By Mathew Kumar
Every year around September the Toronto International Film Festival brings us the finest in Canadian independent filmmaking both in their general programming and the specifically Canadian Canada First! and Short Cuts Canada programmes. Unsurprisingly, though the 2006 selection offered some of the strongest films at the entire festival, the ones that were most hyped were also the most disappointing; from Reg Harkema’s emotionally stunted Monkey Warfare to Michael Mabbott’s horribly uncharismatic Citizen Duane. This year it was the unexpected that proved to be the most powerful, including Noël Mitrani’s superb Sur la trace d’Igor Rizzi, which picked up the award for best Canadian first feature, and most unexpected of all was that my favourite Canadian independent film was a short. Jamie Travis’ The Saddest Boy in the World joined the conclusion to his Patterns trilogy, Patterns 2&3, as part of this year’s Short Cuts Canada programme. Though each film is a distinct work, it is the strength of Travis’ signature production design and cinematography that stands out in each, and in The Saddest Boy in the World, Travis’ knack for expression of tone and theme is brought to the fore by the hilarious tale of a lonely boy coming to the end of his tether on his birthday. As moving as it is funny without ever being cutesy, it is as strong a statement of intent as a young filmmaker could ever aspire to create. Travis was at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003 (with Why The Anderson Children Didn’t Come To Dinner) and in 2005 with Patterns. This year with Patterns 2&3 he completed a challenging trilogy of work, that asks more of the viewer but reveals more of the filmmaker. Lovingly designed and filmed, it illuminates the tropes of film that inspired him, Patterns 3 features an extended song and dance sequence scored by Alfredo Santa Ana. This year’s brightest talent by far, I had the chance to talk to Jamie Travis during the festival.
BP: Why did you get into filmmaking?
It’s all a blur now. In retrospect, it was the natural thing to do all my life, but I didn’t start making films until I applied to film school in 2001. Before that, I had been a nerd in high school–I excelled at pretty much everything except PE.
Why did I get into filmmaking? Because it was the thing in life with which I had been most consistently obsessed. My other preoccupations–the periodic table, Early Man, mitosis–these proved to be flights of fancy. It is The Parent Trap that will never lose its hold on me.
BP: How did the idea of the Patterns trilogy evolve?
It didn’t start out as a trilogy; the first Patterns was intended to be a one-off–a quick and dirty (and new) strategy of filmmaking for me, one that would cast off all the little ticks and obsessions that kept embedding themselves in the feature script I was writing at the time. I thought that if I deposited all my recurring thoughts into one short film, I could move on and write a feature script that surprised me. I got together with my very talented friends, worked off what was less a script and more of a shot list (remarkably, the finished film was very close to the shot list) and completed the whole thing in less than two weeks.
BP: The Saddest Boy in the World seems to me to be a much more accessible work than the Patterns films.
The Saddest Boy in the World and The Patterns Trilogy represent, for me, two very different modes of filmmaking. Saddest Boy is indeed more accessible–it’s a comedy with a voice-over guide, a clear protagonist and a simple narrative arc. The Patterns movies are more perplexing, more visually driven and less conclusive. The methodologies behind the movies are also nearly opposite. Saddest Boy employed a massive crew and cast, months of pre production, many locations and arts council funding. The Patterns movies are cheaply-made video projects with few locations and a tiny cast and crew; they were also self-funded, so there were no barriers and no delays. As I explore what kinds of films I want to make, I have found it essential to work in both a traditional, narrative model and in a more experimental one.
BP: How do you find being a short filmmaker in Canada?
I have had an amazing experience as a short filmmaker in Canada. I have been able to consistently make my films and get them out to wide audiences. What more can you ask for? A paycheque? Sure, but making short films could safely be described as a rite of passage. BP: Do you consider yourself an independent filmmaker? I certainly consider myself an independent filmmaker right now. I have either produced or co-produced all my films. I have never had to make changes to satisfy some greater power. I don’t consider the distinction too important. The line between independent and commercial is getting fuzzier every day. I definitely want to start working with larger budgets and I really want to take my hands out of the producing pot, so I don’t know how much longer I will be technically “independent.”