Kazik Radwanski is a filmmaker to keep your eye on. Only a few years after finishing film school at Ryerson his shorts have screened at TIFF, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Uppsala International Short Film Festival, among many others. When we sat down on a rainy Saturday he had just returned from the Berlinale and the international premiere of his latest short, Green Crayons (2010). But the Toronto native won’t be here long. Later this week he’s heading off in his “mum’s teal station wagon” to the 31st Annual Genies with his long time producer Dan Montgomery, as Out in That Deep Blue Sea (2009) has been nominated for Best Live Action Short Drama.
Before the road trip he took the time to talk to Criticize This! about Out in That Deep Blue Sea, his approach to filmmaking and whom he hopes will be at his table at the Genies on March 10.
Criticize This!: Out in That Deep Blue Sea opens with a shot of Peter struggling. It’s a very personal story of struggle, how did you come up with this character?
Kazik Radwanski: Peter is a mixture of my Dad and I. It would be unfair to say it is my Dad, anyone who knows him knows Peter’s nothing like him. But it’s a weird hybrid of me, my Dad, and of course Peter [Bavis, the actor]. What I’m always looking for when I cast a film is something from the actor, where they’re playing themselves but in an extreme state. So much of the character and the story grows from the process. I hate the idea of writing a film alone, in a dark room, at a computer and then just simply executing it. I want the genesis to be on set.
CT!: Out in That Deep Blue Sea doesn’t spell out Peter’s situation. What’s the role of ambiguity in your films?
KR: I don’t want to convince someone of something. I always hated the idea of back story to justify actions. I like the idea of starting a film with a question and not necessarily finding an answer, but it’s the question that we’re interested in. And knowing there isn’t necessarily a cause and effect; that this crisis can seep out from anywhere. That’s what makes it terrifying. These problems, no mater how mundane and small, define people’s lives. Like the moment with Peter in his bedroom, it might haunt him or change him, as small as it is.
CT!: But you’re not interested in pursuing what that exact change is?
KR: At times when I feel almost defensive about the film I sometimes want people to miss the point. That’s what makes it worth making, that’s what makes it interesting.
CT!: I wanted to talk about aesthetics. In Out in That Deep Blue Sea we are almost trapped with Peter – tight shots, he’s not sharing the frame…
KR: It’s funny, I used to think of my films as being non-aesthetic. I never want people to read any symbolism or grammar into framing. But it does push to what my aesthetic interests are, in faces and moments. To me, that’s the essence of cinema that’s driving my interest – those moments and flickers in people’s faces.
CT!: What do you think it is about film that allows you to capture that?
KR: Partially, I think I make films because I’m inarticulate [laughter]. Film is different. There’s something inherently in the nature of cinema that’s in a different category [than other mediums]. There’s a different language I’m drawn to. That’s the burden for me – I intuitively understand it with images but when I try to articulate it [with words] it turns to mush. Which is what makes [creating films] such a crazy desire. It’s the only time I feel my arguments somewhat come across.
CT!: You started out making documentaries. Out in That Deep Blue Sea is about a struggling real estate agent, which is very topical. Is this a “recession movie”?
KR: I welcome whatever anybody wants to read into it, but the real territory I’m interested in is people. Not them being a part of some social equation or context. I’m not representing something about society I want to change or correct. It’s more just people existing.
CT: Peter works for Riverdale Realty, which if you live in Toronto signals the film’s location. Is using Toronto as Toronto a conscious choice?
KR: Toronto as Toronto…It comes from that I like to work with things I know. It’s like why I’m a fan of the Leafs, it’s not because they are a great hockey team [laughter] but because I grew up watching them. Why Toronto? I grew up here. And that’s not because I want people to know more about me, but I’m more effective if I work that way.
CT!: You just screened your latest short Green Crayons at the Berlinale. How does this compare to showing at TIFF?
KR: It’s so international, you’re suddenly screening with films from South Korea, Poland, Israel – you really do feel a part of a greater dialogue. TIFF is just Canadian films [for the shorts]. It’s a weird feeling since the films come from such humble beginnings and then suddenly are on such a big level
CT!: Is there difference in critical reaction?
KR: People are a lot more critical. If they don’t like the camera work they’ll tell you. And just how angry people get when they don’t win the Golden Bear – it’s so different from being Canadian.
CT!: You’ve established your own production company MDFF with your producer Dan Montgomery. Tell me more about this partnership.
KR: We’re really lucky to be working together. He is the definition of a creative producer; he’s producing for the right reasons, not just some schmoozy guy who knows everyone. Dan and I just want to make good films. I know a lot of these films wouldn’t have been made if we didn’t have that relationship. I don’t have to compromise. With Out in That Deep Blue Sea I wanted to make the film or fail, I didn’t want to compromise.
CT!: But your not “failing” anymore. MDFF is making a profit, you’re producing.
KR: Yeah, a filmmaker from Vancouver, Antoine Bourges, she made a film [Women Waiting] that we’re really proud to have played a part in. What spurred Dan and I to collaborate is what spurred us and Antoine to work together. We just wanted to make something good. I feel terrible saying this, but there’s so many exciting things going on in Quebec, we want the rest of Canada to have that excitement. So when we see something great we want to go out of our way to help it.
CT!: What does the Genie nomination mean to you for “the film you wanted to fail”?
KR: It’s strange to get nominated so long after it came out; it’s almost two years since we shot it now. It’s a wonderful feeling for it to have a life and go out and exist. But the Genies are still pretty mysterious to me. But I’ve gotten to meet a few people behind [the award] and you realize it’s a lot of your peers. And that’s always really encouraging knowing that fellow directors respect [your work].
CT!: But you almost didn’t submit Out in That Deep Blue Sea for consideration?
KR: When it was made it was such a small film. We just made it to make it. And it’s great knowing that people might see it now! It’s hard to have people watch short films, so it’s great knowing it might get an audience.
CT!: Who do you want at your table the night of?
KR: Denis Côté, Nicolás Pereda, even though they are probably not going to be there.
The Genies air March 10th at 8 p.m. on the CBC.
Kiva Reardon is a freelance film reviewer and blogger based in Toronto.