On July 8, The Tracey Fragments---the other Ellen Page movie---will be released on DVD, for another dose of Halifax's favourite local celebrity success. Prior to Juno's release, and with a short stint at Empire Park Lane theatres in November 2007, The Tracey Fragments is what Canadian director Bruce McDonald (Roadkill, Dance Me Outside, Hard Core Logo) describes in an interview as "the story of a young woman who we meet on the back of a bus, wrapped in a shower curtain, nothing else." Page plays 15-year-old Tracey Berkowitz, in what McDonald goes on to describe as "a mystery story, her journey and a portrait of what it is to be 15." Berkowitz is searching for her missing younger brother, whom she's hypnotized into a dog.
Based on the novel by Maureen Medved, set in Winnipeg during a blizzard, The Tracey Fragmentsplays out as a dark, gritty and cold tale. "There are not many teenage girl movies where you get to embrace the dark side," says McDonald. "The more popular ones are lighthearted. This seems fresh to me in that it did go to the dark place, and was so articulate, smart and brave." He chooses this type of material not only out of his admiration for actors like Page, but also because of writers like Medved: "I was certainly impressed by their fearlessness."
Shot in Hamilton over only a two-week period, McDonald suggests that the story could take place anywhere. "We couldn't get to Winnipeg, so let's just create the feeling of a small city, or the edges of a small city. We figured a doughnut shop in Winnipeg sort of looked like a doughnut shop in Toronto or Halifax, or wherever you're from." With establishing shots of Winnipeg stolen from a Guy Maddin film, McDonald is still committed to the idea that the story takes place in a fixed location. He says, "I like that the story that goes out to the world is that it's Winnipeg, because it makes it specific, and it's a city that is not often talked about in other places."
While the shooting took place over only 14 days, using digital video without any lights but the sun and the moon, the incubation period for The Tracey Fragments was over nine months in editing and post-production. Headed by an editing trio working on a laptop on a kitchen table, Jeremy Munce, Gareth Scales and Matt Hannam laboured upon a complex visual style that's been credited for giving the film its unique comic book-like aesthetic. "We had pitched this idea from the very beginning, of a multi-screened, comic-book picture; very pop art, very experimental," says McDonald. Describing the film's visual mosaic in other ways, he points to Picasso: "We wanted the entire movie to have this fractured, fragmented portrait of a girl; like painters during Picasso's time would take a picture and box it up, and see it in a very cubist kind of way. There was a lot of experimenting, trying different approaches and designs."
Aside from the technological considerations, the biggest challenge for McDonald was allowing the story to be told from a teenager's perspective. "I tried the best I could to capture the vibe, trying to allow for the 15-year-oldness to enter into the project, seeing the world as Tracey Berkowitz would see things, where everyone else is a bit exaggerated, where everyone else is a bit of a monster, where things aren't linear, where things aren't so happy and rosy." For Page's performance as Berkowitz, McDonald is quick to join the ranks of her many fans and advocates: "She's just really cool, 'cause she's adventurous and it's not about the money or the razzle-dazzle. It seems to be about the work and the team and the experience. She had just come off doing X-Men 3 at that time, which was about a $200-million movie and ours was $200. We felt very excited to have her, and very fortunate."
McDonald urges you to watch The Tracey Fragmentsto "see one of the best actresses of this generation, and she's one of the best in the world. Go support the home team."
The Tracey Fragments is scheduled for DVD release on Tuesday, July 8.