|Vancouver Film Festival 2012 Interview – WE WERE CHILDREN director Tim Wolochatiuk
by Jason Whyte
We Were Children - At VIFF
“WE WERE CHILDREN is a feature film that tells the true story of two remarkable survivors who attended Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Over 150,000 children were legally forced to attend church-run schools established by the Government. For the first time, Lyna Hart and Glen Anaquod reveal a journey of hardship and resilience that shines a light on one of Canada’s darkest chapters.” Director Tim Wolochatiuk on WE WERE CHILDREN which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.
Is this your first film in the Vancouver International Film Festival? Do you plan to attend Vancouver for the screenings?
This is my first film to screen at the Vancouver International Film Festival and in fact, I’m very excited because this is the films world premiere. Vancouver is a wonderful event so to unveil the film before an audience for the first time is both exciting and somewhat nerve racking. I will be in attendance for the screenings and it’s going to be interesting to see how the audience responds to this film.
How did this project come together?
It’s a rather complicated story that literally took more than half a dozen years to become a reality. It really came down to the tenacity and determination of my producing team. Lisa Meeches and Kyle Irving of Eagle Vision in Winnipeg originally came up with the idea of telling the story of Residential Schools from the viewpoint of the children who were forced to leave their families, homes and way of life behind. As an Aboriginal, Lisa witnessed the impact of Residential Schools on her immediate family and knew the story had to be told. Lisa and Kyle partnered with the story Producers Laszlo Barna and Loren Mawhinney of Entertainment One. They immediately understood the importance of this story along with Eagle Vision, they enlisted the support of the National Film Board of Canada and our broadcast partner, APTN. From a pool of hundreds of survivors, we chose 10 people to interview on camera and eventually we settled on the stories of Lyna Hart and Glen Anaquod. Using their interviews, Jason Sherman wrote a very powerful and moving script. We shot the drama two years after the interviews were completed and in order to capture the various seasons, production stretched over the course of a year. For myself, from start to finish, the process lasted five years but for Kyle and Lisa, it was a journey that lasted seven years.
What was the biggest challenge in the making of this movie?
There was a long list of challenges to make this film. My first reaction was, how are we going to find actors who are as young as five and six years old to pull off these demanding roles? After an exhaustive search, we found some absolutely incredible young Aboriginal actors who quite frankly, had never acted before. They not only carry the film, they are riveting to watch. Aside from casting, I felt the biggest challenge was the story itself. Although it is incredibly compelling, it’s also very raw. Both of our survivors had the courage to sit in front of a camera and share their very personal and often painful stories. If Lyna and Glen had the guts to bare their soul, than we had a binding obligation to tell their story in a way that was equally honest. We could not sugarcoat the reality of the schools. The question was, could the audience stomach it? In the end, I think we struck a balance between preserving the rawness of their stories without sanitizing or watering down the truth of their experiences. We also recognize that although this story is based on the account of two survivors, we hope it’s thematically representative of what tens of thousands of other children went through. This story is often times emotional and I think for many in the audience, it will be a challenging film to watch but in the end, I think it’s an incredibly important story that needs to be told.
Tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
Jeremy Benning is the director of photography on We Were Children. Jeremy and I have collaborated on many different projects over the years and I knew that his keen interest in the subject matter coupled with his remarkable talents as a cinematographer would be a tremendous asset to the production. Before we even shot a frame, Jeremy and I, along with producer Kyle Irving, formulated a solid game plan. We shot with two Red MX cameras, using an Angenieux 25-250HR zoom and a set of Luma Tech Illumina primes. The faster stop of these prime lenses meant we could capture certain scenes using very little light in order to use oil lamps and candles as light sources. Given that were trying to be as faithful as possible to the era of the film, we wanted the light sources to be as real as could be. If the dormitory was lit with bare light bulbs, we used bare light bulbs with some minimal augmentation, for example.
Using the grading program Red Cine X, we were able to work with our DIT to view the footage of each day's work after wrap and apply our own look to each scene to ensure that the editor would receive a properly graded look on all material. This is really the amazing part of the digital workflow - being able to set your looks in the field and walk away at the end of the day confident that you have it in the can, so to speak. 4K TIFF still frames were captured during these post wrap review sessions, which Jeremy would then convert to JPG's and share later with all the key creatives via a Flickr gallery so that everyone could see the hero moments of every scene from that day within hours of wrap.
Steadicam was employed for many scenes in order to follow the actors where the use of a dolly would be impossible. Jason Vieira operated most of the film as well as the B-camera, and Jeremy handled the steadicam for the summer portion of the shoot. The combination of dolly and steadicam worked well, both complimented each other. Because we were working on a very tight schedule with child actors who had never been on set before, we knew that rolling on two cameras would be hugely beneficial. With an experienced and talented actor, you can expect a consistent and measured performance with each take and go with a single camera. With an inexperienced child actor, it’s a roll of the dice with each take. Using two cameras simultaneously on a set up allowed us to shoot a wide shot or master on the A cam while the B camera was framed for a med shot or close up. If we got the desired performance, we knew we had sufficient coverage that would cut seamlessly together and either do another take or move on to the next setup. It allowed us to move quickly and efficiently.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are? Any inspirations for this film in particular?
As far as inspirations, I could name a number of different filmmakers or directors but I won’t. When making this film, and I think I can speak for the entire cast and crew on this one, our ever- present source of inspiration was Lyna and Glen - our survivors. We were all very moved and motivated by the strength and courage they both displayed when telling their stories and they did it with such grace and dignity. Lyna was on set while we were filming at times and it was amazing to have the actual person who’s story we are telling, in your very presence. We wanted to get it right and we wanted to deliver for her, Glen, their families and all the other survivors out there. Really, what better source of inspiration could one hope for?
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
Without a doubt, massive marketing and promotional campaigns along with great reviews can all benefit a film, especially a Hollywood blockbuster. As we all know, it does not necessarily guarantee box office success or a large following. We have all seen films that might have earned wonderful reviews and critical praise but the public at large takes a pass for whatever reason. Other films earn hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office and are deemed critical failures by those same critics. For independent films, one can never underestimate the buzz that “word of mouth” reviews can generate. I always like to root for the underdog, especially when a film, despite it’s meager budget, somehow manages to emerge from the pack and over time, outshine those around them to stand the test of time as a film to be remembered.
If your film could play in any movie theatre or "space" in the world, which one would you choose?
For me personally, it’s not about a specific venue or theatre, it’s simply about getting this film out there in front of an audience. It doesn’t matter to me if the audience is a venue that seats tens of thousands of people, 20 high school students sitting in a classroom or a lone individual watching on their smart phone. I just want people to see WE WERE CHILDREN.
As I mentioned earlier, this film is challenging to watch. For survivors of Residential Schools or relatives of survivors, WE WERE CHILDREN may trigger strong emotions and open old wounds that have never fully healed. To address this issue, The National Film Board of Canada is working closely with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as Health Canada to provide on-site support for survivors and their family members during or immediately after a screening. For those wanting to understand the history and legacy of Indian Residential Schools, there will be a variety of methods including a website and other materials for Canadians to access. We anticipate that We Were Children will also be widely available as a tool for educational purposes across Canada. This is all currently in the works and more information will be available shortly.
And finally, what is your all time favorite movie and why?
My all time favorite movie? That’s a tough one. Like my mood and frame of mind, it’s constantly changing. At this specific moment in time…Raging Bull. Tomorrow, who knows?
This is one of the official selections in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. For more information on films screening at this year’s fest, showtimes, updates and other general info, point your browser to www.viff.org.
Be sure to follow instant happenings of VIFF ’12 on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #viff12 is the official hashtag.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3438
originally posted: 10/01/12 19:25:40