such a manner.
Reelout Rita: Later on, Ryan claims that soulmates don’t exist and “destiny is just an excuse for lazy people. Hard work equals good life – the end.” Do you believe in destiny in some form or another?
Heather: Solid question. Hmmm, well the entire premise of RoA revolves around the question of “does destiny exist?” The film leaves the issue up to audience interpretation, which was my intention because I think that believing in destiny is a very personal question and I didn’t want to dictate my opinions on the viewer – I wanted them to make their own conclusions from watching. So I think the film does in fact reflect my personal opinions about destiny; Some days it feels like it exists and some days it feels like it doesn’t. Either way, the excitement exists in not knowing what the future holds for us. On the other hand, being someone who literally spends at least 80 hours a week making films that matter and hopefully make a difference, I do believe that you create your own destiny practically and I do believe that it is determination and drive that’ll get you places.
I’ve wanted to make films since I was twelve and spent my paper route money on a recordable VHS camera so maybe it’s my destiny or maybe it’s because I’m the crazy kid who decided to go to film school instead of becoming a doctor or anything with more stability and although destiny may be a catalyst to certain occurrences, it is only with your drive and determination that you can reach this potential destiny. If you sit around on a couch playing video games all day, your great and powerful destiny won’t just come knocking on your doorstep, so to speak.
Reelout Rita: Your production company, To Each Her Own Films, is off to a great start with your first feature (of the same title) and now, RoA. What plans do you have for the future?
Heather: Well the next year of my life will be about social networking and spreading the word about all my film’s existence. As much as I love making films [I] don’t really like the marketing aspect as much [even though] it’s part of the job. There’s no point in having great films in your possession if you can’t find a way to share them with people. So against all my burning urges to start shooting again, I’m trying to take a year away from that so I can focus all my energy on awareness about my three films. But as soon as that’s done, I’m super stoked to start up another feature film.
Life reflects art. I recently went though a break-up and I’d like to make a film that is a statement on the fragile nature of relationships. I’d like to make a film the opposite of RoA and TEHO that’s less “love conquers all” and more “love can only take you so far.” My two favourite films right now revolve around this theme – they are Take This Waltz and Like Crazy, so I’d like to do a lesbian film that is a combination of these two brilliant films. But I’d also like to stick with non-linear filmmaking. I see my next film being a little Memento-esque (another brilliant concept film) where it starts at the end and ends at the beginning.
Reelout Rita: The theme for our festival this year is youth. Route of Acceptance is a very youthful feature that speaks to a lot of youth issues such as self-discovery, family, first loves and sexuality. Do you hope to continue and create films that target this audience? What sort of films did you love growing up and did any of them inspire you to create your own?
Heather: I work on a very low budget and therefore I can only afford to cast non-union actors. I pride myself in being able to find the next gem of the film industry before the mainstream finds them, which means finding undiscovered talent. And so it makes sense to look for that young adult right out of acting school. So for practical reasons I shoot with a generally younger cast. But yes, I find I do relate to younger issues, which makes them easier to write about. I’ve never been married. I haven’t found the one. I myself don’t own my own house yet and don’t have experience of being in a long term – say over 10 year relationship – so it’d be harder for me to write about the hardships of these things as I haven’t gone through them yet. So yes, for now anyways, I see myself sticking to writing about characters between the ages of 18-35. Also business-wise it is best to make things that aren’t already being made. And for the most part, most of the lesbian films being made are in the over-35 age category. But on the other hand, I feel like I’ve always been an old soul and I think I write characters who are wise and have a sense of self enlightenment that would be worthwhile to watch regardless of the age category you fall under. I feel like all age groups and genders and sexual orientations can benefit and learn from the morals and characters in my films. I anticipate my next film will be based around three lesbians (yes, it will be a love triangle film) around 26-29.
Léa Pool‘s Lost and Delirious, was a huge inspiration in my life – it’s my absolute favourite lesbian film. It was after watching this that I felt comfortable in coming out to my best friend. I really hope that my films can do for others what this film did for me, which is really the entire reason I do this. Oddly enough, it was filming my first feature documenary (I Do?) that gave me the strength to come out to the rest of the world. I filmed this back in 2004 while the process of allowing same-sex marriage was underway in Canada. In the film, I interviewed the first couple in Canada to be married and the minister and lawyer that made it all happen, plus a wackload of other people in the LGBTQ community and their supporters. And after meeting all these powerful and strong people of the queer community it was pretty impossible to not feel safe and proud of my sexuality. From then on I knew the only films I would be making would be LGBTQ and that I had to make them because not enough people were and the media has such great potential to create change. If you have the ability and know how to do so, you have to follow through and do it. It’s so strange to me to think back to a time when I wasn’t out to others and myself, because I pride myself in screaming gay from rooftops these days and I dedicate basically every second of my life to lesbian filmmaking.
Be sure to catch Route of Acceptance on Saturday, February 2nd at 4pm in Cinema 2 of The Screening Room. Director Heather Tobin and lead actors will be in attendance!!
Interview by Robbie Reelout
Adam Garnet Jones (Cree/Métis) is a queer filmmaker originally from Edmonton, Alberta. His short films have been broadcast on television and screened widely at film festivals, including ImagineNATIVE. In 2008, Adam received the imagineNATIVE/Canwest Mentorship Award and was the recent recipient of the RBC Emerging Artist Award. Adam and his producing partner and actress Sarah Kolasky will be screening their short film LIAR in our Queer Youth Shorts evening program at 7pm Sunday, February 3rd at The Screening Room (120 Princess Street) in Kingston as well as participants in our Directing Actors & Acting for the Screen youth workshop at the central branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library at 1pm on Sunday, February 3rd.
Robbie Reelout: This film struck a chord with me because it seems intent on presenting this short story as fact. Was Liar based upon something you experienced/witnessed in your lifetime?
Adam: The short answer is… no. The film isn’t really based on anything that I have experienced directly. It’s pure fiction, but it draws on my own adolescent paranoia over being outed, and my own guilt and anxieties about the role that passive people can play in violent scenarios. When I was a teenager, a girl named Reena Virk was murdered in my neighborhood by a group of girls she knew. The media portrayed Virk’s death as a tragedy, but also as a kind of fluke. It didn’t seem like a fluke to me at all. The tension that I remember as a teenager, and the threat of physical violence was common. It seemed to me that it was more surprising that things like this didn’t happen more often. All of these memories came back to me when I was writing LIAR. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I was writing a film about someone making the choice whether to remain passive or take action.
Robbie Reelout: Each character seems to have some sort of motivation to either stand back and let the harsh events unfold or get involved with these tough issues. Which character do you think was the most important in this story?
Adam: I wrestled with the question of who was most important in the story a lot. I initially wrote the film (and ultimately shot it) with the intention that it would be a truly ensemble film, with all of the characters given the same weight onscreen. I wanted the audience to be able to place themselves in any of the characters’ shoes at any moment. When it came time to edit the film, people who watched early cuts found that without one character to focus on, they had a hard time identifying with any of the characters onscreen. The multil-character short film was a good exercise, but in reality it didn’t work out as well. We ultimately solved the problem by choosing to focus the film more on Tara’s story. Her decision to stand up to her sister and her friend (if only for a moment) seemed to speak the loudest, and involve the most emotional complexity. I considered making the film more focused on Brian, but his passivity in the end made hm more difficult to identify with. I also liked the idea of making a film about a gay bashing that wasn’t a gay bashing, that didn’t entirely side with the victim.
Robbie Reelout: Which scene/character/line best expresses what you hope to project onto audiences seeing this film?
Adam: Lying to girls fucks them up? Ha, ha. I have no idea. Probably the very end of the film, because you have the sense that even though this young girl has chosen to act in this specific moment, she has a million tough choices ahead of her, and the people in her life aren’t going to make it any easier.
Robbie Reelout: Who is the biggest liar in your film?
Adam: Stories are a series of lies that take some kind of satisfying shape, and I’m the writer so… me? I’m the liar.