Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is There Anybody Out There?

Well, hello...

If anyone's still here after all this time, let me just say, thank you.

For my final post at this site, and on the heels of my penultimate final post fittingly titled "Of Resurrection", I am pleased to announce that the struggling scribe in me has begun another journey towards a film, and I am committing to publicly sharing that scintillating experience every agonizing inch of the way. 

Sound fun?

Sure it does. Think of it as a kind of reality t.v. of the mind. 


Okay, well come on over anyway and crawl up inside my nautilus shell-shaped brain that is right this moment working on a screenplay titled, A Nutshell of Infinite Space

That's right, from the same people who brought you, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom comes another originally titled (so far) film about a young Québécois idealist who seeks out his literary idol, only to become the main character in the great writer's final work - engineering his own death. 

It's based on a true story. That could have happened. If some things had been different.

Least bit curious? Click here and follow the winding path toward my new film...

Monday, April 9, 2012

Of Resurrection

Easter Monday seems as fitting a day as any to talk about the possibility of rising from the dead.

The fallout from this year's funding cuts to our national cultural institutions - of which CBC, NFB and Telefilm are the biggies - has only just begun to be felt in real terms across the country.

Not that last week's announcements of the resulting job and program losses should come as any surprise. It's pretty straightforward mathematics no matter how you slice it: Cuts = Cuts.

But with the NFB shutting down their public outlets in Toronto and Montreal, and CBC announcing intentions to run commercials on Radio 2 as well as replace original programming with even more US syndicated re-runs on TV, it already feels like our current cultural landscape has suffered something of a mini-tsunami.

Likely there's going to be more losses to be absorbed - and mourned - before all is said and done.

And of course, this week it's Telefilm's turn. On Tuesday or Wednesday, our national funding body for original Canadian film and television production is expected to announce its own strategy for cutting costs to fit the number that is their new reality - and ours.

So today, we're all probably coming down off a sugar high and bracing for the next wave of "culture shock" to hit us. And just like in the aftermath of any severe shock, there's bound to be hard times, holes and scars ahead.

But - and here's where that Easter miracle comes in - I'm really feeling like we have to have faith - faith that something really good and strong will eventually rise from these ashes.

Maybe it's all that Easter chocolate talking, but today at least, I have to believe that there will - eventually - be some exciting new growth after the clear-cut. There will inevitably have to be new ways of seeing and doing things that, in some cases at least, may lead to an even more vital, vibrant and sustainable cultural landscape than ever before.

And if it turns out I'm wrong, we may have to talk to Jesus.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tributes (the pre-Hunger Games Variety)

What a winning weekend! (the pre-Charlie Sheen variety)

No sooner had I finished posting the announcement on our Facebook page about our soul sisters and soundtrack contributors, The Wailin' Jennys winning a Juno in the category "Roots & Traditional Album of the Year: Group" for their beautiful recording, Bright Morning Stars - I'm telling you, the "click" sound had barely died out - when the news that Miss Julia Stone had garnered two nominations at the prestigious Young Artist Awards popped up in my inbox!

In fact, as soon as she found out herself, Julia immediately shared with us that she had received a nomination for Best Actor in an International Feature Film for her breakout performance in our movie, and another for Best Actor in a Short Film for her work in Ellipse, a UBC production!

I was thrilled for her! These nominations are so richly deserved - and, frankly, long overdue. Julia is the real deal (in my humble opinion). And as you know, if you've seen either one of these films (or any of her other rapidly growing oeuvre), Julia gives such strong, stirring, at times transcendent, performances in everything she does.

So, in tribute to Julia's two nominations in this important awards show, I'd like to share the letter I wrote in support of her candidacy, as it was a perfect opportunity for me to say many of the things I have had in my heart about all that she brought to the film...

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing this letter in heartfelt support of Julia Sarah Stone’s candidacy for nomination in the category of BEST PERFORMANCE IN AN INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM. As writer/director, it is my great privilege and good fortune to have cast Julia Sarah Stone as “Elizabeth Gray” in my feature film, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom. Set in the 1970’s, the film centers on the inner life and outer rebellion of this pre-pubescent girl. As such, casting this role well was critical to the film’s very existence, let alone its subsequent success.

Appearing as she does in almost every scene of this coming-of-age film dealing with issues of identity, Julia literally had to carry the movie on her shoulders. Watching her compelling, nuanced, genuine performance in every single one of those scenes, you would never guess that this was her feature acting début. She brings a credible, yet fragile combination of depth and innocence to the character of Elizabeth who is dealing with a profound longing to belong in the face of some almost primal betrayals.

Throughout the film, Julia was called upon to walk that finest of lines - the one between little girl and young woman and back again – an incredibly unpredictable and elusive trait of puberty, and yet Julia was able to do it “on command”! This level of precision and understanding makes her, in my mind, a true actor possessed of a maturity, discipline and craft far beyond her years.

One of the many “chapters” in the film that I feel captures Julia’s dexterity in navigating this slippery geography – at once conveying innocence, vulnerability and a dawning self-awareness – begins in the classroom scene of the first act and continues through to the confrontation scene between Elizabeth and her parents in the kitchen.

As I said, this is only one example of many that speak so clearly of Julia’s understated, powerful performance in a film that truly lives and breathes in large thanks to her assured and sensitive portrayal of Elizabeth Gray.

My sincere regards,

Tara Johns


Monday, March 26, 2012

Muffins or Music or Both

Sitting in my (semi) clean office, I'm trying to focus on creating an outline for this new film project with visions of the film parade I watched over the weekend still dancing in my head (Glengarry Glen Ross, Adaptation, The Motorcycle Diaries, The Limey)...

But in true screenwriter fashion (see Adaptation, the banana nut muffin scene), I'm already casting about for a detour. Or a reward.

So I decided to kill two birds with one stone. And I started messing about on iTunes, pulling together another playlist - this time, for the musical soundtrack of my writing life... musical food for creative thought...

Here's what I've got so far:

Charlie Parker - Charlie Parker on Verve
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain
Esperanza Spalding - Chamber Music Society
Cold Specks - all three existing singles
Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters
Chet Baker - Chet Baker Plays, Chet

And since I'm always on the hunt for inspiration, it seems fitting I should share the name and work of a prolific writer I recently met. Her name is Nausica Zaballos. She is a busy young woman from France - a doctor of American Civilization and a published author! of a book titled, "Crimes et procès sensationnels à Los Angeles". She came to our festival Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois on behalf of the Festival Paris Cinéma. She was here as their representative, as well as serving as a jury member with me on the Vox prize we awarded to the best student short film during the Rendez-vous.

Well, apparently Nausica fell in love with our film and wrote a very thoughtful and in-depth article about her "festival favourite", The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom on the Paris Cinéma website. If you can read French, you can read it here!

And while you do that, I think I'll just pop out and get me a muffin. Maybe banana nut...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Play List

I've cleaned my office.

And we all know what that means...! Not that I'm moving. Or that Spring is in the air. Or even that I am in the habit of cleaning my office every so often whether it needs it (badly) or not.... No, the fact that I have just cleaned my office means only one thing - that I am poised on the verge of the anticipation of actually sitting down and seriously attempting to finally write something new.

It's still very early in the process, however, so I'm not quite ready to come out of the closet and talk about the specifics of the project just yet. But I CAN divulge that I am right now, as we speak, very hard at work - composing lists.

Whenever I seriously sit down to attempt to actually write, the very first thing I put to proverbial paper (besides title ideas) ... is a bunch of lists. Lists of film, books, art and music that will in some ways evoke the tone, theme, or spirit of the project I'm about to embark on. I find it really effective to bathe myself in all kinds of seemingly disparate but somehow related material to stimulate and feed the creative process...

So just to prove that I'm not procrastinating (too much), here's a glimpse of one of those ever-growing lists...

- The Limey
- Motorcycle Diaries
- Naked Lunch
- Glengarry Glen Ross
- Midnight Cowboy
- Capturing Mary
- Adaptation
- Jacob's Ladder
- Rashomon

And on... and on... and, while I'm off doing this, and other equally stimulating "homework" for my next project, our first film is pretty much out in the world taking care of itself! Coming off 3 well-attended festival screenings in Sweden, "The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom" is next heading for a little fun and sun in Miami at the 2012 Women's International Film & Arts Festival at the end of this month!

And not long after that great event, we can all look forward to its THEATRICAL RELEASE across the pond in the U.K. and Ireland! What a great way to kick off summertime!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fever, Film and World Peace

Dragging myself out of stomach flu this week while finishing up a couple of shoots, I have - I regret - all systems on "dim" right now. But the Canadian cinema horizon is looking quite bright in contrast - with both the Genie and the Jutra awards being handed out this week and lots of accompanying chatter keeping it top of mind for a lot of us.

Leaving aside the various controversies surrounding both events, it's just heartening to see our homegrown artists and their art being celebrated in an increasingly popular arena. Especially where the Genies are concerned, we've come an incredibly long way in the last few years. Consider that up until a year or two ago, the one major awards show commemorating, celebrating and nurturing our national cinema was only broadcast on an obscure digital specialty channel - effectively hiding itself from any kind of mass audience. To what end, I always wondered...

Well, now that CBC is broadcasting the show, the Genies are finally out of the bottle and on display for the entire Canadian population to watch if they so choose. So now, it's just about how to get us all to want to watch - and by extension, appreciate and consume more Canadian cinema fare.

In my semi-delirium of stomach flu, I was thinking that if this newly liberated Genie would happen to grant us three wishes, what would I ask for?

First wish: That the subscription fee for films to be eligible for Genie consideration be greatly reduced in order that every Canadian film produced in the given year - and its artisans - could afford to be eligible.

Second wish: That the Toronto-based Genies follow in the Junos' footsteps and take the show on the road! Our national cinema comes from all regions, from coast to coast to coast - setting the event in a different Canadian city every year would make the celebration more inclusive, more effervescent and give us all a greater sense of ownership!

Third wish: That we enter an extended era of world peace, economic stability and preservation of human dignity for all.

I know - but I had to ask...

In other news, the film is being screened in competition this week at the BUFF Filmfestival in Malmo, Sweden! With great regret, I'm not able to be there but Barbara's off to represent the film and probably sample a little of the local vodka while she's at it. If you're in the neighbourhood, drop by and say hi!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Making Connections

I just heard from a woman I met long ago in my adolescence when we were both slumming in Paris. She was from Holland and I was from Vancouver and we both came to the most glamorous city in the world to work under the table as "filles au pair" - a very classy sounding French term that roughly translates as, "domestic slave girl".

Anyway, a mutual friend we met during those months in Paris stayed in touch with each of us separately over the years, but the Dutch girl and I quite quickly lost our connection when we both went home.

Until Dolly did Holland, that is!

My long lost Dutch friend contacted me this weekend from Utrecht to say:

Today, your movie was on Dutch TV. Our TV-guide rates movies and yours was given 4 stars, which is real good and looking through the rest of the tv-guide does not happen that much. (5 is the maximum by the way)
Besides the short notice about the movie-story it also says: Heartwarming movie, noticably made with love [about an 11-year old girl......]

She then went on to tell me about her life, her two beautiful children and sent me a picture of the whole brood!

And this morning, another Dutch connection came from a screenwriter I met at the Lucas film festival last fall:

Hi Tara,

Tijs here, from the festival in Frankfurt, Holland, and facebook.
The year Dolly parton was my mom was on tv yesterday in Holland.
I just checked and 173.000 people watched the movie. Thats great for Holland in the middle of the sunday.

And then Tijs went on to tell me about his latest project and how we could possibly work together ...

These two unexpected connections coming out of the film's visibility in Holland gives "going Dutch" a whole new - very rewarding - meaning!

And then there's France. Aaah, France. Despite my turn in Paris as a humble babysitter/underwear ironer, I have very fond memories of my time there. So when I met not one but two French women at different functions during the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois, I naturally gravitated toward them. Turns out both had come to the screening of our film and both had liked it so much they were talking about promoting it to festivals and distributors back home. To wit, click here.

Very exciting stuff - especially since France is one of the major European countries that hasn't seemed that accessible to us up til now.

If our film does get picked up there somehow, I would dearly love to go back, if only to see that magical, maddening city of my youth -

Paris, France - where I learned to iron little boy's underpants.