Victoria Film Festival Interview: THE VALLEY BELOW director Kyle Thomas
By Jason Whyte
Posted 02/13/15 09:38:19
"THE VALLEY BELOW is a multi-narrative, character drama that follows several protagonists over the course of one year in small town in Alberta. The film is told in four chapters, each focusing on a different set of characters, including a pregnant teenager, a hard-drinking musician, a reclusive taxidermist, and an ambitious police officer. The film's intertwining stories combine to render a rich portrait of rural life in central Alberta." Director Kyle Thomas on THE VALLEY BELOW which screens at the 2015 Victoria Film Festivals.
Is this your first movie in the Victoria Film Festival, and are you coming to Victoria for the screening?
Yes, this my first film in the Victoria Film Festival and I was fortunate enough to be invited out for the screening. I am really looking forward to it!
Tell me a bit about your background and what led you into movies and film festivals.
I was heavily involved in the arts in my youth so it was a natural progression for me to pursue this in post-secondary. Film, to me, is an all-encompassing medium and allows me the most freedom for artistic expression. I attended the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University in Montreal and that really kicked things off for me. I met some key collaborators and formed the North Country Cinema collective in 2005. We were a group of like-minded filmmakers who wanted to develop unique visions as directors and grow in unison. Since graduating in 2005, I have made five short films that have won awards and screened at film festivals around the world. Making shorts is an essential step toward building your name and a body of work that will eventually lead to feature filmmaking.
How did this whole project come together from your perspective?
I had some success with my 2011 short film NOT FAR FROM THE ABATTOIR and it was invited by Telefilm Canada to screen at the Not Short On Talent program at the Cannes Film Festival Market. It was there that I was introduced to several members of Telefilm that were a fan of the film and they informed me of a new Micro-Budget program that was about to launch in 2013. I expressed my interest in this and when the time came to apply I did so through the regional partner The Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers, which was a requirement for the program. I was one of eight lucky filmmakers to be given financial support from Telefilm in this inaugural program. From a production standpoint, this is how it came to be. In terms of content, I was really eager to continue the exploration of the characters and small town setting that I developed in my short.
What was the biggest challenge in making the film? And the most rewarding moment?
Production-wise, things went really smoothly. We were lucky to have a very tight group of actors and crew on this project. We were all like family. I think the biggest challenge was continuing to trust my instincts. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with the fact that you're making a FEATURE FILM and that it will be judged on a very different level that your shorts. Keeping your head in the game is essential but not always the easiest thing to do, especially when you are also one of the producers. The most rewarding aspect of the process was hitting that "sweet spot" with the performances. It is a great feeling for you, as director and writer, and the actors when the scenes play out and really click for all of us. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival was also pretty rewarding, obviously.
What keeps you going while making a movie? How much coffee?
A healthy balance of coffee, alcohol at the end of the day, good food and sleep. Plus, having a great group of people to work with every day is extremely motivating as well.
I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.
I was very nervous when trying to find a cinematographer as I had only ever previously worked with my best friend and NCC partner Alexander Carson. I know how important he cinematographer and director relationship is. When I first spoke with Mike McLaughlin, who came highly recommended, I felt like I had known him for years; like he was already a best friend. I got really lucky because he is such a talented and accommodating collaborator. If you gave him 20 lights and a huge crew he would knock it out of the park, but with only a few lights and 3 lenses he can adapt and still produce a very high quality product. He's a magician and a rock star in that sense. We shot on RED Scarlet with a pair of Zeiss primes at 25mm and 50mm and a massive zoom lens. The meagre gear package actually worked into the whole spirit of the film. I really wanted the performances to be front and centre and sometimes having dollies, cranes and a big crew can be distracting. With that in mind, we paired everything down and shot the whole film hand-held which gave it a really minimalist aesthetic and allowed the characters to drive the film.
What are you looking forward to the most about having your screening in Victoria?
I have not spent much time in Victoria so I am really looking forward to it. It is always nice to gauge audience reactions in different cities. The film was very well received in Vancouver in September, so I am hoping for a similar experience.
I would love to hear about the journey this movie has had on the fest circuit, and the plans you have for the movie after it plays in Victoria.
After we opened at TIFF, the film went to Calgary for CIFF, and then to Vancouver for VIFF. While attending the festival in Toronto, we were able to secure distribution with A71 Entertainment. We were recently nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards (Best Supporting Actor for Kris Demeanor and Best Original Song for Dan Mangan) so we are planning to release theatrically the week following the awards ceremony in early March 2015. The film will play in select cities across Canada at that time, and will be released through other avenues such as On Demand in the months following that.
There are a lot filmmakers, especially up-and-comers, reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
Keep with it. Keep the drive. There will be a multitude of opportunities to jump ship, but don't. Keep learning, keep meeting people, be open and focused. Learning to accept rejection is a HUGE part of this game.
And finally, what would you say is your favorite movie?
This is always a difficult question for a filmmaker. I can tell you that my favourite films of 2014 were BIRDMAN, BOYHOOD, FORCE MAJEURE and UNDER THE SKIN. Of all time, however? Far too many.
For additional information on the Victoria Film Festival including screening times, ticketing information and other events happening around the city in the next ten days, point your browser to www.victoriafilmfestival.com.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @jasonwhyte for live updates throughout the fest including Instagram updates, commentary and links to upcoming interviews and coverage. If you see me in line, please say hi!
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com