Oceanic of­fer­ings

Lisa Ray and Camelia Frieberg are both na­tive Toron­to­ni­ans who’ve re­cently found them­selves yearn­ing for some­thing a lit­tle less ster­ile

National Post (Latest Edition) - - Arts & Life - BY CHRIS KNIGHT

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.

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