Under hazy winter skies, with the slate grey, blue and purple of a Dartmouth rock quarry around them, the film crew making A Stone’s Throw seems particularly relaxed in its third week of shooting. Energy on a film set trickles downward: if the executives, the producer, director and writers are happy, so is the crew. A take where the lead actor, Kris Holden-Ried, walks up a rocky path and stumbles over a fake wooden gate elicits a peal of laughter from director Camelia Frieberg. She’s clearly having a ball.
At lunch, Frieberg, 47, with braided dark hair and spectacles, sits down with her co-writer, the boyish Victoria, BC-born Garfield Lindsay Miller, 28, to discuss how Frieberg, a legend in the Canadian independent film community as a producer, came to direct this ambitious script set largely in and around Mahone Bay.
“I don’t think I had a burning desire to be a director,” she says matter-of-factly. “I had a burning desire to not be a director.” Though she had directed a documentary some years ago, having worked on so many films as a producer—Atom Egoyan’s Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, Deepa Mehta’s Bollywood/Hollywood and, most recently, Daniel MacIvor’s Wilby Wonderful and Whole New Thing—she didn’t feel any need to jump into drama until last year. “I decided there was a story I wanted to tell and once Garfield and I started to write the story together, there wasn’t anyone else I wanted to direct it. The story was coming from a place close to me, in my own life.”
Originally from Toronto, Frieberg has lived on the South Shore for seven years. Frieberg met Miller while she was teaching a producing workshop in 2005. “Star pupil,” says Frieberg with a smile. “I read a script he had written and I knew I liked his writing.” Within the first few months of their meeting, they were talking on the phone about the story and sharing drafts by email. Miller has worked in writing and producing documentaries out west, but this is his first produced screenplay. “We have a general world-view that is very much in tune,” says Miller. “The story we’re dealing with has issues we’re both very passionate about.”
The story is about Jack Walker (Holden-Ried), an American photographer and eco-activist whose work exposes industrial exploitation of natural resources. On the run from personal and practical demons, he appears on the rural Nova Scotia doorstep of his artist sister, Olivia (Kathryn MacLellan). His arrival upsets his sister’s life and the life of her son, Thomas (Aaron Webber), who is inspired by Jack’s causes to investigate a local paint factory. Meanwhile, Jack finds a romantic connection with Olivia’s friend Lia (Lisa Ray), a teacher at the local Waldorf School. The real-life alternative learning community of the Waldorf School plays a big part in both the script and in Frieberg’s inspiration.
“I’ve been very involved with the Waldorf School for a number of years,” says Frieberg. “I have two children that go there, for me it’s been a whole experience of learning how to work non-autonomously in the context of a caring community. I wanted to pose that story alongside someone who is a renegade, used to acting from a very personal place.”
Frieberg says she liked the idea that Jack could have noble intentions but because of the murkiness of his own personal history and past emotional baggage, he’s out of touch with anything resembling a spiritual approach in his work. Miller adds, “The question I had is what is it that brings people to act, to be an activist. There are a lot of people who care about issues, but far fewer who are doing things about them.”
What is especially ambitious in the production of A Stone’s Throw is its 15-day shooting schedule. “The proper word would be insane,” says Frieberg. “But we did do it last year with Whole New Thing.” She credits that crew for its professionalism, and many are aboard again for A Stone’s Throw. As a first-time director, she had some concerns about technical issues, alleviated somewhat through close collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Ball. She still wrestles with finding the best way to communicate her intent to the actors.
“All I can say about that is it’s a constant challenge,” she says, smiling again. “I’ve found myself drawing on things I didn’t even know I had in me to try to illicit the things I want from the actors—but they’re great and I think it’s all working well."