When people call our nation’s capital a “government town”, they don’t mean it as a compliment. As much as I have loved living in Ottawa for the last ten years, the city has earned a bit of a reputation for being a little too conservative, even boring and uninspiring. Even though Pearl Jam will be playing here next month, I chose instead to travel four hours to see them in Toronto so as not to have my buzz killed by a bunch of Ottawans and their polite applause.
How inspiring it can be when talent blooms in your own city, especially one that is too often written off as unexciting. Not that the entertainment industry is any stranger to Ottawan talent. We have the dubious distinction of being the first to hate Tom Green, who used to try out his bits on unsuspecting citizens before moving to Hollywood. Alanis Morissette and Sandra Oh were born here. Even Tom Cruise went to elementary school in Ottawa for three years. Back in August, we had the pleasure of interviewing a young local filmmaker who has renewed our interest for local talent and strengthened (if that’s even possible) my passion for the medium. Even more than Tom Green.
When we last spoke with Morgana McKenzie, she had just turned 16. She had already written, edited, and directed three award-winning shorts and was in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for Ellie, her most ambitious project yet, which she was about to start shooting. After our interview, we’d been as impressed by her contagious enthusiasm as we had been by the knack for storytelling and attention to detail that she’d shown in her films.
Ms McKenzie premiered Ellie at a private screening yesterday for friends, family, and donors. As visibly excited as she was to share her latest project with us, she first took the stage to introduce us to eight short films by other local filmmakers to further highlight the exciting things that are happening right here in our own hometown. If you’re interested in reading up on any of the films or filmmakers that she selected to showcase on her big day, I’ve listed them below. For our purposes here, I’ll just sum them up by saying that they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The weak points of each film, I’m assuming, are a result of the limited experience (in some cases) and resources that are par for the course as independent filmmakers start out. The strengths of each film (and there are many) can only come from a palpable passion and unquestionable creativity that no budgetary constraint could ever suppress.
As for Ellie, Ms. McKenzie is clearly a fast learner and is working for the first time with ACTRA actors and her biggest budget so far. It comes as no surprise then that Ellie is her most impressive film yet. Telling the story of two young people held captive in a mysterious cabin, it’s darker, more mature, and more confident than anything else I’ve seen from her. A stand-out performance from local actor Sebastian Labissiere is also worth noting. If Ms. McKenzie keeps doing what she’s doing with the same eagerness to learn and grow as a filmmaker, I am quite confident that I will be reviewing her movies for years to come.
I am proud to be living in a city where talent is blooming.
For anyone interested, here is a complete list of the short films we saw yesterday.
The Garage– (dir. Patrick White) A young woman discovers that the case of her stolen car in a parking garage may be more complex- and spooky- than she ever could have imagined.
Eyetooth– (dir. Cory Thibert) A creepy stalker is faced with a moral dilemma.
The Canvas– (dir. Adrie Sustar) When faced with some hurtful criticism of her work, a young painter becomes more emotionally invested in her work than ever before.
Ignite– (dir. Lora Bidner) A music video set to original music. Sparks will fly.
The Clean-Up– (dir. Kristian Larieviere) Two former best friends must work together to dispose of a body after a hit gone bad. But can they resolve their differences in time?
Connections– (dir. Nicole Thompson) An incident involving an old lady being pushed to the ground and having her purse stolen is examined from multiple perspectives.
Pieces of You– (dir. Derek Price) A young girl copes with loss through poetic voiceover and beautiful cinematography.
Primary Colours– (dir. Derek Price) A woman’s experience with domestic violence is told directly into the camera with disarming poetry.
We All Go the Same– (dir. Morgana McKenzie) A music video for Radical Face’s We All Go the Same set to images of brutal fairy tale murder.
Ellie– (dir. Morgana McKenzie) Two teens are held captive in a mysterious cabin. One makes a daring attempt to change his situation.