No ill fate for this Canadian film

By Rob Scherf

Quick, think of four things common in all Canadian films. You’re thinking slow, dark, gloomy, and boring? We may have a long history of drab cinema, but a new school of Canadian filmmakers aims to change all that. Mark Lewis’ new film Ill Fated, screened this year at the Calgary International Film Festival, is a madcap dash across rural BC as a prodigal father races to fix the broken pieces of his legacy by stopping his son from knocking up his daughter.

“The first scene I wrote was a young man in the middle of nowhere with his father, and they got in some kind of altercation. Over the years we wrote and re-wrote the script. Looking back, the first draft was not very good at all–actually, it was mainly about serial killers.”

The film has mellowed out since conception, but it still maintains a dark sense of melodrama. Lewis wants to break free of the stereotypical Canadian film paradigm, but some things are just in the blood.

“I wanted to make a tragic comedy. Not just the way we think of comedy now, being laugh-out-loud funny, but also to include beauty and pleasure. The landscapes are breathtaking but there is a sense of isolation that’s overwhelming. I wanted to make the space in the film as vast as possible to get a sense of this middle of nowhere feel.”

Breaking new ground doesn’t just come with social barriers. Lewis found the strange subject matter of Ill Fated meant the film came close to not being able to secure proper funding. After all, who would put money into a film whose pitch sounds like Napoleon Dynamite done by David Lynch?

“Initially we had to find private support for the film because, well, it’s not the sort of film broadcasters would support. Most of the people who push the buttons in the bureaucracy of the broadcasting world are urban women in their early fifties, and it’s just not their type of film. So we really struggle to get the funding together, although oddly enough it’s women in their late forties and early fifties who are responding best to the film–they’re loving it.”

For Lewis, whose film has been one of the most successful Canadian ones released this year, there’s no rest in sight. He’s already hard at work on two more projects, both of which promise to further crumple the view of Canadian cinema as “boring-ish”.

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