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VIFF 2015 Interview: FIRE SONG director Adam Garnet Jones

by Jason Whyte

"In FIRE SONG, a two-spirited Anishnaabe teen named Shane is forced to choose between his family home, and his dreams for the future." Director Adam Garnet Jones on FIRE SONG which screens at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

I lived in Vancouver years ago and came to the festival as a fan, and I had a short film called LIAR screen at VIFF a few years ago, but this will be my first time attending the festival as a filmmaker.

Interesting to hear you have lived in Vancouver previously? What is your other background?

I have had a singular focus and interest in making films since I was about fourteen or fifteen, and so I did not often question whether or not I would eventually make a feature. But for a young person who grew up without any connection to the broader world of art or culture, it has been a long road to get here. Like a lot of filmmakers, I began by directing short films, telling stories about characters that interested me, trying to share aspects of my experience that felt unusual or unseen.

My feelings about the world have always been murky, and my tendency has, for better or worse, play with characters who have very uncertain feelings about the world and their place in it. FIRE SONG is certainly an outgrowth from that. A number of characters in the film have had the foundations of their world shattered, and the film is all about seeing them try to understand how to come together and move forward in the face of something inexplicable. FIRE SONG feels like nothing I have ever made before, but a perfect culmination of all of my past work.

So how did the production of FIRE SONG get its start?

Nothing was easy. It's hard to get any movie made, but it's really hard to convince people to give you money to make a movie about suicidal gay Aboriginal teenagers in northern Ontario. The cast is 100% Aboriginal and all of the shooting took place in First Nations communities, far away from any major production centre. My Producers at Big Soul Productions and Thunderstone Pictures deserve an enormous amount of credit for making the impossible possible. And our funders Telefilm, The Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council were obviously key to our success. Aside from logistics, the subject matter was pretty harrowing for us all. Almost every single person in the cast and crew had been touched deeply by suicide in one way or another. Many of us had to face our own demons in order to just get through shooting some of the scenes. Nobody knew it at the time, but I was an emotional wreck. Making the film was a beautiful act of bravery on the part of everyone involved, and a show of strength and resilience for all of us.

So with a seemingly tough start, what kept you going? What was your drive?

In the case of FIRE SONG, it was really the content of the film that drove me. The dedication of the cast and the crew, and the importance of the story itself drove me to keep pushing day after day.

In that case I am intrigued as to what your biggest challenges with making the movie? It seemed like there were quite a few.

I think the biggest challenge for me was maintaining my focus, positivity and stamina throughout production. It's such an intense, emotional, gruelling process, and it took everything I had to keep a smile on my face and stay strong for my team.

Out of the whole production, if you had a favorite moment out of all of it, what would it be?

I think my favourite moment was when we were shooting the scene in the grass that became the poster image for the film. We were supposed to shoot it in an completely different location, and we had almost no time to shoot it, but the conditions all came together in a really beautiful, unexpected way. For some reason, once we settled in that spot, which was thick with mosquitoes, a kind of calm settled over everything. It's one of my favourite moments in the movie.

Talk about the cinematography and the overall design of the movie. How did you film it?

We shot on the RED EPIC camera. I'm not sure what else to say, since I'm not a big tech guy. We tried to work as much as possible with natural light, and my DP and I made up a series of rules or guidelines for framing and camera movement based on the central character's emotional state. For me, this movie was all about character and landscape.

So what are you looking forward to the most about showing FIRE SONG at VIFF?

One of the lead performers, Mary Galloway, lives in Vancouver so I'm really looking forward to screening it for all of her fans and family. This is also the first chance I'll have for any of my family to see the film; my sister Sarah is coming over from Victoria to be there so that will definitely make the screening special for me.

Where is this movie going to show after VIFF? More festivals or any theatrical release?

This is just the beginning of the film's life, so we're just going to have to see what happens next. The film is represented by Marina Cordoni Entertainment, but we can't make any sales public yet. But I can say that Fire Song was chosen as the closing gala film for ImagineNATIVE in Toronto in October.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

Shhhh! Or, maybe nothing? I'm not a super confrontational guy.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Advice is tough. I like getting it better than giving it, but here is something that I know for sure. When someone gives you an opportunity, say yes. You might not know where it will lead, and it may scare the shit out of you, and you may even thing you can't do it, but say yes. Saying yes is always more interesting than saying no. But the second part of that advice is: once you say yes, give it everything you have. Don't hold back. Because there's no point in saying yes to something if you're not going to follow through.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

This year, I loved seeing EVA NOVA at TIFF because it was such a surprise. I went in knowing almost nothing about this small Slovakian movie, not expecting much, and I was completely blown away. It's a small, simple character drama shot in a very minimal way, but it speaks volumes.

Be sure to follow Adam Garnet Jones on Twitter at @adamgarnetjones and follow FIRE SONG on Twitter at @firesongmovie!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 09/28/15 10:23:45
last updated: 09/28/15 10:27:10
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