Money Talks: local features at the Atlantic Film Fest

The festival kicks off tonight, runs until next Thursday

click to enlarge Money Talks: local features at the Atlantic Film Fest
Craig Brown & Meredith McNeil star in Your Money or Your Wife

Tonight, the 35th Atlantic Film Festival kicks off with the premiere of Hyena Road, the new Paul Gross-Allan Hawco joint about Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan (7pm, Rebecca Cohn). There are a number of internationally acclaimed films and shorts screening in the next eight days, but there are also great batch of Atlantic-made features that show just how skilled and vital Nova Scotia film was.  

On Sunday, the locally written, produced and directed home invasion comedy Your Money or Your Wife premieres at Park Lane (6:30pm). It's one of the last productions created through the now-closed Film & Creative Industries Nova Scotia. Written and directed by Iain MacLeod (Trailer Park Boys, Relative Happiness), the film centres around the misadventure of Lionel (Craig Brown), a neurotic pushover who gets drunk one night and winds up in the middle of a home invasion scheme with incompetent criminals Elise (Annie Valentina) and Warren (Brian MacQuarrie).

Hilarity and romance ensue. 

"I wrote the script specifically for (Telefilm's) micro-budget programme First Feature," says MacLeod, "It's a heist movie but it's also a rom-com, (which are) both genres I love." He cites '90s heist comedies, Bottle Rocket and Palookaville, and Billy Wilder as influences, and there are techniques that smack of Arrested Development with classic comedy gags and pairings.

Shot on location in Dartmouth and Timberlea, the film worked well with the programme guidelines: "We could make it within the budget range (the story was set in a single house, for example)," MacLeod says, "But really it just made me laugh a lot and I wanted to see it myself." Along with Canadian-themed jokes, the polished and clean cinematography by Kevin Fraser and the superb editing of Sarah Byrne, MacLeod is also proud of the film's cast. 

"The acting is extremely strong," he says, "People think anyone can do comedy, but it's very hard and we were so lucky to have the cast we did. They came to work funny every day." From slapstick to screwball to sarcasm, Your Money or Your Wife offers relatable, sensitive characters who are self-referential at times. There are surprising stand-out performances by both Josh MacDonald (Tom) and Meredith MacNeill (Annie), and the film is also an achievement in local production. 

"This was my first feature and hopefully not my last," says Dartmouth producer and FILM5 graduate Brittany Amos, who sought executive production from Mark Almon, the chair of Screen Nova Scotia, "This is the last feature to be made through the First Feature program. It's unfortunate because opportunities for emerging filmmakers are dwindling."

Amos says the project's manageable size and the experience of a talented crew made her job as easy as possible. But she and MacLeod say that the Liberal budget cuts to the film tax credit and to industry bureaus is having a disastrous consequence on creative production. 

"As excited as we are to watch the movie with a Halifax audience, it's impossible not to think of that as we do," says MacLeod. This programme and these opportunities will not exist this year. "Also a lot of our cast and crew have moved or are moving and the future is a big question mark for all of us," he continues, "Films and filmmaking are not over in Nova Scotia but this will be difficult ... It's important to tell our own stories (but) there needs to be government support." Without it, it's likely (if not certain) that there will be fewer Atlantic Canadian films like North Mountain, Undone and Noon Gun premiering next year.

Following Sunday's premiere of Your Money or Your Wife, Amos will also premiere her short film, Gun Shy as part of the Reel East Showcase 5 (9pm, Park Lane), a surrealist spin on a father-son hunting trip. Last year, her script was the winner of The Joy Award, which supports emerging media artists in Nova Scotia. The granting society is a charitable organization founded in 1986 in memory of Linda Joy Busby, coordinator of AFCOOP. Due to the elimination of the film tax credit, however, there will be no Joy Awards this year; the society hopes to offer some form of support to at least one project. Let that sink in. 

In light of the industry's hardships, seeing locally made films like Your Money or Your Wife is bittersweet. But going out and experiencing all of the Atlantic and international films at this year's AFF is one way to show how much we value this industry. And who doesn't love to laugh?

Check out the listings for showtimes!

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