With the ever-increasing stress of surviving in the Big Smoke, it’s apparently tempting to move to where the action isn’t — or wasn’t — until recently. Ever since the Leslie Nielsen and Paul Gross movie, Men With Brooms swept into Sudbury in 2001, the northern Ontario film industry has steadily ramped up. Hollywood flicks are increasingly shooting there, as are Canadian productions and co-pros. Two big- city converts, Pierre Bonhomme and Heather Dahlstrom, who now work at Sudbury’s CION Film and Television, weigh in on what’s hot and happening on the Canadian Shield.
Says Dahlstrom, “My Toronto friends don’t get it, but the north is popping. I’m from Thunder Bay originally and would never have left if this was available then.” Bonhomme concurs, “It’s a complete lifestyle change. [As crew development and outreach officers] it’s exciting to help people develop their skills. We both have filmmaking backgrounds so we understand the artistic process.”
Bonhomme and Dahlstrom cite a plethora of associated businesses that have defiantly blossomed on the forbidding northern terrain. A small sample includes: Apple Box Catering, Mom and Props, and a film-focused design and fabrication shop, Black Rectangle Brand Inc. run by production designer Peter Mihaichuk. Perhaps the most impressive example of northern success is Thunder Bay’s CINEVATE that took off after celebrated filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s 11) used their Cinevate Brevis Lens Adaptor for RED camera and gave it a rave review.
Says Bonhomme, “Recognizable stars now regularly stroll the streets. Right now Ethan Hawke is in Sudbury shooting the Chet Baker feature, Born to be Blue.” Bonhomme chuckles and adds, “When Ryan Reynolds was here shooting the Atom Egoyan thriller [The Captive] a local kid was tweeting from a fake Ryan Reynolds account, ‘I’m eating a bagel on Main Street right now.’ I guess we’ve arrived.”
Around since the 1880s Chapleau has a well-documented history of illegal cross- border liquor delivery. Schmidt, and his co-writer Jeremy Beal, changed bootlegging to drug running and crafted a lean, modern thriller.
Says Schmidt, “If you can’t spend money, you have to spend time, especially in post.” The hours spent developing, shooting, and sculpting the film earned TRTT a Toronto Independent Film Festival Award for best micro budget feature. Says Schmidt, “Without the willingness of people in small communities to lend their support, snow plows and property, films like ours wouldn’t happen.”
“So many people made Tophet a success, our cinematographer, Ronald Richard, our exec producer, David Anselmo (Hideaway Pictures), our cast was a small miracle, and having Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers) narrate was a tremendous asset. If I had one piece of advice for filmmakers: pour the time into it and screen your movie before it’s finished for as many friends as possible.”
The eight year-old Grand River Film Festival has grown into quite the contender. With the prolific Sturla Gunnarsson (Such a Long Journey) screening his latest film, Monsoon at the Cambridge-based festival, and international films such as the Sundance selected documentary SEPIDEH: Reaching For the Stars lighting up local screens, it’s clear that you don’t have to be in a city centre for the world to come to you.
According to GRFF Executive Director, Tamara Louks, being accepted as part of TIFF Film Circuit has ensured their standing as a viable festival.
Says Louks, “It really helps to strategically map out your vision. Thanks to a Trillium Grant we were able to define our shared goal. Our new mission statement is: to celebrate and inspire community through the shared experience of film.”
Louks explains how they connect with the community in two ways: through screening Canadian films, and via screening international films that share a common issue like the environment. For instance, at their 2014 festival they screened the documentary Rise of the EcoWarriors in which a group of activists spend 100 days in the jungles of Borneo to fight deforestation and give hope to the endangered orangutans. They also invite local experts in to discuss the issues with the audience.
“Quality is key, we don’t screen a hundred films,” Louks emphasizes, “We screen seven features and have a shorts program – and all are selected based on our mission statement.”
Canadian comedies that made the cut include the Nova Scotia set romcom Relative Happiness that follows the journey of a plus-sized beauty (Melissa Bergland) looking for a date to her sister’s wedding, and Big News From Grand Rock, about the editor of a small town newspaper (The Listener’s Ennis Esmer) who staves off bankruptcy by inventing titillating news stories based on plots from old Hollywood films.
Judith Klassen is a Toronto-based writer, comedian, filmmaker, and host of the celeb talk show Judecast.