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Tokyo film festival picks up local producer’s first feature film

“It is kind of an amazing experience, that this idea we had a couple of years ago is now (coming together)”

The pandemic has forced the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) to move its event online and showcase entries digitally, including one feature film that a Moose Javian wrote and co-produced.

The 33rd annual festival occurs online from Oct. 31 to Nov. 9, where independent producer Dustan Hlady’s film, Nolan: Here Nor There, will be shown. This is the first full-length feature film Hlady has produced, while — aside from the director of photography and sound technician — this was also the first full-length feature film for everyone who worked on it.

“It feels really great (to have the film selected). I had a freak-out moment, for sure,” Hlady said, explaining that he was sitting in front of the library when he received the email announcement from TIFF. He then jumped around in his vehicle in excitement before calling his wife and then the director and director of photography.  

“It was exciting,” he added.

The film is a coming of age story, focusing on a young Aboriginal man whose reserve is experiencing a suicide epidemic. His mother sends him to live with family in Fort Qu’Appelle, where he meets a residential school survivor and a girl who is the comedic foil of the film.

While the film deals with serious material, it is also hopeful, said Hlady. The characters come out more hope-filled than before, even if the ending for them is not perfect or fixed.

It took nearly three years to put the film together, including writing the script, casting actors, finding suitable locations, shooting, and then the end process of editing, sound and colour.

Almost everyone donated their time and effort to put the film together, from the actors to the director, said Hlady. This was Wilfred Dieter’s first time directing a full-length feature film, as he usually shoots short pieces.    

After filming in the summer of 2018, a small group went to work to put the film together, completing it this February.

“It is kind of an amazing experience, that this idea we had a couple of years ago is now (coming together),” Hlady continued. “I wrote the script. It’s crazy to me, how a line I thought of in the middle of the night, this actor is saying now. The creative process is really fun, to see nothing become something.”

The filmmaking process is usually refined and filtered as it is put together, he remarked. It starts with one idea, before everyone puts forward an idea to make the project better, whether it’s the director making the script his own or the actors adding their interpretation to their characters.

Some directors consider themselves geniuses and don’t work well with others, but Dieter was great on set and was able to pull intense performances out of the actors, added Hlady.

Once the film was finished, Hlady sent it off to different film festivals and then waited to hear back about whether any festival had selected the movie. He had thought the film was a lock to make the Regina International Film Festival and Awards (RIFFA), but then COVID-19 hit, and organizers cancelled the festival. This disappointed him since it is an important film festival in Saskatchewan.

After developing friendships on the film set, Hlady had also looked forward to screening the film for the cast and crew at the Saskatchewan Film Pool, but then the coronavirus struck a month before that could happen.

“One actress in particular … she almost didn’t do the film. I told her, ‘This is going to be an amazing experience. You’re going to be a red carpet … . You’re going to have these amazing film festival experiences,’” Hlady said, adding with a laugh, “Then COVID(-19) hit and it’s like, ‘You’re going to love seeing this online.’”  

Hlady’s dream is to have a distributor pick up Nolan: Here Nor There and then show it on a streaming service, of which, he pointed out, there are many such platforms. Until then, he’ll continue to work on his next feature-length film that could start shooting in July.