First off let me start by apologizing profusely for the lack of updates the past months. Sometimes real life just takes over and prevents you from doing the things you love. But we’re back today with an interview about a truly great Canadian film!
Remember to check Three if By Space for your Falling Skies news!
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak with Canadian filmmaker Jonathan Hayes, director of upcoming film Algonquin. Algonquin, which I had the privilege (thanks to the great folks at Agency 71) of seeing a copy of online, is a truly touching story of family brokenness, and ultimately understanding. Without further ado, onto the interview!
Blog: Can you tell us a little about Algonquin?
JH: Algonquin is the story of Jake, an unhappy teacher whose estranged father appears at the family home with a proposal that his grown son join him in writing a book that is going to put the father, who is a once successful travel writer, back on the literary map. Jake agrees to this proposition reluctantly, he sees this as an opportunity to understand this man that he never really knew.
Blog: Tell us a little about how Algonquin came to be.
JH: I’ve been interested for some time in developing a story based upon a father-son relationship, that was the starting ground. I wanted to play with genre and genre expectations a bit, I knew that going in. A friend of mine, who is an author, was telling me some stories about how he broke into publishing; and his first book was in fact a travel guide to Algonquin park. He was telling me these stories around the same time I was looking for a setting on which to the hang the story. I think it was a combination, it’s never one thing, of the confluence between the park, the idea of a writer; and a father-son relationship where the dynamic of the relationship is very much the son living in the father’s shadow, he is almost overwhelmed by this larger than life guy. Those were the beginnings of the script.
Blog: For our US readers can you tell us about Algonquin Park?
JH: I’m glad you asked. Algonquin Park is located a couple of hours north of the city of Toronto. Though we don’t celebrate our national icons quite the way [Americans] do, it is very much equivalent in majesty and splendor to the great national parks of America like Yosemite. It is a massive wilderness [7,653 square kilometres (2,955 sq mi) -Gregory]. Algonquin has sort of a mythic quality that works on the Canadian population. Americans will probably be unfamiliar with this group of painters who used Algonquin as inspiration at the turn of the last century; they were called the Group of Seven and they took considerable inspiration from the park, some of the most renowned Canadian paintings have their setting in Algonquin.
Blog: Tell us a little about how production went.
JH: Each production is different. In this one the risk we had was the number of outdoor or exterior days required in the script. We were really rolling the dice on weather. We shot it in the fall, in September-early October. What’s really interesting about Algonquin [Park] at that time of in year in what I might call the “Near North” of Canada is that the colours on the trees just explode, it’s quite incredible to see; but the truth is that fall up in the north happens very, very quickly. You have about a week where the colours are at their peak and super vibrant and then it’s all over and your fighting the loss of leaves. So we were ever mindful of the continuity of the shoot as we were shooting out of order and we were trying to maintain a semblance of continuity. We got incredibly lucky with the weather that we were there for the peak of the colours. When you can tap into the natural beauty of a setting such as that it only helps tell your story.
Production was quick. I know everyone one says “The crew was terrific,” it’s almost a production cliché, but they really were. We brought around 25 people up from Toronto to Algonquin Park. We worked with a local film college in North Bay Ontario. Local film students came out and help supplement the numbers. It was a really great tradeoff, they got hands on experience and we got much needed bodies to help move the production along, so that was really terrific. I think they enjoyed seeing how it’s all put together and interacting with Canadian talent, people that are widely recognized in Canadian film and TV and theatre.
Blog: Were you funded through Telefilm?
JH: Yes, a combination of Telefilm and private investors.
Blog: What was Agency 71’s involvement?
JH: David Miller is our terrific executive producer. We partnered with them on the film, and they have done just an excellent job in steering the film to audiences and just offer good guidance along the way. They’re a terrific partner. We are glad to have their enthusiasm and expertise as our Canadian distributor with the film set to be released this April.
Blog: What is your own background as a filmmaker?
JH: I come at film through story. I’ve got a [literature] degree from McGill, which is a school in Montreal. I’ve always been interested in story Most writers love movies, it’s a given, and I’m no exception, so that’s the way I got into it. I cracked my way into the business by doing a short film based upon one of my literary heroes, Donald Barthelme, who wrote for the New Yorker in the 60s and 70s. He specialized in what some people call flash fiction: short, short stories. I adapted one of his great ones called “The School.” That film premiered at a world wide short film festival ten years ago now, it won the audience choice award. Later that year we screened in competition at Sundance and programmers there named it one of the ten must see films of the festival. It had a real dream run for us. That was how I got my start in the industry.
Blog: Any closing thoughts?
JH: I would want to tell you that the film was put together with a combination of really true up and coming talent behind the camera, and industry veterans specifically Nicholas Campbell and Sheila McCarthy. Mark Rendall carries the film, he gives a really soulful and wonderful performance in the role of Jake. Nicholas Campbell does the most important thing as an actor and that is making you believe that the words on the page have just occurred to him and he is reacting to what he has heard from the other characters. There’s a dynamic energy is every one of his scenes.
I would encourage American audiences who are curious about Canadian films to explore other films. I feel like we are at the beginning of something really exciting in Canadian film, it’s a pleasure to be part of something that has a renewed energy.