By Hannah Many Guns
CALGARY – Calgarian filmmaker Mike Peterson grew up without a television, in a home with a family of five kids. But the absence of something some of us can’t live without meant Peterson went to the movies with his family at least once a week and those family memories turned into a life-long passion for film. Fast forward to 2018 – Peterson has directed TV commercials, music videos, short films, documentaries and feature films.
“Cinema in the late ’60s, on through the ’70s and then a little bit into the ’80s is probably where I’d naturally draw the most inspiration from,” muses Peterson. “But, in the same breath, every project will have its own voice, and its own demands. Knuckleball (his second feature film as a director, writer and producer) to me felt like it required a lot of formalism. Recently at a Q&A, someone was like: ‘Oh, were you inspired by Hitchcock?’ And I: ‘Not specifically. No I wasn’t. But I think I can see why you say that’. Knuckleball has a very controlled, a formal sort of visual approach. But I think I drew more so from films like Let The Right One In, the original Swedish one, and the Shining.”
Shot around Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton during the winter months with snow, nippy air and hoarfrost bitten earth establish a chilly setting for the thriller. In his own words, Peterson describes what Knuckleball is all about:
“Twelve year old Henry gets dropped off at his grandfather’s country home, who he doesn’t know that well. The grandfather passes away suddenly in the night and Henry’s left to his own. He’s alone and there’s dangerous forces from outside that are trying to harm him while his parents are racing home to try to find out what’s going on. There’s no communication between them – his phone is dead, he doesn’t have a charger and there’s no service. He’s got to fend for himself over the twelve or eighteen hours that his parents are racing back to find out what the heck has happened. It’s kinda like Home Alone meets the Shining, with no comedy for adults.”
During the Calgary Underground Film Festival, Knuckleball will see its Canadian premiere in Peterson’s home town.
“It first premiered in a film festival called Cinequest in the States (San Jose, California) on March 3, which was great,” notes Peterson. “You could see people kinda shrink away from some of the more violent moments and people were really concerned for the kid, which is, you know, emotionally what you’re hoping for. We got a lot of compliments on the acting, the story and the score.”
The film also has a bone-chilling, drone-drenched score composed by Toronto-based musicians Michelle Osis and David Arcus.
“Musically, we talked about trying to keep everything organic. The instrumentation was all organic and it was a small selection of instruments. I didn’t want it to be a busy score. We ended up using a lot of home-made sounds like drum-sticks on pieces of tin for the rhythm sections and we made this circular boat instrument thing. They killed it on the score and it was a real pleasure to work with those guys.”
Peterson met Osis and Arcus through his connection with the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto, where Peterson took a six month intensive film program called The Director’s Lab in 2013.
“I learnt a lot in that program, and it positioned me in the industry because not many people have done it, and it’s got a decent amount of credibility.”
Besides the program, Peterson hasn’t taken any other forms of film school, most of his studies were actually in other academic fields.
“I went to York University and did a double major in Humanities and Communication Studies. Then I went to graduate school at the University of North Carolina, and did Communication Studies there, and I consider that a big part of my ‘film education’. In grad school, I started making documentaries, and then also I’d watch two three movies a day because I had access to the libraries and stuff. I could follow these crazy strings, and just watch Polish cinema for a month or two, then find, you know, one of those guys that worked in France with some other guys, and then I’d start following these different threads, different lines, and just found an amazing amount of cool, interesting, sometimes bad, films from all over the world, and I did that for six years, probably.”
This self-taught process has shaped the filmmaking philosophies that drive Peterson. As a film enthusiast who enjoys films from all corners of the world, he is determined to create films that international audiences will enjoy.
“Canada doesn’t watch a lot of its own movies, right? So if you’re making films to only be seen here, you’re probably wasting your time. I mean, you can still be talking about local, personal things, but I would imagine your hope would be that it’s got international appeal. Having a film be pretty good for a local project is a fine way to look at something, but at some point I’d assume you’re making it for world-wide fans of whatever kind of movie you made. It’s an international art-form, it’s an international language. I hope Knuckleball lives up to that.”
Knuckleball has sold in the Middle East, China, the U.K., and the U.S., and will be screened internationally come September.
Knuckleball plays April 17, 6:30 pm at The Globe Cinema during CUFF.CUFF, Knuckleball, The Globe Cinema