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