Edmonton filmmakers create a fine documentary

A face appears on the silver screen. In a close-up. The owner of the face, a Native Canadian, or a First Nations’ member, to be politically correct, looks straight in the camera. His lips start moving. This is what he says: “I am a psychopath.”

Thus opens the documentary film titled Antisocial Inc.

Commissioned by TVO, finished in 2014, 58 minutes long. Written, directed and produced by Rosvita Dransfeld. Filmed by Sergio Olivares. Music supplied by Donald Horsburgh. Edited by Scott Parker.

The audience at Edmonton’s Metro Cinema at Garneau gave the film an enthusiastic response, and deservedly so.

Of course, why it had to be TV Ontario to commission a documentary film made entirely in Alberta, by Albertans, about an Albertan, will remain a sweet mystery. Until we realize that Alberta, Canada’s richest province, somehow hasn’t what one would compare to America’s public broadcasting system. And the country’s public broadcasting network that one would have expected to be a logical outlet for such a documentary is in the throes of licking its self-inflicted economic wounds. It’s trying to figure out what to do with itself. No, you can’t expect the CBC to have either the wherewithal or the basic imagination to go after a work that is really and truly creative.

Simple story

The story is, basically, very simple: a kid is brought up in a rather unacceptably dysfunctional family that serves as his foster home. He becomes a drug dealer and spends a quarter of a century in and out of all kinds of jails and prisons. Eventually, he decides that he’s wasting his life. He does his best to turn it around. Along the way, he meets someone who used to be his childhood neighbour and who takes genuine interest in him as a living person. Having been a loner most of his life, not used to enjoying friendly relationships, but, on the other hand, used to living with the label of an anti-social individual, the hero (Chris is his name) has frightful difficulty with accepting any signs of friendship from anybody.

There’s no happy ending. There’s no tragic ending, either. There’s an ending that shows that life will go on. How it will go on, nobody knows. Least of all the hero.

It’s a documentary film as documentary films should be. It lets the hero tell his own story, it follows him when he is silent, it lets the pictures do the talking, and it takes us places most of us haven’t encountered. Such as jail cells in which the hero had spent more than a few of his days in his past, and which he hopes to avoid from now onwards, as long as he shall live.

This, in and of itself, is an optimistic approach.

The creators spent several years following their hero. He must have got used to their attention. He is not acting. And it’s pretty obvious that a lot of material must have ended on the cutting room floor. By the way, why it is called that when the technology used to record the story was clearly electronic, one can’t fathom. A cliché is a cliché is a cliché.

Luckily (or happily) there are no clichés in this movie.

Moving pictures

On a more personal note, I would like to talk more about the cinematography.

I have known Sergio Olivares for quite a few years. He has been working for Edmonton’s Aquila Productions, covering the Edmonton Oilers and providing wonderful footage for the series Oil Change. These are documentaries following the hockey club’s rare ups and frequent downs during the last four seasons. It has developed a cult-like following. Both in Canada (it airs on Sportsnet) and in the U.S. (it airs on NHL Network).

One of the outstanding features of Oil Change is its crisp, fast and furious storytelling through amazing pictures. It reflects hockey, the fastest team game on earth.

I was wondering, in fact, I was somewhat apprehensive. And I was surprised. Sergio Olivares subordinated his camera work to the story. His pictures not only told the story. They conveyed the emotions behind it. Without any of the modern camera tricks. This was storytelling at its best.

So, Sergio, thanks for inviting me to the screening.

An annoyed question

It has been a nasty habit of organizers of sundry moving pictures theatrical premiere performances to have the creators appear on stage once the curtain had come down, and answer all kinds of questions from the audience. Some of the questions might be intelligent, others might be perfectly stupid. They all have one thing in common: they are perfectly irrelevant.

What do these people expect? Do they want the creators to tell them about all the funny stories that happened on location, during the filming?

The performance either does make sense, or it does not. The creators either did convey their story, or they did not. They either did say what they wanted to say, or they did not.

And so it happened on this night, too. After the audience applauded Antisocial Inc. with justified enthusiasm, some of the creators were invited to come on stage. The room was filled with all kinds of intelligentsia, an unusual crowd for me as I try to avoid such circles at all cost. It was clear that the air would be filled with questions.

It was.

And then it happened. It was bound to happen. The question-and-answer session would sink as low as to have one of those intellectuals ask the producer what she wanted the audience to take home with them, having seen the film.

This was one of those people who, for example, do not live in a marriage because they live within the issue of marital cohabitation, who do not eat because they live solving the problem of consuming edible material, and who do not love because they are examining the question of emotional attraction between two or more individuals. You know this kind people, don’t you?

Anyhow, poor Rosvita Dransfeld thought she had to answer. She explained that she felt that labelling people is frightfully wrong, and for those who have been labelled in any shape or form, it would be preferable if they didn’t accept it.

Why not, right?

She would have been better off if she tore a page from René Clair’s book.

The famous French film director returned to his country from overseas after the Second World War. He made his first postwar film in 1947, Le silence est d’or (Silence is Golden).

When it premiered in Paris, the theatre was crowded. As the French say, tout le Paris. Rough translation: the who-is-who of Paris. Gentlemen in full tails, white ties, with their Legion d’Honneur pins and Académie française insignia shining. Ladies sporting revoltingly revealing cleavage (décolletage, as the French call it), showing almost everything to almost everybody. And the air filled with excited expectation and exciting scent of Chanel No. 5.

Into that, René Clair takes the stage. When all and sundry at long last sit down, he tells them: “Ladies and gentlemen, do not expect any deep thoughts. Do not expect any philosophies. Do not expect, Heaven forbid, any messages.”

After a few seconds of looking around, he turns to the microphone again: “I have only come to entertain you.”

With those famous last words, René Clair leaves the stage (and the building). Presumably to have a quick smoke.

That’s the page Rosvita Dransfeld should have torn from René Clair’s book.

Her film deserved it.

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