RETROSPECTIVE: A BRIEF PORTRAIT OF A NORTHERN SUMMER IN PROGRESS

The summer of 2015 played in slow-motion.

Partly because I was obsessed with the ability of the iPhone 5s to shoot video at 60-frames-per-second and partly because it was an especially beautiful summer, one exploding with memories, with beauty. Certainly it was that way with me.

It was the last summer I lived on my own. Lizzie was living in the apartment across the hall and our relationship was maturing in fits and starts. Our lives overflowed into each other’s rooms. I had my dad’s old Kuwahara road bike and I took it everywhere. I had emerged from the fog of the strongest and scariest depressive episode of my life and it was like seeing the world for the first time. Everything seemed beautiful, easy. Everyone seemed to be making art. Everyone seemed a model. Obama was still in office; the world still felt “progressive.” And as always in the summer, the Northern sun hung around — low, so low in the sky — until late, late in the evening, casting a golden sheen over everything, irradiating the night with golden warmth that lingers in the thick summer air.

Everything felt like it should be filmed, so since we now all had HD cameras in our pockets I filmed everything. I made little 15 second assemblies of daily life and shared them on Instagram. When a new film festival was announced for one-minute silent films only, I cut this piece together from what I’d gathered — sort of a “greatest hits” album — and submitted. It received 1st place at the festival. There was a cash prize. I don’t remember what I spent the money on, but I suspect it simply went towards a perpetuation of the innocence and beauty that was that summer: towards boxed wine and cheap beer; towards gas for the old pickup; towards clove cigarettes; towards the door at Wunderbar (RIP); towards the tip jar at Empress; towards used books at Al Hambra; towards cappuccinos at Iconoclast; towards the future of a life lived.

Hope you’re well, wherever you are.

Until next time.

-Nn

RETROSPECTIVE: THIS WIND

What I remember about This Wind:

Mom texting me to let me know that the letter from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts had come to their house and I was selected to receive $14 000 to make the film. My first ever significant grant application and subsequent selection.

Scouting my friend Hans’s parents’ property outside Camrose. Feeling very alive and free on the drive there and standing out in the wind. Feeling like a filmmaker with filmmaker friends. Connected to something. Blogging about this feeling later.

Casting Cayley and Andrew who became two of my favourite actors ever to grace our city. Rehearsing with them on my living room floor a week before the shoot. “Andrew, you need to relax your whole body man,” I said. “You cast a ninja in your movie, what did you expect?” said Cayley, after learning Andrew was a jiu-jitsu instructor.

Going with Aerlan to a weird hole-in-the-wall photo supply store to buy $200 worth of bleached muslin. Rigging this whole dolly-on-a-jib thing so we could get close to the actors and also move with them. Fighting the wind. Shooting long, long takes and running out of card space so that poor Andrew only got three takes of his whole coverage before we lost the light.

This picture by Kate of me trying (successfully!) to move some cows out of the shot:

Spending half the day shooting two scenes that aren’t in the movie.

Ruining Trina’s shoes that were a gift from her grandma not because I used them as a prop in the opening but because I crudely shoved them into a bag before driving home. How upset she was about this and how well she hid it.

Driving to Vancouver in October to edit the film with Aerlan. Having to buy new winter tires before driving back in November. Trina and I trying to learn all the words to “Backseat Freestyle” on that drive home and getting the first two verses down but giving up on the third.

Receiving the Outstanding Short Film or Video award at FAVA Fest for the second year in a row. Feeling very firmly established. Feeling like the logical next step was that we were going to naturally progress into making the feature film I had written around this scene. Not knowing that I was on the verge of the most difficult year of my life. Secretly knowing I wasn’t ready to make a feature film anyway.

Knowing that feature script is still sitting on a hard drive. Hoping to clean it up and still make it someday.

Hope you enjoy this quiet little movie. I think the acting is great and the photography is beautiful. I’m very proud and grateful for everyone who helped to make it. Thank you thank you thank you, wherever you are.

Take care take care take care.

-Nn

RETROSPECTIVE: CITIES AND PLAINS

This was the first narrative short I made out of film school. Basically what happened was I saw Joe Swanberg’s Nights And Weekends on Netflix (back when Netflix was low-key like that) and I thought: I can do that, but maybe about more down-to-earth (i.e. prairie) characters that aren’t completely insufferable in every way! So I called up Trina Lister, a young improviser I had met at the inaugural FAVA Fest gala a few months earlier and the only person I knew who I thought would be wild and spontaneous enough to spend all of August trying to make a movie with me. It was conceived as something that would be feature-length; Treen and I sketched out the story arc, outlined all the scenes, and then we improvised the dialogue when we shot. We shot about half of it ourselves with the camera on a tripod and wireless microphones, and the other half was shot by my dear friend Aerlan Barrett who jury-rigged a Frankensteinian shoulder rig out of an old photo tripod and followed us around with my 7D and the only two lenses I owned. I flew my friend Dayleigh Nelson out from Vancouver on points so he could come play with us for a few days…where he came up with that bit about Mary Elizabeth Winstead I will never know. I still vividly remember Dayleigh crashing on my couch and spending an entire day watching three movies back to back (one of them was definitely Visconti’s The Leopard, but I can’t remember the other two…).

Even though we shot more than enough to cut something feature-length, I ended up chopping it down to 22 minutes, basically the “greatest-hits” of everything we had. It just wouldn’t have worked as a feature…there wasn’t enough story happening and the dynamism of Aerlan’s handheld camerawork was so much more engaging than all the static stuff we had shot ourselves that essentially it rendered it obsolete. For these reasons, this learning process, and so much more, making this movie was formative. It won the Outstanding Short Film award at FAVA Fest the following year, the first time I had ever received any recognition from my peers. It remains an incredible time capsule, and the spirit in which it was made, the “just grab a camera and go” attitude of freedom and exuberance, is something I feel I’m perpetually longing for and trying to get back to.

Hope you’re having a great one wherever you are. And wherever you are: I encourage you to grab a camera, grab a few friends, and go make something. Go see what happens. I dare you.

-Nn