Lisa Ray and Camelia Frieberg are both native Torontonians who’ve recently found themselves yearning for something a little less sterile
The title of Camelia Frieberg’s newest film, A Stone’s Throw, describes not only its theme and the philosophy of its writer-directorproducer, but also the distance between her Nova Scotia homestead and where it was shot.
“The idea of a stone’s throw is that everything’s in your backyard,” Frieberg says during a stop in Toronto to promote the film, which played at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and is now in theatres here. “Wherever we are, it’s all just a stone’s throw away.”
The film stars Kristen HoldenRied as Jack Walker, a photojournalist, environmental activist and (some say) eco-terrorist who arrives in a small Nova Scotia town to visit his sister (Kathryn MacLellan). While there, he inadvertently inspires similar ecocrusading by his young nephew (Aaron Webber) and falls in love with the local kindergarten teacher, played by Lisa Ray.
Ray, who starred in Deepa Mehta’s Bollywood/Hollywood and Water, is also on hand to talk about the film, although for a few minutes the two women, both Toronto-born, discuss the city’s neighbourhoods (Ray just bought a condo in the Beach; Frieberg used to live in Palmerston Gardens).
Frieberg explains that she left Toronto eight years ago when she noticed her youngest child, then just a year old, coughing from the traffic fumes. “I thought to myself, ‘OK, no more child abuse. I’m getting out of here.’ ”
She now makes her home on a farm in Nova Scotia’s picturesque Lunenburg County. Much like Stone’s Bay is the fictional town where A Throw is set, Mahone a small, tight-knit community with a factory in the middle. The plant that raises Jack’s ire in the film produces ink; Mahone Bay’s manufactures plastics. Frieberg calls it “our own little evil industry,” then admits, “it’s an important, vital part of the local economy.”
Such uncertainty is also on the lips of her characters, who must balance environmental concerns with the necessity of work. “Idon ’t present any easy solutions,” she says. Indeed, Jack’s final act has upset many an audience member.
Frieberg is first and foremost a producer — a popular one, known for stretching the limited budgets typical of Canadian films. She’s worked with such directors as Daniel MacIvor ( Wilby Wonderful), Deepa Mehta ( Bollywood/Hollywood), Jeremy Podeswa ( The Five Senses) and Atom Egoyan ( The Sweet Hereafter). Her sole directing credit until now was the 1988 documentary Crossing the River, about a political refugee from El Salvador. Why go back to it now?
“What inspired that was what some people would call a midlife crisis and Icalled a midlife opening,” says Frieberg, who turned 48 this year. “The activist part of me had been subsumed in the work I was doing as a producer on other films, and it just started to well back up. Ifelt like there were stories I wanted to tell. I wanted to create a complex picture of what it is to live in a world with all the compromises that we make.”
She wrote a screenplay, threw it away — “which is probably good advice for everybody’s first script” — then wrote A Stone’s Throw, which proceeds from the notion that “there’s very little in society that allows you to understand that each of your actions has a consequence ... on the planet, on other people and on other species.” (There’s the love story angle, too: This is more than An Inconvenient Maritime Truth.)
“I wanted to keep this pretty close to home,” Frieberg says of the parallels with real-life small-town Nova Scotia. And the film was literally shot in her own backyard over just 15 days. Ray remembers script consultations in Frieberg’s farmhouse bathroom — with Frieberg in the bath — and meals made with organic, local produce. (Some filmmakers work with only one cinematographer; Frieberg has the same trusted caterer on each of her films. “Ialso bake a lot for my crew,” she adds.)
“Sometimes, you’re on a project and it’s so sterile,” Ray says of some of her bigger-budgeted movies. “You’re sitting in your trailer, you get called for your shots, you get walked there, you get told, ‘This is your mark.’ That is the other end of the spectrum. Iprefer this.”
Ray flew to Nova Scotia to audition, then returned to Toronto to work with Holden-Ried on their characters’ backgrounds. “We workshopped it,” she says. “We were on the phone with Camelia, and we’d say we’re going to try this. We’d get these little revelations, because we were so acutely aware that there wasn’t going to be enough time to do that on the set.”
Frieberg’s next two projects will probably see her write and direct, perhaps with a new producer if she can find someone to take over that role. One is Dizzy, a script she’s written about a boy with Asperger’s syndrome. The other is her adaptation of Ami McKay’s novel The Birth House, set in rural Nova Scotia in the opening years of the 20th century. Frieberg jokes that she’d gladly hand over the directing reins on that one. “If I can get Jane Campion, I’ll give it to her.”
Lisa Ray, left, and director Camelia Frieberg held script consultations in the farmhouse bathroom at Frieberg’s home in Nova Scotia while filming A Stone’s Throw, giving the production a down-home feel that Ray readily admits is often missing in Hollywood.