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The 2004 Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival - A Talk with Benjamin Ratner

You talkin' to me?
by Jason Whyte

Jason's Note: To continue my coverage of the many things going on at this year's Victoria Film Festival, the following is a repost of an interview I did in Vancouver last fall with director Benjamin Ratner, who has two films screening at VIFVF; "Moving Malcolm," on which this interview is based, and "19 Months" by director Randall Cole. Enjoy. --JW

"Moving Malcolm" is a new Vancouver film that is actually set in Vancouver, about Vancouver, and features many local Vancouver talent actually doing solid work, most notably writer/director Benjamin Ratner, a well known talent in the city who is making his feature debut with "Moving Malcolm." It is the story of a lonely writer named Gene who has written a book entitled "Fear Knot" about his failed marriage to Elizabeth (Elizabeth Berkley, continuing a good path of smaller, more creative roles). A long, depressing year has passed from the point where Elizabeth has left him at the altar and the finishing of this book, and after all of this time, a sudden knock on Gene's door reveals Elizabeth wanting Gene to help her cantakerous father Malcolm (John Neville) move into a better place. At the same time, Gene has to deal with his eccentric family who is fed up with his depression.

Moving Malcolm is a good character comedy that really seems to have a complete love for its characters. "It's inspired by real people," Ratner told me in Vancouver while promoting the film's screenings at the Vancouver Film Festival, "And to say that they were based on real people might get me into trouble, but they're inspired by some of my family and some of my friends, and it's a comedy, so we accentuated the more comedic aspects of these people. And as the film progresses, we see things have shifted, you see the duality of these characters, and you see things such as the family not screaming at each other and they are actually capable of being strong and reasonable and calm."

For a relatively small budget movie made in Vancouver, "Moving Malcolm" has two actors who have worked in much bigger movies and television, Elizabeth Berkley (best known as Jessie in "Saved By The Bell" and the infamous "Showgirls") and John Neville ("Spider"). "I met Elizabeth very briefly back in Sundance in 1998. She's worked with Woody Allen, she's worked with Oliver Stone, and many other top filmmakers in America. As well as appearing in "Roger Dodger", which was a successful independent film, so she's worked with some great people. People have to quit talking about "Showgirls" and let her have her career."

The role did not originally go to Elizabeth. "Jennifer Beals was a woman I met while I was living in LA," Ben continues, "And she was interested in the part, agreed to do it, looked forward to doing it, but she booked the TV series "The L Word" at the same time, which is currently shooting in Vancouver. She suggested Elizabeth, Elizabeth called me, and after talking about the film for just ten minutes, we agreed that she'd do it. And, dare I say it, she's perfect for the role. She's sexy and vulnerable, but she's also tough and manipulative and carries around a lot of shame, hurt and regret. All of those things are part of her persona. And she was brave enough to share all of that for the film.

"For John Neville, I have a mutual friend, Molly Parker (fellow "Last Wedding" co-star who has made many films in Canada and some in the US) and he had done a movie called "Sunshine" with her. And I've known Molly from "Last Wedding" and studying acting with her as long as fifteen years ago. She recommended John to me years ago while I was writing the script, and I called him up. He loved the script, and four years later we had him for the movie."

"Moving Malcolm" is the first film that Ratner has directed. I asked him if he had done any shorts work, and he responded that "I haven't directed a short before, but I have produced and acted in a few short films, co-produced and co-written them, but this is the first film that I've made." Asked if he is going to continue down this path of doing many film duties, Ben replied: "Directing is a new thing, and I love it. And I'd like to direct another film. I wouldn't want to direct and act in the same movie for a little while; that's taken me off a bit much. But I intend to direct another film as soon as possible." He then adds with a laugh, "As long as they keep giving me the money!"

Ratner adds about making movies: "Here's what I learned through the process of making a film. First, you have to have something unique and personal to say, a singular point of view but a universal subject. And then you have to have a script. After that, you have to get a producer. You have to have someone to help you get the business end of things put together. And then you have to get a cast...great actors who are going to do a good job, and then actors who, hopefully in our case, are willing to help us get the next thing, which is: the money! And we did it the Canadian independent way. You go to Telefilm, BC Film, you get broadcasters, distributors. Once you get your money, you go and start shooting the thing. It's a long process, and you have to surround yourself with confident, involved people. This film took six years from first writing the script to today."

One of the more interesting aspects of this movie is Ben's cast, which consist of many of the same players in his previous works, especially Bruce Sweeney's 2001 film "Last Wedding", which also starred "Malcolm" players Tom Schlote, Jay Brazeau, Babz Chula and Nicholas Lea. Asked about this, he replies: "Babz and Jay, I wrote the parts in "Malcolm" with them in mind, of course. Tom Scholte, I think, is one of the best actors of our generation, one of the most skilled actors working in Canada. And Nicholas Lea, who is from "The X-Files" and "Vertical Limit", his character Herbert (Gene's best friend in the movie) I wrote specifically for him. People like these I work with and hang out with all the time, and it was just natural to get these people together, and, of course, if you build it they will come. They will even come for free, but in this case we were able to pay them, which was a great feeling to actually offer my friends employment," he says with a chuckle.

He concluded, "And my favorite movie is 'Midnight Cowboy.'" I was also thrilled to learn that he is a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Robert Altman, Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese.

Many thanks to Benjamin Ratner and Bonne Smith from Star PR for this interview.
More information on "Moving Malcolm" can be found at www.movingmalcolm.com
For more information on what's happening at the Victoria Film Festival, including show information and screening times, please call the festival office at (250) 389-0444 or visit www.vifvf.com



link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=981
originally posted: 02/05/04 18:56:32
last updated: 02/13/04 18:55:13
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