by Lauren Donnelly
VANCOUVER – Writer/director Cody Bown’s commitment to authenticity is paying off. Gregoire, the Fort McMurray expat’s feature film debut, premiered at Vancouver International Film Festival this week. Gregoire is a darkly contemplative, visceral look at small-town life. It follows four young adults as they struggle to find a place for themselves in the future. The story is familiar, relatable, and presented in stark, cynical beauty. Shot in 15 days with a $40,000 budget, it’s an impressive debut that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Bown won Best Canadian Narrative Feature at Calgary International Film Festival and has been long-listed for the Directors Guild of Canada’s Discovery Award. We caught up with the Vancouver filmmaker over a double Hendricks served neat to touch base before his VIFF premiere.
BeatRoute: Hi, how are you? Thanks for meeting up, you’ve got a busy week. Congratulations on making the DGC long-list, that’s pretty cool.
Cody Bown: This has been the most stressful week of my life. The DGC, that’s a big validation for me that I’m being recognized by the people who are making stuff. I always look at the things I make and think “is anybody really into this? Am I doing a good job? What’s the marker?” Getting into festivals and getting noticed for these things – I’m glad it’s being objectively viewed and seen as worthwhile.
BR: The DGC award recognizes outstanding achievement by an emerging Canadian director, what are your thoughts on the current climate for Canadian filmmakers?
CB: To be a Canadian director is tough, creating Canadian content and then appealing to Canadians first is tough. Anybody who appreciates film doesn’t care where it’s set, as long as the story is good. There’s no reason why we can’t be great storytellers. For me, I have no interest in grants. Nobody’s gonna tell me if I can or can’t make a film. Things haven’t come easy, it has been a grind, a lot of hard work. I went out and got to tell the story I wanted to tell and did it the way I wanted to do it.
BR: So tell us a bit about how the film got made.
CB: I returned to Vancouver after my short “Wool” won an award at the Fort McMurray Film Festival to find out that I’d been laid off from my day job. Instead of job hunting, I focused on writing. I had always wanted to make a film about home and this felt like the time to do it. I wrote a script and would listen to it to hear what worked and what didn’t. In five days, I wrote three different scripts, three different versions of the same story. I took what worked from the three versions to get Gregoire.
BR: What was that writing process like?
CB: I spent my days just writing and writing, not ever getting bored. I’d go home and sleep and come back the next day. Despite not having an income and a job, it was the best time of my life. Getting to go there and be creative, to try things and write it and flesh it out.
BR: The script is fueled by your memories of Fort McMurray. What did you think of Fort Mac growing up?
CB: I loved it. I always knew that I could never live there, I knew I could never do the working out at site for forever like my dad. My dad has got the strongest work ethic I’ve ever seen. He knows what he needs to do to get the job done. I don’t have that work ethic. I don’t think many people do. When I was in high school I never thought about my future, I never thought about being older, I just saw myself in the now. I had a hard time envisioning myself as an adult.
BR: You’ve said that shooting Gregoire in Fort Mac was essential to you, what else made the filmmaking process organic?
CB: I had worked with (Director of Photography) Jan Klompje before and we’ve been dying to get to this point together. He understood the world of the film. We scout together and he’s very involved in producing. I never made shot lists, we’d just go in and look at the location and then do it on the spot. He really brought a visual style to the film. He’s my boy, that’s why we do this. I want to bring people on that I’ll collaborate with in the future and Jan’s one of those guys.
BR: Authenticity is a common thread for you. Where does that come from?
CB: When I was starting out I went to a film festival seminar. One of the producers said “make something that matters to you.” To me that was the light turning on. Why didn’t I think of that? Here I am telling stories I don’t give a shit about. It was an awakening. This is what I know. This is the narrative I want to speak to and that’s what I did from there on. So these are personal experiences, things that happened to close friends. It’s inspired by things that really happened.
BR: What’s next for you?
CB: Ideally I’d like to sell the film and show people that I can make a good product with a low budget. One thing I’ve wanted to do is say “I got $40,000 and I made $40,000” instead of “I got $100,000 and I made $40,000”. I want to show that low budget, independent filmmaking has a place.
BR: What do you hope that people take away from the film?
CB: I feel like Fort McMurray gets a bad rap. If you look for trouble anywhere, you’ll find it. We only mention Fort Mac once in the film but I hope that the attitude and the air is captured properly. I hope that people understand that these things can happen anywhere and it’s not just a localized problem. I want people to walk out thinking “dang”.
Gregoire screens as part of VIFF, Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 3:30 p.m. at International Village 10.
Watch the trailer here: