"In a way, any small Canadian independent film requires an enormous amount of energy from the director, and I've seen that from Atom"—Egoyan—"and Jeremy"—Podeswa"—and Amnon"—Buchbinder—"and every director I've worked with over the years. It's part of how we hustle our films, it's a very door-to-door salesman sort of job."
Camelia Frieberg is talking about her first film as director and its troubled gestation, down the line from a busy opening week in Toronto.
Frieberg is regarded as one of the country's premiere independent producers, having ushered into the world Canadian films as diverse as The Sweet Hereafter, The Five Senses and Whole New Thing. Her directorial debut is called A Stone's Throw, shot in March of 2006 in Dartmouth and on the south shore over a startlingly brief 15 days. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Atlantic Film Festival last September, where it earned the award for best Atlantic feature film. Now that it's finally arriving in cinemas after an unusually long wait, Frieberg speaks to the delay.
"Essentially, Thinkfilm, that was the distributor at the time of production and right through the Toronto film festival, was bought by an American company," she says.
"A number of us, by dint of hard work and certain amount of pressure, managed to loosen the hold on our projects and get them out," she says. "In my case I was fortunate to put it in the hands of Mongrel Media, just in advance of the broadcast contracts. It'll be a very tight window to get the film out theatrically. That's why I'm up against all the summer blockbusters. Better late than never!"
She needn't worry about A Stone's Throw lacking definition while showing in a multiplex opposite Rush Hour 3 and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The film is a quiet, thoughtful piece about ecological activist and photographer Jack (Kris Holden-Reid) who returns to his Nova Scotia hometown to hide out from the American law. His sister Olivia (Kathryn MacLellan), a textile artist, gives him shelter, not knowing about the devil on his tail. Jack's nephew, Thomas (Aaron Webber), finds inspiration in his uncle's causes, enough to start investigating a local paint factory. Jack also finds romance with Olivia's friend Lia (Lisa Ray), a teacher at the local Waldorf School, the actual institution where the Nova Scotia-centred Frieberg sends her own children.
The one advantage of the long wait between the film's shoot, its festival appearances and its theatrical release is the way ecology has moved in the forefront of people's minds. "It's an enormous sea change in people's consciousness about environmental issues," says Frieberg. "In a way I do have that working for me. I knew it was going to be walking a tightrope here, because I also wanted to deal with the psychological drama of families, awakening consciousness and all these other things, but I really wanted to not shy away from tackling these large environmental issues. Finding the right balance is always tricky."
Frieberg makes no secret of the left-leaning politics and interests that she sees influencing her future work. She has two features on deck at the moment, one an adaptation of Amy McKay's The Birth House, a novel she recently optioned.
"Part of what the struggles the protagonists are going through in that , even though they're set back in World War I, are very contemporary. It's between traditional knowledge base and the validity of that, in this case midwifery, and the largely male-dominated medical establishment."
The other script Frieberg is working on, which may make it to the screen first, is called Dizzy. It's about a boy who is wrongly diagnosed with ADHD and medicated, when it turns out he actually has Asperger's Syndrome. "Again, we're so ready to drug our kids and ourselves and to think there are easy solutions to every problem that can be bought with a prescription," she says. "But there are all sorts of consequences to doing that. Those are the things I continue to want to look at, including women's rights and social justice issues, which I think are tied up in these same concerns."
A Stone’s Throw opens Friday.