Utah bound

Cana­dian di­rec­tors head to Sun­dance, Slam­dance film fes­ti­vals seek­ing in­die glory

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PROVINCE - BY CAS­SAN­DRA SZKLARSKI

Cana­dian di­rec­tors head to film fes­ti­vals.

Toronto-based di­rec­tors Matt John­son and Jeremy LaLonde are lucky enough to have one of the world’s largest movie fes­ti­vals in their own back­yard.

But the two up-and-com­ers say the more in­die-fo­cused Sun­dance and Slam­dance film fes­ti­vals re­main the best plat­forms for emerg­ing artists.

The up­starts are among a group of Cana­dian film­mak­ers head­ing to the moun­tains of Utah this week­end to pro­mote their lat­est fea­tures.

“Sun­dance is just the place to be if you’re an in­de­pen­dent film­maker mak­ing movies for un­der $10 mil­lion. You couldn’t pick a bet­ter place,” says the 31-yearold John­son, who was no­tably ab­sent at the most re­cent Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

“For me, grow­ing up, Sun­dance was it. That’s where I wanted to be.”

And it’s proven to be a pow­er­ful launch­ing pad.

John­son de­buted his low-bud­get high school flick “The Dir­ties” at the con­cur­rent Slam­dance Film Fes­ti­val in 2013, go­ing on to win the best nar­ra­tive film prize.

He heads to Sun­dance this year with the much more am­bi­tious con­spir­acy tale “Op­er­a­tion Avalanche,” a ‘60s-set thriller that sug­gests the moon land­ing was faked by the CIA.

The fact that the tale skew­ers U.S. lore made all the more rea­son to screen the film south of the bor­der first, says John­son, call­ing it “their story.”

“It’s a movie about the great Amer­i­can legacy of the space pro­gram,” he says.

“We shot a lot of the movie right near there in Ari­zona and in Texas so I think that show­ing it to Amer­i­cans first is prob­a­bly the right thing to do.”

The 35-year-old LaLonde heads to the Slam­dance fes­ti­val with his sex com­edy “How to Plan An Orgy In A Small Town,” about a fa­mous sex colum­nist who at­tempts to host an orgy with old high school ac­quain­tances in her con­ser­va­tive home­town.

It’ll be part of a care­fully cu­rated sec­tion called “Be­yond,” a sam­pling of just five emerg­ing artists con­sid­ered to be on the cusp of break­through. Cana­dian film­maker Stephane Ge­hami is also be­ing high­lighted with his movie “My En­e­mies,” about a young nov­el­ist reel­ing from los­ing both his girl­friend and a pub­lish­ing deal.

LaLonde’s film makes its U.S. de­but af­ter screen­ing at a hand­ful of Cana­dian fes­ti­vals, but the writer/di­rec­tor notes it was not ac­cepted at the glitzy Toronto fest. Look­ing back now, LaLonde says that was for the best.

“In a lot of ways, I think you get a lot more recog­ni­tion play­ing at a big U.S. fes­ti­val as a Cana­dian than you do at TIFF, un­for­tu­nately, be­cause you kind of blend in with ev­ery­thing else,” says LaLonde, re­fer­ring to the hun­dreds of Hol­ly­wood, in­ter­na­tional and home­grown films com­pet­ing for at­ten­tion at the Toronto fest.

“This is go­ing to mean more for the film than if we had premiered at TIFF it­self.”

Also head­ing to Slam­dance is the Cana­dian film “Myr­tle Beach,” from di­rec­tors Neil Rough and Michael Fuller, in the doc­u­men­tary fea­tures com­pe­ti­tion. And writer/di­rec­tor Dusty Mancinelli brings his short “Win­ter Hymns” to the nar­ra­tive shorts sec­tion.

John­son re­turns to Utah with a con­sid­er­ably more am­bi­tious pro­ject this time around, com­plete with “big car chases and ac­tion se­quences,” not to men­tion some grand lu­nar set pieces that drove the bud­get up.

“There was a lot of travel, a lot of re­ally, re­ally big set builds that we had to do. All the stuff that NASA sent to the moon we had to build, so we had to build a lu­nar es­cape mod­ule, we had to build all of the space­suits,” he says.

The film is just one of sev­eral Canuck of­fer­ings at Sun­dance.

In the Sun­dance Kids sec­tion, the an­i­mated “Snowtime!” cen­tres on a group of Que­bec young­sters em­broiled in a mas­sive snow­ball fight. It’s di­rected by Fran­cois Bris­son and JeanFran­cois Pouliot.

And the world doc­u­men­tary sec­tion in­cludes “The Set­tlers,” a France-Canada-Is­rael-Ger­many co-pro­duc­tion that looks at Jewish set­tle­ments in the West Bank.

The Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val kicked off Thurs­day and runs through Jan. 31. Slam­dance kicked off Fri­day and runs through Jan. 28. • Re­turn mo­tor coach from the Mar­itimes • 28 meals: break­fast daily (15), 3 lunches, 10 din­ners • 15 nights of pre­mium ac­com­mo­da­tions: 1N Au­gusta ME, 1N Dan­bury CT, 1N Har­ris­burg PA, 1N Green­field IN, 2N Branson MO, 1N Mem­phis TN, 3N Nashville, 2N Pi­geon Forge TN, 1N Get­tys­burg PA, 1N New Jersey & 1N Ban­gor ME • Ticket to Grand Ole Opry in the Rhy­man Au­di­to­rium (mu­si­cal acts not yet an­nounced) • Ad­mis­sion to the Coun­try Mu­sic Hall of Fame and Mu­seum • Ad­mis­sion to Dol­ly­wood’s “Smoky Moun­tain Christ­mas” with a


Cana­dian di­rec­tor Jeremy LaLonde poses in this un­dated hand­out photo.

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