Victoria Day: The Best Canadian Film of 09?
Victoria Day opens today in Toronto with screenings at the Yonge Dundas AMC and Sheppard Grande (check showtimes). The film, written and directed by Torontonian David Bezmozgis, has been getting serious buzz ever since a series of successful screenings earlier this year at Sundance.
Lately Bezmozgis, who shot the film in Toronto, has been at the helm of the National Post's Ampersand blog and no doubt been watching all the positive reviews come in from the Globe, NOW Magazine and the Star.
Bezmozgis will be at the Yonge Dundas AMC tonight at the 7:10PM screening for a Q&A but for those who just can't wait I've tracked him down for a little back and forth right here on this site. But first, the trailer:
Why did you decide to make Victoria Day?
I made Victoria Day because, at heart, I wanted to make an entertaining and intelligent film about growing up. I'm fascinated by that phase of life, and I rarely see films that do the period justice. I wanted to see if I could make a film like that and have it take place in Toronto - more specifically in the North York suburbs where I grew up.
I also wanted to bring to the screen a depiction of the Russian Jewish immigrant community. I've written about this community in my fiction, namely my collection Natasha and Other Stories, but I'd never seen this community realistically portrayed in film. Not, anyway, in Canada and America. It was important for me to try to do that.
How much of your own experiences growing up are depicted in the film?
The film, I think, expresses what I remember of teenage life. I tried to convey that mixture of exuberance and disorientation. The goal always was to make a film that would allow the audience to recall the sensations of growing uP - hanging out with friends, falling in love, making awkward mistakes, and also making some of your first serious moral choices.
I think that the dynamics between Ben and his friends are reflective of the dynamics I had with my high school friends. I think that the relationship Ben has with his parents is in some ways similar to the relationship I had with my parents. But it's not autobiographical. To be honest, I don't have a very good memory and I don't remember very many specifics of my teenage years.
When did you begin and end production? In what parts of the city did you shoot it?
We shot for 21 days. Which meant that we shot for four weeks in September of 2008. We shot mostly in North York, particularly along Bathurst Street between Sheppard and Steeles. We also shot at Ontario Place, which served as the setting for the Bob Dylan concert, and we shot at the Regent Theatre on Mt. Pleasant.
How was the reception at Sundance?
We had four or five screenings at Sundance and received a very enthusiastic audience response. The most frequent comment was from people who appreciated how real the movie felt, and how authentically it captured the teenage experience and also the immigrant experience. The people who told us that were mostly not Canadians - although the Canadians who saw it were, I think, able to identify even more intimately.
Did you try to get the film into TIFF or other Canadian festivals?
Because of the timetable for production and post-production, we aimed to complete the film in time for Sundance. It seemed like the most natural place for the movie - not least because I'd spent some time at the Sundance labs in 2006 developing the screenplay.
After the film played Sundance, we discussed when to release it theatrically. We contemplated submitting it to TIFF - and it's a festival I would have loved to have played - but the decision was made to release it theatrically sooner. In part this was because the action in the movie takes place in the spring/summer and we wanted to release it around that same time.
Was it difficult to get distribution for the film? Is it playing in other cities besides Toronto?
E1, the distributor, was on board during the development stage. Other than Toronto, the film will also open in Vancouver.
Where can people go check it out this weekend? How long do you expect it to be in theatres for?
People can check it out at the AMC Dundas Square and at the Sheppard Grande. It starts its run on Friday June 19th. I'll attend the early evening screening (7:10 pm) on Friday at Dundas Square and have Q&A. On Saturday, I'll attend the early the early evening screening (7:15) at Sheppard Grande. Some of the cast will be there too.
As for how long it will be in theatres, that's hard to say. Much is decided by the opening weekend. If people come out and demonstrate an interest in the film, it will extend its run. Frankly, our Toronto audiences really have a hand in determining the fate of the movie. If they come out in support, the film could expand to more screens and more cities. The success or failure or independent films - Including Canadian films - is totally dependent on audience response.
What's next for you? Are you currently working on any other productions/screenplays?
After the film is released, I will work on finishing a novel that I've been writing for some time.
After that's done, I hope to do some more film work.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Anything else you'd like to add?
I hope that Torontonians enjoy seeing their city on the big screen. It was important for me to show Toronto as I know it and as I remember it. In the screenings we've held around town leading up to the release some of the most satisfying comments have been from Torontonians who have said that the film reminded them of their own teenage experiences - both current and from the 80s.
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