Is new Toronto-based film our version of Taxi Driver?
When I first watched Tower, my first reaction was - I don't get it. The latest film from Toronto film distribution company College St Pictures, Tower has been screening exclusively at The Royal Cinema since Friday after having premiered at Locarno Film Festival and TIFF, respectively. The first feature film from director Kazik Radwanski and producer Dan Montgomery of MDFF Films - award-winning creators of shorts like Assault (2007), and Princess Margaret Blvd. (2008) - is described as "a candid, yet perplexing character study of a Torontonian stuck in a rut." "Perplexing" is probably the best word to describe it.
I got to sit and chat with Radwanski and producer Dan Montgomery to find out what inspired their debut feature.
What was your intention when you set out to make Tower?
To capture a certain type of crisis that maybe is hard to pinpoint, the sort of vague mindspace that I felt is the only way I could articulate it. Does the character know where it's coming from, and does the audience? What exactly is going on? It's still, I think, hard for some people to watch the film. I just became fascinated with a character with a dilemma that was totally created by them; there's no sort of outside circumstance that was putting them into trouble.
You've called it "a strange beast of a film," and you did say it's about exploring a hidden part of Toronto. Tell me about that.
I've had a few conversations about it with different people, like Canadians from other cities, and a few filmmakers from Montréal, [about] it maybe being like a sick anthem for Toronto? In North America, I think Toronto is the fourth or fifth biggest city, but out of all of them, it's definitely the safest. It seemed like Toronto could be the epitome of a certain kind of Western city. A total middle ground but a big city, if that makes sense: but is it a happy city?
I still feel like there's alienation found here. Early on, I was sort of describing it as Toronto's answer to Taxi Driver. At the same time I feel like the sort of Taxi Driver story - of big city violence - isn't as relevant anymore.
You mention the safety net, and you mention that he's got his family, he's got his friends, but he seems aimless. He seems to almost intentionally alienate people, like Nicole. She abruptly shows up on the scene, and then just as suddenly there's a very long and awkward breakup, and you don't understand why he's doing that either.
I think there's multiple reasons. I'm sure the character himself doesn't know exactly why he did it. I was having conversations with Derek, the actor, about it. It's almost like the feeling of why it's so hard for certain men to say, "I love you" to someone - repressed emotions and a sort of knee-jerk fear of things.
I don't want to go into describing different reasons why I think he did it, but at its most simplest I thought it was so important for him to reject her, and for him, again, to be the cause of his loneliness - for him to be an anti-hero in the sense that he's sort of pushing things away.
I just found it more powerful and think that it puts so much more on him, so much more mystery when the reasons are sort of muddled and found within him.
So that makes him the antagonist of the story?
When I say he's an anti-hero, sometimes he's not that much of an anti-hero; he could be a lot worse. There's a certain tension in the film, so people think he's going to do something really bad, that there's going to be a payoff. Some people were describing it by saying, "if it was a European film, sort of a shocking art-house film, halfway through the film he would have dropped the baby or something, or he would have blown up and done something awful," but that never really happens.
There's never that payoff, and I didn't want something like that because I felt it would simplify the film; it would give it too easy of a reading, and everything that I found fascinating about it would be lost. The payoff for me was just articulating the crisis. It was to ask questions, but not necessarily find the answers.
Tower screens at The Royal Cinema (608 College St) until March 3rd.
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