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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Skinning the Cat
This stark Canadian independent film almost never got made were it not for the will, drive and ambition of a few tireless souls who simply would not go quietly into the cinematic night. Shot over eleven days, using every hour available and even battling through snowstorms which threatened the whole shoot's viability, this crew fought through budgets, elements and kicked down many a door to make it happen. Led by their intrepid executive producer and the film's protagonist Matthew Willson, "Skinning the Cat" began as a theatrical production a couple years ago. The play was written by Kevin Land, directed by Jeff Santa Barbara and also co-starred theatre veteran Jonathan Harrison. Willson had been seeking the right screenplay to dig his teeth into and knowing how well received "Skinning the Cat" had been received by critics and audiences alike at various fringe festivals, he knew this was a film whose time had come. Astoundingly, they managed to assemble the same writer, director and actors to bring this story to filmic life. After the veritable blood, sweat and tears, "Skinning the Cat" debuted last year and successfully flickered it's light onto a number of festival screens and garnered it's share of acclaim taking home the audience choice award at the Hamilton Film Festival as well as the 2010 Honourable Mention Los Angeles Movie Awards. Accolades aside, this story is one that has consistently left audiences squirming in their seats as the two actors do what few actors can do (unless you're in a David Mamet film) which is to have just two actors, largely in one setting for the duration of the story. First-time director Jeff Santa Barbara haunts the scenes with washed out lighting and uncomfortable close ups, magnifying the tension constantly underlying the interplay between Willson and Harrison. Kevin Land's story immediately takes us into the trouble, dark world of Ned and does not release us, even as the story reaches it's arc, there is no concrete resolution. The audience is left looking within themselves and the story's subtext to find answers that are not readily apparent. The character of Ned, played with both bombast and subtlety by Willson, takes us through the unkempt mind of a disturbed individual. At times light and comical, there is a constant sense of dread knowing Ned is never fully stable, earnest as he may be, in dealing with the direction in which he has chosen to take his life. Jonathan Harrison portrays with painful honesty, Bruce, a distinguished older gentleman who until Ned's abrupt appearance, seemed to be settled most comfortably into affluent suburban living. Their meeting is anything but cordial as Ned abducts Bruce against his will, acting both the angry captor at times as well as the doting, regretful bumbling Ned who occasionally does not know exactly what he's doing or how to find out what he wants or even why. Discovery is the essence of "Skinning the Cat" and it is the dialogue between the kidnapper and the victim that holds the story in a taut, unrelenting back and forth that slowly over time unveils itself patiently like a Russian matryoshka doll. "Skinning the Cat" shows that with unceasing determination, the urgency of a budget mixed with the grit of a tightly wound story, Canadian independent film is in good and capable hands when the artists involved fervently join together to get the job done.
Burke Mudge is a Financial Adviser as well as the author of the novelette "The Marriage Lease" (available at www.amazon.com) and has multiple scripts in development. In addition he also writes frequently for www.mmacanada.net and does media interviews covering the UFC.
I caught one of the earliest screenings of this provocative short film
at the National Film Board of Canada in Toronto.
Zaid Adham is an ambitious young writer/director with grand plans and his creative visions are gritty, raw and disconcerting. Not necessarily giving the viewer the world we want, but rather the world as it is. The subject matter is dark and the excellent editing and use of colour give some particularly unpleasant scenes a more sinister edge.
Minus 1 was shot on a tight budget and Mr. Adham did so admirably with his entrepreneurial instincts and a will to succeed. This effort, along with his other celluloid work should ensure that we have only just begun to see the work of an artist who's constantly striving to tell a story through the craft of the lens, however jaded it may be.