Whistler Film Festival 2017 Interview: THE OTHER SIDE OF PORCUPINE LAKE director Julian Papas
By Jason Whyte
Posted 12/08/17 16:53:52
"THE OTHER SIDE OF PORCUPINE LAKE is a behind-the-scenes documentary that follows independent Canadian director, Ingrid Veninger, as she makes her sixth feature film entitled PORCUPINE LAKE. This film eschews a traditional making-of documentary approach by using an observational style without interviews to reveal the intimate process of making an original female-driven feature film from writing and casting, and through to production and post. It shows a different way of making movies at a low-budget level within Canada while focusing on aspects of filmmaking that a regular viewer does not usually see in documentaries like the editor assembling material, the craft person making a meal and the crew bonding and hanging out." Director Julian Papas on THE OTHER SIDE OF PORCUPINE LAKE which screened at the 2017 edition of the Whistler Film Festival.
Although you haven't been to Whistler Film Festival prior to this year, PORCUPINE LAKE got its start here in Whistler!
I haven't been to WFF previously but the festival was an important part of the PORCUPINE LAKE process as the film got its start there in 2015. The pUNK Films Femme Lab was born at WFF 2015 when Melissa Leo stood up and donated $6,000 for Ingrid to begin the writing lab. And Ingrid started writing PORCUPINE LAKE through that writing lab. So even though I have not been to the festival, it will be wonderful to attend the festival with Ingrid and come full circle by bringing our two sister features that show two opposite sides of PORCUPINE LAKE. We are especially excited about showing both films back to back on December 2nd. It will be the first time this will happen and possibly the last as the films go on to play other festivals in the future.
Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and your previous work in the industry!
I got my start in the industry by working as an assistant editor and then moved on to work as a freelance editor. I have worked as an editor on various projects, including short films, feature documentaries, music videos, promotional spots, and online content. THE OTHER SIDE OF PORCUPINE LAKE is my first feature-length film as a director, as I had mainly made short films and music videos previously.
How did this whole project come about for you?
This project started when I attended a micro-budget panel that featured Ingrid Veninger as a speaker in 2016. I checked it out because Ingrid was one of my professors at York University. At one point in the panel, Ingrid gave advice on how an emerging filmmaker could start working with filmmakers whom they admire. She suggested contacting filmmakers after events where they spoke in order to establish a relationship through email. So I did exactly that. I emailed Ingrid the next morning to compliment her on the panel and asked if she needed extra crew members for her next feature. Ingrid brought up the idea of doing a making-of documentary for her next film, and asked if I wanted to direct it. I was rather surprised by this, as I didn't have much contact with Ingrid outside of her class in my third year of university. I was very excited by the idea, so we had a meeting to discuss possibilities for the documentary. I proposed an observational approach, as I have always wanted to make a documentary in that style, and Ingrid liked that idea as she wanted to avoid making a puff-piece. We started filming shortly after that and the film took off from there.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
Collaboration is the main thing that drives me when working on a film. There's a special kind of joy and magic to working with other people on a creative piece. I love figuring out different possibilities and trying them out. There is a wonderful freedom to it and that feeling is what keeps me coming back to making movies. That said, this film was a different experience during production because I was the sole crew member. I found it rather difficult at times to completely rely on myself and my ideas. Post-production was a different experience though as I had a wonderful team of collaborators during that phase. My co-editor was Jesse Wyatt, sound designer was Jakob Thiesen, sound mixer was Eric Apps and my colourist was Chris Blacklock at Deluxe Post Production in Toronto. The rest of the team at Deluxe was extremely helpful as well. Working with these collaborators really helped make this the easiest stage of creating the documentary.
All projects are challenging in many ways, some more than others. What was your biggest challenge with the doc, and the moment where you knew you had something?
The biggest challenge was feeling confident in my choices of what to film during the documentary production. I was constantly worried that I wasn't filming the best material. I feared that I might be missing something more interesting than what I was capturing at any given moment. I found this to be especially apparent during production, when I would be torn between filming on set or at the cabins where we were staying during the shoot. At a certain point, I decided that I needed to make peace with the fact that I would probably miss a lot of moments; all I could do was at least capture what I found to be interesting. This new approach felt right to me and I stopped worrying that I wasn't doing a good job and began to enjoy capturing whatever seemed best to me on that day. The greatest feeling was shooting a scene that I knew would end up in the final cut of the film. Whenever I had that feeling, I knew I had something.
I am about to get on the technical side of things, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how you shot your movie alongside Ingridís movie!
The visual style of the film is strictly observational in order to place the audience within the experience of making PORCUPINE LAKE. I wanted to avoid interviews so that I could show the cast and crew working in their roles, rather than talking about them. I felt like a viewer could learn more about each person through their actions rather than their words. I also find watching people work to be endlessly engaging, and an observational style was the best way to capture that for an audience. I wanted to shoot a lot of roaming extended takes so I used the lightweight Sony a7s II for most of the shoot and a 24-105 zoom lens to catch moments nearby and further away.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Whistler?
I am really looking forward to watching the film with a group of strangers. There's something wonderful about seeing and hearing people react to something you have made, especially when they don't know you personally. And that's the whole point of making movies, to share your film and try to connect with other people. Since most of my experience with festivals and my own films has been with short films, it will be really interesting, and nerve-wracking, to have people come to see my film specifically, and not a program of shorts that includes my own work.
After the film screens here, where is the film going to show next?
We are currently working out where the film will play after the Whistler Film Festival.
If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
This might be a lame answer considering I'm from Toronto, but I would love to show the film at the Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto. It would mean a great deal to have one of my films play at that theatre, as I have been going there since I was a teenager and they are an important institution for documentaries.
What would you say or do to someone who was being disruptive at a screening you were attending, even if it was your own?
I would ask them politely to stop whatever they were doing that was being disruptive to the other theatre attendees. I have done this quite a few times at theatres and usually people will be understanding once you ask them nicely. I think the worst thing you can do is be rude to them, even though what they are doing is rude as well. It can make the situation worse and ruin the experience for everyone.
What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?
Try to balance staying true to your vision while being open to other peoples' ideas. It can be difficult to do but it's the main piece of advice that I try to keep in mind whenever working on a new project. If you only stick to your ideas, your film can only be as good as what you can think up. But you also have to listen yourself because if any idea goes against what you wanted for the film then you shouldn't do it. Listen to the advice that works for you, intuition will always tell you what's right and what's wrong. A friend of mine once told me to "Listen, but don't listen too hard" and I think that's true because the last thing anyone wants to do is make someone else's movie.
And finally, what is the greatest movie you have seen at a film festival?
I have seen so many great films at festivals over the years, but I would have to say that the greatest movie I have seen at a festival was Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's FRANCES HA at TIFF in 2012. I have seen that film countless times since my first viewing and it's one of my favourite films of all time now. It's joyful, romantic, extremely relatable and moving. It has everything I love about movies. It's a film that both inspires me to make more films, while also simply making me feel good as a human being. FRANCES HA is the kind of movie I want to make some day.
Read my review of this film and many others playing at WFF this year in my preview article by clicking HERE!
This is one of the many films playing at the 2017 Whistler Film Festival. For showtime information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website at whistlerfilmfestival.com!
Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a photo or two. You can also follow the festival Instagram Stories at jason.whyte!
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com