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That Thing he does 

Daniel MacIvor’s latest film, the coming of age story Whole New Thing, came together lightning-fast. Mark Palermo chats with the writer-director-star.

Daniel MacIvor likes the use of the word genesis. As co-writer and co-star of Whole New Thing, opening February 10 in Halifax, he’s well-aware of the good fortune that brought this project together. Working on the script with the movie’s director, Amnon Buchbinder, Whole New Thing was written in two weeks. In an industry where written work commonly lingers and circulates for years, that’s quite a feat. To top it off, it was shot in just 15 days.

“It’s very unusual that should happen,” MacIvor says over the phone from Montreal. “But we were both very driven and inspired. Amnon had these ideas about a kid who’s an outcast. I said, ‘Why not make him gay?’ He said, ‘Would he be aware of that at 13?’ When I was 13, I had a crush on my English teacher. So it came together very organically. As a writer you sometimes labour over an idea until it just writes itself.”

MacIvor’s childhood scenario is also the setup for the film, a sensitive portrait of a boy’s developing sexuality. Played without grating precociousness by Aaron Weber, 13-year-old Emerson is the socially detached product of home-schooling by hippie parents (Rebecca Jenkins and Robert Joy). When he makes the transition to public school, the other kids think he’s weird. But he bonds with his English teacher Don (MacIvor), with whom Emerson soon becomes sexually infatuated.

“Aaron Webber innately understands elements of Emerson,” MacIvor says. “In some ways, Emerson has a healthier emotional development than Don, who spent a large part of his life in the closet. This kid is being raised in a very open environment. The problem is that means he’s not allowed to be a kid.” This also explains the meaning of the film’s title. “The movie’s about adults who grow up and a kid who realizes he’s a kid. Everyone gets a new beginning.”

Despite the subject matter, MacIvor is unwilling to assign Whole New Thing the limiting label of a “gay movie.” “I don’t know if I consider myself a gay guy. On paper, I am. There’s a light touch to the movie. A gay movie too often suggests something angsty and dark. There would be a lot of judgement on Don’s character. There’s respect and trust for the characters’ choices, even when they’re not the healthiest choices.”

Indeed, it takes confidence to treat this potentially loaded material with the breezy comic touch of Whole New Thing. Any controversy, MacIvor insists, will be unfounded. “I anticipate some in the States because they tend to be a bit more reactionary. Some US right radicals tend to react to things based on press releases, not based on viewing them. Upon seeing the movie, it’s handled in a way that’s not at all exploitative.”

That Whole New Thing could maintain an unassuming stance goes back to its genesis stage. “We made a commitment to not let it fall into development hell. We had a very limited time. The more interesting ideas often get filtered out of a script. You get the opinion of various councils, of various juries, various production people before the script even gets the green light. Everything gets homogenized. I’ve noticed in my experience that the first idea I’ve had is often more interesting than how it ends up, because it gets affected by everyone’s opinion.”

MacIvor, who lives in Halifax during the four to six months a year when he isn’t on the road, prides himself on this work ethos. It’s allowed him to balance various roles on movie productions with stage work, all of which poses its own challenges.

“I’m in Montreal right now developing a play. When I do a play, I think making a movie would be easier. Whenever I do a movie, I think doing a play would be easier. It’s in some ways more difficult to get a movie made, which becomes daunting.”

MacIvor has written seven movies prior to Whole New Thing—including Marion Bridge and Past Perfect—and directed five of them. Still, MacIvor says even with all the experience, filmmaking remains an ongoing but exciting challenge for him. “Theatre is a language that I feel like I’m fluent in. With cinema, I know how to conjugate the verbs but I don’t have the full vocabulary. I feel like I have more to learn, which keeps me engaged and alive in it.”

Whole New Thing opens February 10 at bayer’s lake.

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