Notable Canadians at the Newport Beach Film Festival

Young Canadian talent certainly made a mark at the 2012 Newport Beach Film Festival. We got to chat with some young Canadian industry professionals who showcased their talent – whether acting, directing and writing – with films in the festival.

Michael Sparaga, writer, Servitude
Servitude screened on Sunday, April 29th at NBFF and stars a top cast of Canadian talent like Dave Foley, Aaron Ashmore, John Breger and Lauren Collins. Directed by well-known Canadian director Warren Sonoda, the comedy is about a group of servers who take over their restaurant for a night when they discover they are about to be fired. Writer Michael Sparaga was in Newport for the occasion, where the film was received with a theatre of laughs, especially from fellow writers all too familiar with the service industry.

Sparaga actually wrote the film in 1999, when he himself was a disgruntled waiter in Toronto. Because of his prolonged waiter status, he tells us he was too embarrassed to show it for years. Certain elements of the film indeed parallel his life, like the fact that, upon sitting down to write the LSAT, he was met with the sudden realization that he didn’t want to be a lawyer. When the results arrived in the mail he gave the envelope to his then-girlfriend and it remains unopened to this day.

As for screen writing, he says “there is no real template for what we do,” but that, for all the pounding the pavement, “the moments of genius are worth it.” He offers young filmmakers the advice to reach out to people who may be “outside of your league.” It is through such an initiative that he developed a friendship with Canadian film veteran Ivan Reitman, who offered advice in character development for Servitude. Servitude is the first film to be developed and workshopped through The Canadian Film Centre’s Telefilm Canada Features Comedy Lab. In speaking about making a semi-outrageous comedy, Sparaga says, “a commercial film can be just as personal and resonate with audiences as a drama, if done properly.”

Deanne Foley, director, Beat Down
Beat Down was the subject of a promising amount of overheard buzz at NBFF among filmmakers, both before and after it screened on Friday, April 27th in Newport. Director Deanne’s Foley’s first feature, Beat Down premiered at the St. John International Women’s Film Festival last October where it was one of the main attractions. It tells the story of an 18-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to pro wrestle, much to the resistance of her parents, and runs away to pursue this dream. In what Deanne describes as a “delicious role,” lead actress Marthe Bernard won best actress at the First Glance Film Festival in Hollywood last month.

Beat Down was filmed in St. John’s and produced by Pope Productions. Foley, a St. John’s native now based in Halifax, offered words of advice to up-and-coming filmmakers, first of which is “to call yourself a filmmaker from the start” and to “believe in the story and believe in yourself.” She also suggests volunteering through a coop and to surround yourself with other filmmakers. She encourages young filmmakers not to get discouraged, claiming, “it’s a miracle that any film gets made in the first place.” Beat Down can be seen at the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto next month.

Rob Heydon, director, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy
The internationally acclaimed dark romantic comedy Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy screened at NBFF on Friday, April 27th and Tuesday, May 1st, and is based on the controversial Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) book. The Film features top Canadian names like Kristen Kreuk, Shawn Austin-Olsen, Natalie Brown and Dean McDermott and is directed by Rob Heydon. Since its premiere last month, Ecstasy has been well received at festivals around the world, resulting in multiple awards and nominations. Ecstasy won Best Film at the Honolulu Film Awards, Charleston Film Festival, Penine Film Festival and Best Foreign Film at the Mexico Film Festival and will screen at The British Independent Film Festival on May 12th.

Heydon discussed the importance of film festivals like NBFF to showcase your work to international audiences. “Newport Beach is an important festival and we want to use these festival to spread the word about the film in Southern California,” said Heydon, adding that “we are a small independent film and do not have the marketing budgets of large multi-national corporations like the film studios. So when young people like the film, we encourage them to tell their friends about it and hopefully this will result in a great life for the film on DVDs.”

The team behind the film has used social media to spread the word, with contests, music and connecting with the Electronic Dance Music industry. So far, it’s working. “The crowd reaction of young people has been incredible. Irvine Welsh’s material can be hard to digest. So people either love it or hate it. But most people really like the film,” says Heydon.

Kim Poirier, actor, Awaken (pictured, centre, with cast)
Kim Poirier’s latest film, the fantasy/romance Awaken, had its world premiere on Monday, April 30th at NBFF. The film left the audience moved by the story (a few photographers even emailed her to tell Poirier how much so) and tells the tale of love in a parallel universe when a man becomes taken with a woman in a coffee shop but she is tragically hit by a car shortly after and slips into a coma. He is able to communicate with her through his dreams, however, a place where the two of them have a passionate relationship that is threatened to end if the woman passes away. 

Poirier plays the other potential love interest, representing the possibility of letting go and moving on from the unsustainable relationship. Poirier tells us that the film is really about “following your heart and your intuition, and being open to love and life.” Shot in March of last year in Los Angeles, she says that part of its appeal is its originality, with a film of the sort never been done before.

Poirier continues to make her mark south of the border as an actress, host, producer and writer as the face and host of Pop Galaxy and producer with Moving Pictures Media Group. On commenting on the key to her success at the seemingly impossible task of making it as a Canadian in Hollywood, Poirier stresses the importance of constant training, especially voice training. Voice training, she says, helps to become in touch with the emotional stress in your body, voice and breath, which transfers into the work and grounds the actor.  She also says to have headshots that actually look like you and a good agent and manager who know your selling features and how to specifically and strategically market you. 

As with many other professions, networking is essential. “Get out there!” she says, adding “actors need to have their faces seen and to market themselves, especially in LA. Attend as many events as you can and, if you have the money, hire a publicist and be active on social media.” We both agree. After all, a lot of it is about who you know.

Photo courtesy Matthew Hulet