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Rhonda’s Party filmmakers Ashley McKenzie and Nelson MacDonald 

Party platform: The Cape Breton filmmakers award-winning short is the launch pad for their career.

click to enlarge Ashley McKenzie and Nelson MacDonald do it together. - KRISTA COMEAU
  • Ashley McKenzie and Nelson MacDonald do it together.
  • Krista Comeau

There's a snappy back-and-forth that happens when you sit filmmaking duo Nelson MacDonald and Ashley McKenzie down. It's a testament to the pair's long history of collaboration, even if they don't quite remember their own filmography.

"We made our first film together when we were 17," says MacDonald. "It was just for school."

"Which film are you talking about?" asks McKenzie.

"You don't want to know," he replies.

MacDonald, who acts as producer, and McKenzie, the director, grew up together in New Waterford before moving to Halifax to study at Saint Mary's. Now, their most notable project is sending the pair to Toronto for Air Canada's enRoute Film Festival.

Rhonda's Party was produced through AFCOOP's Film 5 program, written by Christine Comeau, and stars Karine Vanasse (now of Pan Am). It has screened across the country, and won CBC's Short Film Face-Off. Now, Rhonda's Party is poised to walk away with a prize from Air Canada's annual film fest.

"We didn't officially win anything, that we're aware of," says McKenzie. "All we know is that we're one of three award finalists and there's four awards."

"We're from Cape Breton though," says MacDonald. "We're used to getting the shitty end of the stick, so we'll probably get shut out."

If Rhonda's Party does impress the jury members (including Atom Egoyan, Jean-Marc Vallée and Molly Parker), the pair will receive a trip to the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France. It would also put them in some familiar company.

"If we win, that would mean two out of the five years a film directed by a female Cape Bretoner has won," says MacDonald, whose friend Jacqueline Mills won the 2008 festival. "For a film that we learned a lot from, and a made a lot of, we felt, learning mistakes, growing pains, it's done well for us," he adds.

In the meantime, the two are in post-production on When You Sleep, their NSI Drama Prize-winning short, co-produced by AFCOOP's Martha Cooley, about a couple struggling with their co-dependent relationship. After that will come Stray, a Linda Joy Award-winning script that the pair hopes to shoot back home in New Waterford using the $50,000 in services they won from the Short Film Face-Off.

"Basically, Stray is the last short film we have and then probably features from there on out," says MacDonald.

"I think we're both really interested in duration," says McKenzie. "So the short film format, it goes against our nature in some ways to be confined by the time and not able to digress."

Whether feature length or shorts, the duo don't see solo projects as a part of their immediate future. Mostly due to the benefits of collaborating for so long.

"I don't know if we'd be where we are right now...I don't know if we would have had the courage to pursue filmmaking, I think that would have been too large of a step for either of us if we weren't doing it together," says McKenzie. "Everything we do in filmmaking is irrational and doesn't make a lot of sense sometimes. So I think because we do it together it kind of makes things possible."

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