Q&A With Canadian Filmmaker and Actress Ashleigh Rains

Yesterday, we gave you a quick overview of the whirlwind weekend that saw us in Newport Beach, California, in support of some fine Canadian young professional talent for the Newport Beach Film Festival. The short film, II,  (pronounced “two”) written and conceived by Toronto-native filmmaker and actress Ashleigh Rains, had its world premiere on Friday, April 27th at the festival’s bustling Triangle Square Theatre as part of the Maybe Romantic, Definitely Short and Sweet program. II showcases the highest calibre of Canadian artistic talent on three fronts – acting, dance and musical performance – with some of the best in the business. 

II, a C’mon Mort Productions, features internationally renowned Canadian ballet dancers Rex Harrington (most recently known as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance Canada) and the award-winning Evelyn Hart. Using contemporary ballet, II follows a bride (Rains) and her parents (played by Evelyn and Rex) behind-the-scenes in the moments before the wedding, exploring the relationship of the parents and their enduring love story. 

Multiple award-winning director and Sundance alumnae Annie Bradley directed the film and Canadian Film Centre alumnae Kristin Somborac is the co-producer. YP choreographer Anisa Tejpar is an alumna of Canada’s National Ballet School and has choreographed for names like Kanye West and The Rolling Stones. Finally, musical composition is by multi-instrumentalists Erik Arnesen and Bret Higgins of the Juno and Polaris Prize nominated folk-roots group Great Lake Swimmers.

With names like that, the film couldn’t be more infused with quality Canadian talent. Immersed in the Canadian art culture from a young age, Rains clearly knows her stuff. In the Newport sunshine, she shared some insight on the making of a short and on the Canadian art scene.

How is life as a Canadian Artist?
I’ve always been involved in the arts in Canada. My dad, Malcolm Rains, is a Canadian painter and exposed me to and educated me about art – be it dance, paintings, music, sculpture, architecture, literature – since I was a child. I grew up in the arts having studied at Canada’s National Ballet School for many years, and then compled my degree in Drama from Queen’s University. I am privileged to work in Canadian film and TV now but I also worked hard for the experiences I’ve had and I expect to continue to work hard for the duration of my career. I am an artist and a proud Canadian.


You began your career in the film industry as an actor. How did you find the transition to filmmaking?
Writing and producing feels like a natural progression from having been in front of the camera. I had an idea for a short film so I wrote a script, shared it with like-minded artists who wanted to be a part of the project, I applied for and was awarded a Bravo!FACT grant, and then we made a movie! Producing this short was a great learning experience and I was fortunate to be surrounded by a wonderful cast and crew, including Annie Bradley, our director, Anisa Tejpar, our choreographer, and Kristin Somborac, my co-producer, as well as several industry mentors who helped realize this film.

What was your inspiration behind the film?
The film is titled “II” and pronounced two. It can be interpreted several ways but to me, it is the second act, not the beginning of the mother and father’s story, and definitely not the end. The dance they perform, choreographed by Anisa Tejpar, is a pas de deux; a dance for two dancers.

Is it difficult to obtain a grant?
Applying for funding isn’t always necessary. I co-produce the Centre for the Arts’ Film Camp for Teens with fellow filmmakers Sarain Boylan and Troy Miller. The films these kids create with limited time, equipment and NO MONEY always blows me away. Seriously. I knew when I was writing the script that I wanted to apply for Bravo!FACT funding. The Bravo!FACT staff are a lovely gang down at the CTV building! We applied for a grant and three months later, after an adjudication process, we were given an award. There are several public and private funding bodies that award grants to new and established filmmakers. It’s a great resource for artists.

Can you tell us a bit about the Canadian musical talent behind II?
Oh boy, the film has amazing original music composed by Erik Arnesen and Bret Higgins from the Polaris and Juno nominated band, Great Lake Swimmers. This is their first composition for film together and it gives me shivers every time I hear it. It’s a departure from how audiences know them as well as being an unexpected accompaniment for a traditional pas de deux, but the result is modern and breathtaking. 


What bothers you most about the Canadian entertainment industry?
When people dismiss a film or television show by calling it “Canadian.” What the heck does that even mean? And, if you have a problem, do something about it! 

Why are film festivals like Newport important for young filmmakers?
Film festivals are a great way to have your work shown to an audience who wants to watch movies! It’s wonderful exposure for Canadian filmmakers to screen their work to audiences who might otherwise not see your film. It’s also an awesome way to meet other filmmakers. And I must say, two of my favourite films from Newport Beach Film Festival are also Bravo!FACT recipients and devastatingly beautiful: The Balcony Affair (dir. Jamie Cussen) and Float (dir. Juan Riedinger). I was very proud our short screened with those films, as well other Canadian filmmakers.

How can young professionals get involved in the Canadian arts scene?
There are so many ways to get involved and support the arts in Canada like buying a ticket to see a Canadian film when it opens in the theatre (usually a much shorter and limited run than U.S. films), by donating to an independent production that’s in search of support through crowd sourcing (bonus: there’s usually a fun perk for your contribution), watching Canadian television, supporting fundraising events, attending an exhibition, and creating a dialogue about Canadian art. We contribute to and define the culture that reflects who we are.

You can catch II in Toronto at the 10th Anniversary Female Eye Film Festival –Canadian and International Shorts; Saturday, June 23, 8:30pm-10:30pm at the Carlton Cinemas.