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Under snow 

Indie filmmaker David Gordon Green takes a stylistic leap from the American south to the Canadian north with Snow Angels. Carsten Knox reports.

The dark, cold months of January and February are traditionally slow ones for the Canadian movie business. There may be the odd series that shoots right through to March, but it’s rare that an American production will shoot anywhere in Canada right now. Filmmakers would rather not come up here when it’s cold, especially if they are used to the warm Santa Ana winds that blow out of the California desert through the winter months.

That makes what’s happening now in Halifax all the more unusual. Shooting in town right now is the miniseries October 1970, about the FLQ, which went to camera before the holidays. Also up and running is a movie of the week, Sybil, a remake of the Sally Field schizophrenia drama. Having these two shows shooting at this time is a treat for Halifax crews, but the real surprise is an American independent film that started filming on Monday. It’s called Snow Angels, and is directed by David Gordon Green.

The 30-year-old Green is not someone you’d call a high-profile mainstream director, but if you’d asked anyone at the Sundance Film Festival—which wrapped up its 2006 edition on Sunday—they’d know him well. Green is one of a small group of young American filmmakers whose work has been shaped by important influences: the golden age of American movies, the 1970s, and the experience of making independent films outside the Hollywood system.

His first big splash was a picture called George Washington, which was released in 2000 and won the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Green is from the southern United States, and his films to date have all been shot there. George Washington is set in North Carolina over the course of one summer, and tells the story of a group of impoverished children whose lives are changed by a tragedy in their midst.

It’s a soft, languorous picture that seems less driven by narrative than by image, evoking memories of the perfect, endless summer afternoons of a certain age. Roger Ebert compared it to the films of Terrence Malick, the legendary American director who just released his fourth film in 32 years, The New World. Malick’s work, which includes Badlands and Days of Heaven, is about the observation and appreciation of nature as much as it is concerned with the little dramas of human beings. Green’s George Washington has another claim to fame that excites film geeks everywhere: it’s available on DVD in a Criterion Edition—Criterion is the crème de la crème of DVD releases, a blue ribbon of quality.

In 2003, Green made what is probably his most well-known movie, All the Real Girls, starring Paul Schneider and the luminous Zooey Deschanel. You may remember her from roles in Almost Famous and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but she has yet to better her work here. All the Real Girls is a teenaged love story that feels like it teeters on the ragged edge of disaster, until it finally goes over. It’s full of burning cinematic images that stay with you long after the details of the plot have vanished. Undertow, from 2004, continues to evoke a slightly over-ripe landscape of southern decay. It’s more of a thriller, loosely inspired by the Robert Mitchum classic Night of the Hunter, where two kids are pursued by a greedy and violent older man who wants money they’ve secreted away. In this case, the boys are pursued by their uncle, played by Josh Lucas. Undertow was the film where Green was united with the director to whose work his own films are regularly compared: Terrence Malick produced it.

Snow Angels, which will shoot in the HRM for 30 days, stars Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and Kate Beckinsale (Underworld). Reports of the plot vary, but the consensus seems to be that it is a series of interconnected stories united by a common tragedy. The script is always important, but if Green’s three other films are anything to go by, sense of place will be as essential as anything that goes on between the characters. As this is Green’s first film away from the heat of the southern States, it will be very interesting to see how he brings the chilly environs of Halifax in February to the screen.

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