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I saw this film at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival.
Wilby Wonderful is the latest film from director, writer, playwright, and actor Daniel MacIvor. Set in a small island town, the film follows a cast of characters (played by a veritable who's who of Canadian cinema) over the course of a single day.
There is the woman who grew up in Wilby, moved away, and returned with her teenaged daughter to reopen a cafe (Rebecca Jenkins and Ellen Page, who previously worked together on the MacIvor-penned Marion Bridge). There is one of the town's police officers (Paul Gross), and his businesswoman wife (Sandra Oh), who find themselves in a marriage that has drifted apart. There is the town mayor, played by Maury Chaykin, and a dyslexic painter, played by Callum Keith Rennie. And finally, there is a video store owner (James Allodi), who spends much of the movie making ineffectual attempts to commit suicide. Lurking under it all is a scandal that will affect them all.
The film takes a look at the connections between the people in a small town, their hopes and dreams (both realized and not), and their prejudices. It shows people trying to both discover new, and recapture lost, feelings. As Paul Gross' character puts it while standing on the shore, looking at the mainland: seeing where you came from lets you remember what you wanted for the future.
I really enjoyed this movie, my one Canadian pick for the festival this year. The cast acquits themselves well, and despite the relatively large number of characters, I didn't feel like I was distracted by too many story lines, or that any one character received more attention than the others. And despite the limited timeframe of the movie, a single day, the story did not feel rushed or hurried. I thought the resolutions found or not found by the characters followed from what was seen and felt on screen, and didn't come out of the blue.
Daniel MacIvor, along with pretty much the entire cast, attended the screening. MacIvor gave quite an entertaining introduction before the film and stayed afterwards for a Q&A session:
MacIvor calls the film a "Canadian commercial film", and wanted it to
be familiar, but with a twist to wake everyone up.
The story took about three years to make it to the screen, starting
from around New Year's Eve 2001 at a party of Canadian director Jeremy Podeswa.
MacIvor wanted to write a "guy with a heart story" rather than his
The movie was originally to be called Honey, but then the Jessica
Alba movie of the same name came out, which necessitated a change. This lead to the current title, which affected part of the story.
MacIvor said the theater (and the movie) contained pretty much every
famous Canadian actor, assuming Don McKellar and Sarah Polley were in the room (not sure about Polley, but I did see McKellar talking with the cast outside the theatre prior to the showing). He found it weirdly easy to get the cast he wanted, helped by being able to tell people that he wrote specific parts for them.
MacIvor was asked if writing for a wide range of characters was
harder than writing for a few. His response was that he wanted to learn how, and figured there was no better way than to try. He was worried that the audience might attach themselves to a specific storyline and spend much of the movie waiting to get back to their favoured plot, but those fears were dispelled by the excellent acting of the cast.
Because the film is set during the course of a single day, editing
and continuity is harder.
MacIvor was asked if he is now favouring films over plays or
vice-versa. He said he isn't favouring either, and is currently working on both a new play and a new screenplay. Asked about the difference between the two , he said that what he doesn't like about films (vs. writing plays) is that once a film is complete, he can't change it.
When starting to write, things for the stage tend to start out
post-modern; but for a movie, it is usually an idea about watching somebody.
About the differences between film and theatre, he likes to use the
quote, "it's not apples and oranges or cats and dogs, it's apples and dogs", they're completely different. He likes to think from the theatre background he's able to bring a collaborative, inclusive feeling to the set. Art in theatre is live in front of the audience, whereas in film it is light projected on a flat surface and the art has happened previously.
As a writer, he finds that sometimes for film he writes too much.
Asked about writing specifically Canadian stories, he said that while
he has made a commitment to stay in Canada and more specifically, in Nova Scotia, he likes to keep stories open so that people do not focus on watching a story about a specific group (islanders, easterners, Canadians, etc).
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