Archive for March, 2013


Friday, March 8th, 2013—Film

Wanderweg (Canada 2013, Documentary), Writer/Director: Neeko Paluzzi

Early last week, I got an email from Neeko Paluzzi inviting me to watch and review his debut film, which premiered at the Mayfair Theatre last night. He sent this synopsis of Wanderweg:

Five years ago, when I lived in Switzerland, I wrote a letter to my future self. I hid this letter in a house somewhere in the mountains. This past summer, I mapped out an extensive 1,000km journey across Switzerland to reach the letter only by foot. With only a backpack and a camera, this documentary follows my unexpected two-month journey.

Watching Wanderweg, and in fact the entire experience of meeting Neeko and hearing him speak, was an utter delight. I’m so impressed by his talent, drive and reflection, not to mention his bravery—in making the trip on his own, revealing his raw emotions, presenting the film (along with those emotions) to the crowd at the Mayfair, and reaching out to make contact with others, which isn’t always an easy thing.

Even before Wanderweg began, Neeko’s flair for words and symbolism was obvious. He introduced the film as being, in essence, a postcard. On one side, it shows Switzerland’s physical beauty—an eye-catching snapshot. On the other side, it contains his personal thoughts and anecdotes about the country and his time there. He wrote it last summer, he said, and was now delivering it to us, his audience.

Then the movie started playing, showcasing a real gift for storytelling through film. Neeko’s editing is fantastic—the choices he makes to further the narrative, but also his sense of rhythm and pacing. He’s unafraid of holding on long static shots of him talking to the camera, but he also incorporates effects, abstract imagery, cross-cutting and other devices to vary the beats and, most importantly, advance and enhance his story.

One of the many interesting things about the documentary is the window it opens into the creative process. As Neeko mentions on the Wanderweg website, the film didn’t go as planned. He had intended to tackle his adventure foot first, but life (and body) got in the way and altered his course.

At one point during Wanderweg, Neeko laments to the camera that he isn’t where he’s supposed to be—as far as his itinerary dictated, and presumably also in life. But as popular thought keeps saying, we are always exactly where we’re supposed to be. Once Neeko embraces this notion, he sets the film free to take on a life of its own, letting the creative process do all the heavy lifting (and hard walking).

Wanderweg is indeed a study of the creative process. It’s also a study of Switzerland. The film takes different looks at the gorgeous country, both in postcard-perfect vistas, and in peeks and glimpses as people, nature and buildings exist in the background of Neeko’s frame, gracefully letting him address the camera front and centre while they make a distant but lasting impression.

We also see some of the Swiss culture and history. In particular, Neeko’s visit to the Einstein Museum in Bern plays a pivotal role in Wanderweg. While exploring the exhibit, Neeko focuses in on Einstein’s ideas about time and relativity. Afterwards, Neeko is too excited to sleep. So of course he pulls out his trusty camera to listen to him mull over the concept of relativity.

Just as Neeko-the-subject is about to arrive at one of those late-night musings that always seems so brilliant at the time, Neeko-the-filmmaker cuts away. But he brings us back later in the film to revisit the moment, presenting another take of Neeko pondering the same thoughts. It’s the only time we see two takes of the same monologue, offering an interesting self-reflection on the filmmaking process (even a documentary can be rehearsed), but also building on the film’s exploration of time, relativity and perception—how the same thoughts can appear to have changed, or to convey alternate meetings, when they’re experienced at different times.

Wanderweg is a study of many things. But perhaps most significantly, it’s a study of the human spirit. Throughout his journey in Switzerland, Neeko shows us his breaking point, and then lets us watch as he rebuilds himself and finds his way back to a path he can travel.

During the Q+A after the screening, an audience member asked where Neeko hopes to go next, with the film and with his life. He said something along the lines of wanting the film to lead him to other wanderers, people who document their travels and experience the world in a similar way.

Maybe it was a matter of having Einstein on the brain, but Neeko’s response reminded me of another scientist’s work—Carl Sagan’s book Contact, and the idea of sending out a signal to find life on other planets, to reach other beings who are simply out there, existing. Really, that’s the ultimate story of humanity. We are all, in our own ways, trying to make contact within our own universes, however big or small they may be.

So Neeko, thank you for contacting me. I very much look forward to following your travels. And congratulations on a wonderful (wanderful) first film.

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Since posting this review, I’ve emailed back and forth a bit with Neeko, and he mentioned that I’d noticed things about the film that he hadn’t before. I asked for particulars, and also about something else that had me wondering: Whether the flashback component of the pivotal scene near the film’s end, when Neeko finally goes looking for the letter he wrote approximately five years prior, was actually filmed in 2012 rather than 2006. His response was pretty insightful and interesting, so, with his permission, I’m posting it here for you to read…

Right after I post the SPOILER ALERT I promised to include. Alright, here we go, Neeko’s reply:

I didn’t specifically make the connection between my being “not on the right path” with my not being in a specific place in life. It’s true. In some ways, I think this film reflects the life structure of many artists. Planning. Failure. Self-doubt. Epiphany. Resolution. Conclusion. The structure is actually quite straightforward.

I also enjoyed that you realized that the two relativity scenes were the same scene, just shot twice. I wanted to make it feel like I was interrupting myself. Also, part two is perfectly symmetrical. The first scene being me talking in the mirror, followed by my trip to the museum. The last two scenes in part two are the same, just swapped: my trip to museum and then talking to the mirror.

As for your other question, OF COURSE this would be the one question that I was most worried about. To answer your question simply, it was filmed while I filmed Wanderweg in 2012. I had originally filmed me writing the letter in 2006, which appears in the film right when I arrive at the house in Wengen. The camera is over my shoulder and I am writing it in my lap. When I arrived in Wengen in 2012, I had come to the conclusion of the twin paradox, so I knew I needed to represent a “bridging” between these twins at the end of the film. When I arrived in the house, I saw those two windows and I knew that I had found my “bridge.” I made the right image grainy to represent the past and the left was the “present.” That was the one scene that required an artistic interpretation. I don’t want to lie and say I filmed it all in the past when I didn’t, but I thought it would be visually more symbolic to re-film it involving both the windows. gets press in the Ottawa Citizen

Thursday, March 7th, 2013—News was called out in today’s Ottawa Citizen article about Natali Harea, the mastermind behind Kickass Canadian Stephen Beckta’s delectable breads at his restaurants, Beckta dining & wine, Play food & wine and Gezellig.

Still Mine (and a bit of Bliss)

Friday, March 1st, 2013—Film

Still Mine (Canada 2012, Drama), Writer/Director: Michael McGowan

Bliss (Canada 2013, Drama), Writer/Director: Amanda Sage

I was pretty excited to learn that my short movie, Bliss, would be screened at the 2013 Kingston Canadian Film Festival. After all, Kingston was my stomping grounds during my Queen’s University days, and the festival was founded by my friend, and Kickass Canadian, Alex Jansen. But I was over the moon when I found out Bliss would be paired with the festival’s opening night screening of Still Mine, the latest feature from writer/director Michael McGowan.

McGowan is one of Canada’s most prominent filmmakers, with My Dog Vincent, Saint Ralph, One Week and Score: A Hockey Musical to his credit. I’ve been a big fan of his since seeing Saint Ralph nearly 10 years ago—not long after finishing my previous short movie, Sight Lines. So having Bliss shown at the same screening as McGowan’s latest film, on top of getting to meet him and hear him speak about Still Mine, made for a pretty kickass evening.

Things started off with a Q+A led by Saturday Night at the Movies host Thom Ernst, which revealed as much about McGowan’s character as it did about his process. He’s clearly as real, funny and sincere as the films he makes. That’s no small thing, given how varied and accomplished his career has been: runner (he won the 1995 Detroit marathon), carpenter, English teacher, novelist, journalist, screenwriter, film director.

Then we moved onto the movies themselves. After seeing Bliss on the big screen for the first time (having missed its premiere at the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival), I got to see the work of a real pro as Still Mine began to weave its spell. The film is based on the remarkable true story of Craig Morrison (James Cromwell), an elderly New Brunswick man who sets about building a better home for him and his wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold) when her advancing Alzheimer’s makes their current house unlivable.

The challenge—as if Alzheimer’s wasn’t enough—comes when the local building inspectors continually give Craig grief over code violations, even though his tried-and-true methods are shown to be superior to modern techniques. Old vs. new. Proven vs. assumed. Logic vs. bureaucracy.

The house is deemed invalid and Craig is ordered to stop working on it. No matter that he’d been building it with all the knowledge he’d inherited from his father (who’d been a professional joiner) and the skills he’d developed over eight decades. Or that there is nothing structurally unsound about the building. And so Craig is forced to choose between the right way or the legal way of going forward.

All the old familiar faces of a Michael McGowan film come out for Still Mine. That perfect mixture of heartfelt and humorous, which McGowan says he strives for in all his stories. A male protagonist butting heads with authority, choosing to chart his own course. A man trying to navigate a relationship with the woman in his life.

But of all the McGowan films I’ve seen, this one features the strongest female counterpart yet. Irene is a layered and complex woman who clearly matters deeply to her husband. Their history is long and firmly rooted, and as perfectly imperfect as the knots in the wood that forms their foundation. This richly drawn relationship is what gives the film its heart.

There’s a moment in Still Mine that reminds me of the most powerful scene in Sarah’s Polley’s Away From Her, another film about an elderly couple grappling with a woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s. The moment in Polley’s film features Grant (Gordon Pinsent) leaving Fiona (Julie Christie) for what may be the last time as their former selves—the last time she’ll still remember the life they had. In Still Mine, the moment comes when Irene asks Craig to undress for her.

“It’s been awhile,” he says, before removing his clothes. Irene does the same and then steps into his embrace, holding on tight. In that moment, you can see the years that came before and imagine how many times they’ve come together like that, their bodies slowly aging all the while, bringing them towards this moment.

In the Q+A, McGowan said that his goal in that scene wasn’t to capture nudity, but to capture intimacy. He absolutely succeeded. The nudity couldn’t be further from gratuitous. It speaks to the deep love and connection between the couple, while reflecting on the universal process we all face (if we’re lucky). The fresh, blissful encounters of youth, and how quickly they spool together to form worn, aged moments.

Craig’s search for a way to build a better home for himself and Irene, both literally and figuratively, is about more than simply refusing to give up. It’s about making something that honours who they are as people, and about creating a place that can house all the memories they share—those behind them and those still to come.

With this film, McGowan adds another success to his long list of accomplishments. And he definitely solidifies his standing as a favourite in my books. I’m thrilled, thankful and honoured that Bliss, my many-years-in-the-making movie, ended up being screened with Still Mine.

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Still Mine opens in Canada on May 3, 2013.