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.

Monday, February 27, 2012

British (etc.) Invasion

We just keep getting more cool stamps on the proverbial passport of our movie!

At the market screenings in Berlin earlier this month, the film was sold to the UK and Ireland! We're talking THEATRICAL RELEASE here people - that is, if the courtship intentions of our newest distributor, Peccadillo Pictures come to fruition!

I'm not entirely sure why, but just the idea of our film being released in British and Irish theatres totally thrills me. I guess it has something to do with the fact that when I was a kid, a British film playing in my town was seen as a big, cultural deal. It would have been the most exotic cinematic offering we'd get in Calgary at the time; the only real "alternative" to the usual, ubiquitous Hollywood fare. And I loved that new flavour.

So I guess the fact that the movie I made is going to be seen as a "foreign film" in some British or Irish kid's town, is just really cool to me.

Actually you know, it's funny - it's been a year since our film was first released and when people ask me how the film did, they always add, "Did it travel?"

I love that that is just as valid a measure of the film's merit as box office and awards...

And so on that note, it feels very nice to be able to say that after getting distribution deals in the States, the U.K., Ireland and selling to Dutch television, our film was screened at the Keswick Festival in Britain last weekend. And coming up in March and April, it's been invited to Malmo, Sweden and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Happy (continuing) travels...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stephen King's Garbage Can

Just sitting here, listening to a radio interview of the prolific and successful author, Stephen King. And King is telling this story - about his life before he was published. About how he was a young, struggling wannabe writer, who got so discouraged with his attempts at writing his ambitious first novel that he finally throws the thing out - convinced he's inadequate to his ambitions, that he's destined for failure at the only thing he really wants to do.

His wife comes along, fishes the discarded manuscript titled, "Carrie" out of the garbage can, reads it and tells him - "You know, there's really something here. Do not give up. Keep on."

Smart man, Stephen. He listened to his wife. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So, it's funny that, as I'm listening to this massively successful author tell his story, I discover a message to me on my Twitter account. A woman writes that she saw our film and thought it was great. Did I have any advice for an aspiring young filmmaker?

Well, at first I was thinking, how do I properly answer this? I take this kind of thing seriously and want to share whatever I have if it can help. But the limitations of Twitter don't allow for me to go into a whole lot of detail or depth on this question.

As it turns out, though, I really don't need more than 140 characters to give this woman the only answer that really counts:

Never Let Up.

It really all boils down to that. Those three little words are very literally the sum of all the advice anyone has ever given on this subject. They also represent whatever cumulative wisdom I've gained from my experience making this film and what I am now facing in trying to make another.

However if, like Stephen, you need a little more intervention, then allow me to quote the captivating Ira Glass, writer/producer of "This American Life"...

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me... All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this GAP.
For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not good.
But your TASTE, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.
Put yourself on a DEADLINE so that every week you will finish one story (or drawing, or poem or scene). It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. You've just gotta fight your way through.

So, if you're an aspiring writer, filmmaker or anything artistic, and you're not lucky enough to have Stephen King's wife lurking around your own metaphorical garbage can, then let these be your words to live by... "Never. Let. Up."

Because the more you do, the more you'll do - thereby exponentially increasing the odds that your abilities and opportunities will eventually catch up to your ambitions.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bearing Whitness

After Amy and Etta, the news came this Saturday that yet another singular female voice had been silenced; Whitney Houston had died.

In truth, the beautiful, other-wordly talent who made Dolly Parton's hit song, "I Will Always Love You" into a global hymn had finally succumbed - to an abusive relationship.

As we all know, Whitney had been publicly embroiled in an abusive relationship with her husband in the years when her star was reaching its zenith. As a young woman myself at the time, I looked on with confusion at this seemingly contradictory image. I had such a hard time understanding why - with all she seemed to have going for her, when everyone on the planet could see the danger she was in - why she couldn't just walk away from her abuser. Surely she had places to go, people to turn to, money to ensure her independence?

To all appearances, this stunning, spectacularly talented woman had everything it took to be happy - to paraphrase another of our earth-shattering voices - she could have had it all. Why then was she putting up with the violence, the abuse, the undermining of her very essence by some brutal man who seemed bent on destroying her? Why did she keep going back for more?

Going on to navigate my way through my own early adult relationships, I started to gain some first-hand experience and the insight that comes with it. I was eventually able to better understand how anyone could get into - and then have a hell of a time getting out of - the kind of insidious, confusing, emotional blackmail that characterizes most abusive relationships - regardless of how strong, talented, rich and smart they may be.

But then, finally, Whitney did it - she broke free! For good. It seemed. We wanted to believe.

But it slowly came to light that even though she had successfully removed herself from the perpetrator, the abuse continued.

As destructive as her marriage had been, it was another, even more important relationship that would be Whitney's final undoing. The relationship with herself. Finally, that most fundamental of relationships was too damaged. She carried on the destruction of herself that he had begun.

My heart breaks for the beauty and the incredible gifts that have been laid to waste all over the world in this same way.

That is all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Next Up...

You may have noticed the announcement going by on our Facebook page, but just in case you missed it, allow me to fill you in ... Our international sales agent, Matteo at Reel Suspects, has set up two market screenings for our film at one of the biggest barbecues on the international film festival circuit, Berlinale!

One week from today, the first of two screenings (Feb. 13 and 14 at CinemaxX 12 if you happen to be in the neighbourhood) will take place in the kind of prestigious showcase a filmmaker dares only dream of.

Given that the Germans have already asked us back three times since the film's début at Frankfurt's lovely Lucas Festival, it just feels like there's a nice kind of anglo-saxon chemistry between us and them.

So, go little film, go! Schnell, schnell!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Post #160

So, "Post #160", hey?


That's - inspired. Why not, "It's Monday" or "Title Here" or "I Got Nothing"?

Just trying to work the Muscle.

Do tell...

Okay, well in a few weeks, it will be exactly one year since the film premiered. It's been in cinemas across Canada, in festivals here and overseas. It's come out on DVD, VOD, PayTV and FreeTV. It's grown up, got a job and moved to the States for crying out loud. It's time for me to face the fact that it doesn't need me as much as it used to. It's time for me to get over the empty nest and get back into the game. Time for me to stoke up the story-making machine and get down to writing something (or things) else. But I'm so seriously out of shape - flat, flabby...

...slow, stupid...

Let's just leave it at flabby.

Okay, so - you're basically "going back to the gym" by - ... writing a blog about nothing?

Once a week - whether it needs me or not.

Intense. Shouldn't you consult your doctor before attempting such strenuous exercise?

Look, it's about sticking with it religiously until you start seeing definition again.

Uh-huh. Well in the meantime, what about getting like a coach or personal trainer to really get you motivated - kick your writing ass ...

... til I get puns of steel?...

Oh god.

You're right - I need professional help.

Okay, here's what I'm going to do... you seem like a nice enough kid so I'm going to hook you up with pen monkey punisher, Chuck Wendig. Check out his site, and especially this post in his blog (which is almost always about something).

He'll get me back in shape?

Guess we'll see next week won't we?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Big Week

This week may be the One We've Been Waiting For, but last week brought us good news very much worth celebrating as well: Jean-François Bergeron was nominated for a Genie in the Best Achievement in Editing category for his fine work on our film!

Once again, congratulations to JF, much deserved! I wish all the talented people who gave this movie life could have been nominated alongside him, but it's also kind of fitting that the guy who tied so much of so many people's great work together was named for the whole.

And lest you think that that the Genie Awards must be the illustrious end of the journey for a little film, let me tell you, there's more road ahead... The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom has been selected to official competition at the BUFF Film Festival in Malmo, Sweden! And we'll also be featured in the regular programming of this year's edition of Les Rendezvous du cinéma québécois (where our film was premiered last year).

And of course that's not all! As of today, we are poised on the 24-hour edge of the film's US release by the good guys at Osiris Entertainment. Since acquiring US distribution rights last year, Osiris' VP of Marketing, Doug Dohmen has been working hard on getting the film into as many outlets as possible south of the border. As of last week, here's the abundant fruit of his labours:

Tomorrow, Tuesday January 24th, the film will go live on VOD (Verizon FiOs, Charter, AT&T U-Verse, Mediacom, Insight, Suddenlink, etc.) and be available for purchase on DVD (over 146 Hastings stores and Ingles Markets) and online (Amazon, CDUniverse as well as right on the Osiris Entertainment website).

As you can see, there'll be many ways for our good neighbours to get some northern exposure. Spread the word!

Oh, and also happening tomorrow, a little thing called the Academy Awards will announce its final Oscar nominations for 2012!! We're all getting up early and pulling for Québec's favourite son, Philippe Falardeau and his film, Monsieur Lazhar to make the cut in the Best Foreign Language Film category! MERDE, Philippe!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Caw, Caw

Have any of you out there (if there ARE any of you still out there) ever fallen off the wagon - whatever your particular wagon is - so hard and for so long that you can't even see the wagon in the distance anymore? I'm talking, not even in the far-off, speck-on-the-horizon distance anymore? In fact, you can't even see the dust of the memory of that wagon anymore?

Well if you have, then you have some inkling of how hard it gets with each passing day to even find a way back to that wagon, let alone get the amount of momentum you'll need to catch up to it, and then somehow hoist yourself back on.

In my case, the wagon I've been running (okay, trotting) after for the last while is this very blog (there are other runaway wagons in my life, but there's probably not enough space in this particular forum to discuss them).

Some of you may have noticed that since I went to Whitehorse way back in October(!), I haven't made a single peep in this space. I honestly meant to write about my wonderful Yukon adventure and my gracious hosts as soon as I got back. But then I didn't.

And then I got busy on a directing job. And then I was off to Poland for another amazing adventure as an international jury member at the Ale Kino! Film Festival in December. And I was going to write all about THAT incredible experience as soon as I got back. But then I didn't. And then it was Christmas. And I was going to use the down time to write a kind of "year in review" post in the blog. But then I didn't (really, Christmas? Down time?). And then it was January 1st and I was going to turn over a new leaf - start the year off right. And write. But then I didn't.

And yet, here I finally am.

So then, you might ask, what DID I finally use as my magical motivator, my special occasion, my momentum, to catch up to - and actually jump back on - that remote, runaway wagon?

Well, it IS January 16th after all - but it's not that. And this morning, I did finally unpack my suitcase from last year's trips (don't ask), but as much as my boyfriend insists that that is a more special occasion than Christmas and New Year's combined, it's actually not that either. So then what WAS it?

It was a sign.

If you have seen the film for which this blog was created, I think you'll appreciate the layers of meaning in the anecdote I'm about to share....

So, there I was, watching football and notably NOT writing this blog, when a random thought came into my head. For some reason, I suddenly thought about Akalu Meekis. He plays the Métis man with the magpie tattoo in our film. His character gives Marion and Elizabeth directions to their destination, and by virtue of their common interest in the magpie, some indication as to Elizabeth's destiny - that of messenger.

Okay, so I'm sitting there watching football and Akalu crosses my mind out of the blue. I haven't seen him since the film premiered in Winnipeg in June, where we had a brief chat about his plans for the future. So I casually wondered if he had finished school as he planned. And if so, if he was still considering pursuing an acting career.

And then something happened in the game and my attention turned back to football.

An hour or so later, I got an email. From Akalu Meekis.

He and I have never exchanged a single email.

That coincidence alone was freaky enough. But then, here is what his message (and I use the term very consciously) said:

It started with the subject line: Greetings!

And then without any salutation, Akalu launched into his brief, direct email by saying he had just been standing outside his school residence minutes before, deep in thought, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw a bird approaching from the east. As it perched on top of a tree, he saw it was a magpie. And he thought of me.

Then he finished off with, "How are things?"

But what I saw was this: "Start &%*?$ writing!!! Caw, Caw! Right *&?%! now! Caw, Caw!"

To wit, please see above. And to note, please note below:

Tuesday, January 24th

On that day, Osiris Entertainment releases our film on DVD in the U.S. !! American cousins, check it out and let us know what you think on our Facebook Fan Page. We're very happy about this auspicious step in our film's life and so keen to hear from you. And I have a lot of catching up to do, so I will write you back. Lots!