By Pat Mullen
Filmmaking is a family affair for Bruce Sweeney. The Vancouver-based director returns with Kingsway, which premieres this month at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a fine companion piece to his 2001 hit Last Wedding, with its hilarious and relatable dysfunctional family. This savagely funny and impeccably acted dramedy might be Sweeney’s best film yet.
Kingsway stars Camille Sullivan as Jess Horvat, a middle-aged mechanic who finds new perspectives on life and love when her brother Matt (Jeff Gladstone) learns of his wife Lori’s infidelity. Lori is played by Colleen Rennison, who lends her voice to the film’s local indie soundtrack. Finally, Gabrielle Rose holds the family together as Marion, who just wants her kids to be happy.
Sweeney, speaking via phone from his cabin on Nelson Island ahead of Kingsway’s TIFF premiere, says the Horvats’ foibles aren’t based upon his own family.
“I wanted to write about this Hungarian single-parent family based on people close to me and around me,” says Sweeney. “Working with a pastiche of the families I knew helped get the vibe of the household.” Sweeney adds that the single mother who inspired Marion came to Canada while pregnant, which Kingsway alludes to when she dumps a lousy boyfriend. The mother’s strength lets Sweeney explore the Horvats’ relationships without making the father a bad guy.
The cast authentically creates an intimate family dynamic. Sweeney says the actors’ rapport came from being involving early in the process. “I write the scenes and then we read them as a group,” explains Sweeney. “When we hear it aloud, you learn what sounds right and what doesn’t. You make alterations on the fly.” Sweeney adds that some improvisation arose while cameras rolled throughout the 17-day shoot to keep the drama as natural as possible.
“I really got the sense of a group making a movie this time,” says Sweeney. “It was very comfortable.”
Another star is Vancouver’s Kingsway Strip, particularly the 2400 Motel where Matt first sees Lori’s motorcycle and suspects her infidelity. Sweeney says Kingsway entered the picture when he and the cast developed the characters. “It morphed into an infidelity story,” he says. “I thought if someone was going to have an affair, what better place than the 2400 Motel?” The landmark motel with the little cabins and hilarious Yelp reviews is symbolic of the Horvats’ lives: stale, awkward, and in need of fresh paint.
“Every time you bring up the 2400 Motel in Vancouver, everyone has a story about it,” laughs Sweeney. “Everyone has a story about traveling on Kingsway. It doesn’t go east-west or north-south. Everyone who’s spent time in Vancouver has been flummoxed by Kingsway. The whole diagonal-ness of Kingsway is a theme to the movie: you think you’re going one way or another.” The road provides a perfect metaphor for the way the characters move sideways through life as Matt’s breakdown leads Jess and Marion to discover love through unconventional pathways.
The same diagonal-ness could characterize the state of indie filmmaking in BC. “I think that theatrical model is pretty much dead,” says Sweeney. For a micro-budget film like Kingsway, shrinking funding models make financing difficult even for proven talents, although Sweeney agrees that support should go to emerging filmmakers.
Sweeney teaches film while juggling projects and enjoys nurturing the next generation of filmmakers. He encourages the collaborative environment that makes a film like Kingsway click with an intimate team and a shoestring budget.
“I’ve been working with the same people for 25 years,” says Sweeney. “It’s just so much easier if you create a family around you.”
Kingsway is screening on Sunday Sept. 29 at the Rio Theatre and Monday Oct. 1 at International Village 9.Kingsway, VIFF