It was quite disappointing when the Vanguard programme of the Toronto International Film Festival was dropped to decreased the size of the festival. Vanguard was home to some great classics like Cold Fish, Goodnight Mommy and The Duke of Burgundy. Once more we were quite surprised that Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes stepped down which all had us wondering about the future of this beloved part of the festival. Peter Kuplowsky has taken over the reigns of Midnight Madness and has selected Canadian director’s Seth Smith’s film The Crescent who brought you the festival circuit favourite Lowlife. The Crescent follows the life of a woman and her child who embark on a dark journey to a remote coastal estate in order to deal with the loss of her husband. What should be considered a getaway quickly becomes an eerie and creepy downward spiral for her bringing her down to the pits of anxiety. FERNTV spoke to director Seth Smith about the angle of The Crescent.
FERNTV: Can you tell us here on FERNTV of why you wanted to get into the film industry as a director?
Seth: I just get bored easily. I like keeping busy and doing a lot of things, visual art, music, writing… Film kind of combines all of those for me. There are a lot of different stages in making a film that keep things interesting.
FERNTV: Give us an idea of what inspired this story for this film and why Danika Vandersteen was perfect for the lead role?
Seth: At the time of writing I just had my first child and there were all of these new, wonderful, primal feelings I hadn’t experienced before. Also some intense anxiety. It was also a time when there were some deaths in the family and it really made me think about how precious and temporary everything is. So I really drew from that.
With such a young child starring in this our primary concern was to surround ourselves with good people to make things safe and comfortable. Danika is such a kind person and positive force. The two instantly got along and it just felt right. She’s also a super talented visual artist. Marbling is a pretty technically complicated art form and it was important to pull it off like a pro.
FERNTV: How were you able to cast two year old Woodrow Graves for this film?
Seth: He is my kid. We had previously done a short together, a bunch of home videos. I think it’s nice to involve family in your work. I spent a year making this film and spent a lot of it with him. And we had a lot fun. I don’t think I would want to attempt it with someone else’s child. Communication is so hard at that age and I think you really need to be the parent to know how they are feeling.
FERNTV: Was it difficult to film some of the scenes that Woodrow was in and did he have an idea that he was in a film acting?
Seth: The difficult part was getting only one take each scene. We learned pretty quick that’s all he had the attention span for. So the challenge became setting up multiple cameras and trying to give him and Danika a little space, and almost treat it like nature photography. Danika led the scenes and Woodrow would mostly just be himself. But he was very good at line reading. It was a perfect time where he really liked echoing speech. And he definitely did know that he was being filmed. He likes working the camera too. Luckily he didn’t stare at thelense the whole time.
FERNTV: Do you feel that this film follows the tradition of Canadian horror?
Seth: I don’t know. I grew up on Canadian horror for sure. Love Cronenberg. Lately, I’m very inspired by all the good work coming out of Nova Scotia. Look out for Heather Young’s MILK, and Cory Bowles’ Black Cop also at TIFF this year.
FERNTV: Describe the experience of how it is like to have your own band, Dog Day, compose the score for this film?
Seth: It’s very affordable. No, it’s nice. Definitely different from writing pop tunes. More fluid. I really enjoy it and hope to do more. But I’m actually looking forward to going back to playing a little rock n’ roll.
FERNTV: Explain the feeling of having Raven Banner behind you in this film?
Seth: There aren’t a whole lot of distributors in Canada and we’re lucky to have Raven Banner around focusing on smaller. genre, and weird films. I’m glad they exist and we’re very happy to be teamed up with them for The Crescent.
FERNTV: What are some of the advice you would give to the up and coming filmmakers here in Canada?
Seth: Be nice to people you work with. Be open to feedback but trust your vision. Prepare. Don’t wait around for the perfect time, gear, money, etc. Do it now. Keep active. Try harder.
FERNTV: How does it feel to be part of TIFF and of course everyone’s favourite Midnight Madness?
Seth: Midnight Madness is the best. We’re very honoured to be apart of Peter Kuplowsky’s inaugural year as the new programmer. I’m glad he’s also taking on some of the weirder films that might have have been in the Vanguard section. And I can’t wait for people to actually see this thing we made. This is actually my first year at TIFF and I can’t wait to tear it apart!
FAKE BLOOD ISN’T FAKING AROUND
It was really unfortunate that we were unable to interview both Rob Grant and Mike Kovac during last year’s Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival. When FERNTV heard about the opportunity to have a one on one with Rob Grant we could not leave this stone unturned. Fake Blood is the film that is buzzing around the film circuit which focuses on both Rob Grant and Mike Kovac who receive a creepy fan video for their previous film Mon Ami. The video motivates the two to investigate the responsibility of filmmakers in portraying violence in movies. It has been a while since we have seen an original and crafty film like that of Fake Blood. It does in fact bring up a lot of conversations to the mix about different topics that this this film touches upon. FERNTV spoke to director Rob Grant to initiate our first conversation.
JURASSIC PARK IN CONCERT ROARS INTO TORONTO
The film E.T.-The Extra Terrestrial Live in Concert hit the Sony Centre during the Christmas season last year, and it was a once in a lifetime experience where you will be able to see the musical score performed live right in front of you and watch one of the most epic films of all time. Last year, the live orchestra was lead by none other than conductor Evan Mitchell who will once again head this year’s live orchestra of another Steven Spielberg film. This holiday season, the film Jurassic Park: Live in Concert will roar its way to the screen at The Sony Centre. With the combination of big dinosaurs on the screen along with a beautiful musical score, Jurassic Park: Live in Concert will be an experience that the whole family will love during this holiday season. FERNTV spoke to conductor Evan Mitchell on how he became who he is today and why this time around, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park: Live in Concert can not be missed.
FERNTV: Tell us here on FERNTV about the story of the day you wanted to become a conductor and was there a direct influence to that?
Evan: Conducting was something I ended up doing more and more during my advanced studies while I was also working on my percussion performance degree. I wouldn’t say there was a single day where I wanted to be a conductor, I wanted to do it all! That being said, I had to make a choice when it came time to pursue a Masters degree, and I ultimately ended up choosing the baton.
FERNTV: Can you briefly tell us about the experience of being a consultant to the VOC and associate producer for the recording of the medal ceremony national anthems?
Evan: It was fabulous, I was receiving parcels every few days from the International Olympic Committee filled with scores for my perusal. When it came time for the session, being on the headset in the booth for the two days while those national anthems were recorded was a magnificent experience, one I’m very proud of.
FERNTV: What inspired SoundSync and who can you credit of putting this all together?
Evan: Believe it or not, I was inspired by the old MTV “Pop Up Video” segments when I was trying to find a workable way to present the equivalent of the museum “Silent tour guide headsets” to symphony audiences. In terms of putting it together, I’m proud to say that SoundSync is absolutely my pet project. I create all the slide content and mark up the scores, and I spent a good two months working out the best tech implementation to implement in the concert hall.
FERNTV: Do you always feel pressure when performing in front of children and how do you make it appeal to them?
Evan: Children are actually very appreciative audiences, so I don’t feel pressure in that way, but I think that concerts for young people are among the most important that we perform, so there is that particular drive to succeed as far as I’m concerned. In terms of finding a way to appeal to younger audiences, it’s also easier than one might think. You just don’t take yourself seriously, have lots of fun, and give the kids credit for being able to understand what you’re trying to present. Also I always make a point of performing selections which might challenge the kids a bit, because they’re up for it. Attention spans in young people are far better than I think most people realize.
FERNTV: When you watch the film Whiplash, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Evan: In my opinion, Whiplash is kind of a exaggeration of that kind of teacher/student relationship, but it’s based on a teaching style which definitely existed in advanced studies at least while I was finishing up my formal education. It can work for some students, but in my experience it’s certainly not beneficial for everybody. And I do believe that the times are changing, that particular approach to teaching is becoming less and less prevalent in music schools.
FERNTV: From what you already know, how will conducting Jurassic Park differ from last year’s E.T.?
Evan: The biggest change will be in the nature and style of the music. E.T. is a very emotional film from top to bottom and it’s almost like an opera, very flexible and free. Jurassic Park has some of those moments of intimacy, but once things start to go off the rails, the focus of the music is more on the drive of it all, and so it’s more about intensity and endurance.
FERNTV: What do you think that will be most challenging when conducting for Jurassic Park in Concert?
Evan: The biggest challenge for me is always keeping things exactly where they’re supposed to in relation to the film. If I’m half a second off of where I should be in the film, it drives me crazy. I’m obsessive about these things. That being said, it will also be a challenge to carve out the right feeling for the lighter, more personal character moments in the film. I want to make sure we do those justice.
FERNTV: What is your favourite part of the film?
Evan: That would be when Drs. Grant and Sattler first see a live dinosaur as they are being driven around the park in a jeep. Everything about the way its put together, from the individual performances to the camera placement (focused on their reaction rather than on the dinosaur itself until we can’t stand it any more) and the brilliant build in the music. It’s an exceptional cinematic moment, in my opinion.
FERNTV: Do you feel this will be a great opportunity for all of the family to get together to watch something amazing?
Evan: These types of performances, where the film is being projected while the orchestra plays live and in sync, they are the very best way to experience these films. It’s extraordinary. If you’ve seen Jurassic Park a dozen times, you’ll find something new in this performance, and also a good chunk of the time you’ll forget the orchestra is even there. Live performance are always the way to go, and I think this will be an unbelievable experience for everyone who comes.
LADY BIRD SOARS AT TIFF
The trials and tribulations of youth are put on display in Greta Gerwig’s confident and excellent directorial debut, Lady Bird, becoming one of the most buzz-worthy films of this TIFF season, and a coming-of-age film for the ages.
Lady Bird, which stars Saoirse Ronan as the titular Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, is a touching and hilarious portrayal of teenage life during early-aughts America. Young people so often feel suffocated by their environment, and Gerwig takes a very specific story of a girl wanting to escape her lower middle class life in Sacremento, California during the high school season of 2002-2003 for the seemingly greener grass of New York City — a place to which she has never even visited — and made it feel universal.
The film’s cast is populated by marvels, beginning with Ronan herself as Lady Bird. Throughout the film, Ronan is saddled with the task of exhibiting every single possible tumultuous feeling or emotion that a girl of Lady Bird’s age may experience, and she deftly hits them all. The stubborn and abrasive nature of the character could have led to audiences revolting against her, but Gerwig and Ronan are able to bring such honesty and heart to Lady Bird that it is hard not to feel for her and root for her, despite some misguided decisions and actions.
Though Ronan is the unmistakable star of the film, Lady Bird’s story cannot exist without the supporting characters of her life, especially her mother, Marion, played by the inimitable Laurie Metcalfe. As Marion, Metcalfe is able to be all the things a mother of a teenage girl often is, for better or for worse. What sets her apart from so many previous on-screen mothers is that she is neither just a strict authoritarian, nor is she simply a gentle and caring soul. She is many different facets in one complete package, a strict mother who is able to have fun with her daughter in between moments of scolding or condescension.
Like Lady Bird, Marion is unapologetically herself, which leads to many clashes between the mother-daughter duo, but also a silent kinship between the two. It is so refreshing to see a mother-daughter relationship that is neither that of best friends, nor that of enemies — a realistic portrayal of two people bound by unconditional love, even if that live does not always translate to liking one another. It is in this relationship that the film lives more than anywhere else, and elevates the film far above others that try to tackle the perplexing period of life that is adolescence.
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