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» 'Wilby Wonderful' boasts acclaimed cast, behind-the-scenes film-makers

by Vernon Oickle, published on August 13, 2003

SHELBURNE - A Canadian feature film, presently under production in Shelburne, has several Lunenburg County connections.

Producer Camelia Frieberg is an award-winning movie maker who lives near Bridgewater.

Considered one of Canada's premier movie makers, Ms Frieberg's films (The Sweet Hereafter, The Five Senses, Exotica, The Adjuster, Eclipse and Masala) have won international recognition, including Oscar nominations and numerous awards from the Cannes Film Festival and Canada's Genie Awards.

Wilby Wonderful is the second feature from the team who collaborated on Past Perfect, producers Ms Frieberg and Sherrie Johnson and the Cape Breton-born writer-director Daniel MacIvor.

A dark comedy about truth, transformation and the difficulty of finding a quiet place to kill yourself, the film with a $2 million budget is set in the small fictional Nova Scotian town of Wilby (Shelburne).

Shooting is currently under way entirely in and around Shelburne. It started in late July and will wrap later this month. The production is utilizing the Shelburne Film Production Centre and its extensive studio facility as a home base for the 60-member cast and crew.

Ms Frieberg said the movie continues the tradition of interesting, creative Canadian feature films, noting that with each project she thinks Mr. MacIvor is becoming one of the country's best directors.

"His reputation is growing," she said. "The cast and crew is largely here because of Daniel. With every project he's getting his chops honed a little more."

Over the course of one day, the story follows the lives of several characters as they attempt to maintain business as usual in the face of a very unusual business.

Carol French, the local realtor, is trying to sell her cranky mother-in-law's house to the mayor. Carol's police officer husband, Buddy, is in the middle of an investigation into the town's deviant underbelly. It seems that Buddy is also about to begin a love affair with the wrong-side-of-the-tracks just-back-in-town Sandra Anderson.

Meanwhile, Sandra's daughter, Emily, might very well be an underbelly deviant herself, judging by the company she keeps. Add to the mix the apparently dyslexic sign painter Duck MacDonald, and MacKenzie Fisher, the mayor's algebra-challenged young daughter, and it's just another Thursday in Wilby.

But why is Dan Jarvis trying to kill himself in all the wrong places? Where are all the drugs suddenly coming from? And what is Carol French going to do about that body in the closet?

Mr. MacIvor is known for his critically acclaimed international stage hits In On It, Here Lies Henry and Monster. As an actor he can be seen in Don McKellar's series Twitch City, Jeremy Podeswa's The Five Senses and Thom Fitzgerald's Beefcake. He is also the award-winning writer of Marion Bridge and the writer-director of Past Perfect.

One of the main characters is played by Rebecca Jenkins, known to local residents for her role in Black Harbour, a CBC drama filmed a few years ago in the Hubbards area. Ms Jenkins also has family ties to the local community. Lunenburg-based doctor John Jenkins is her brother.

Like her director, Ms Jenkins has accumulated an impressive list of movie credits including other MacIvor projects Marion Bridge and Past Perfect. She quickly admitted her decision to take a role in Wilby Wonderful had everything to do with the acclaimed film-maker.

"I'll go anywhere with Daniel," she said recently in an interview on the set. "And I was impressed with the script. It's an ensemble piece with lots of interesting characters and it's really fun. I'm having a great time back here working in Nova Scotia."

Ms Jenkins describes Daniel MacIvor as "a fabulous writer. I'd describe this script as a slice of life … a black comedy with a slant towards comedy. It's subtle, simple … kind of what life is about."

Cast-mate Sandra Oh, known for roles in recent movies such as Big Fat Liar and The Princess Diaries, agrees with Ms Jenkins' assessment of the script and its writer-director.

"I'm here because Daniel asked me," said the Ontario-born actress, who arrived in Shelburne from California where she is working on a feature film.

"It's so beautiful here, I'd come again. And when the opportunity came up to work with Daniel, who is one of the best film-makers working in Canada today, I couldn't say no."

Although in the process of moving to Vancouver where she'll be filming a new mini-series, Ms Jenkins said she always enjoys her time in Nova Scotia, in particular working on the South Shore where she had "wonderful" memories.

"Black Harbour was a great experience," said the Alberta native. She would do a reunion movie if producers were inclined to pursue such a project. "A lot of people loved Black Harbour and were very disappointed when it was cancelled. It was a fabulous experience working in the Hubbards area. The people were fantastic."

Paul Gross, known to most for his roles in the television series Due South and the recent hit comedy Men with Brooms, agrees that the lure to collaborate with Mr. MacIvor and the chance to work in Nova Scotia again were his primary reasons for taking a role in Wilby Wonderful.

"The script is terrific with wonderful characters and great attention to detail. I had never worked with Daniel before, but I had admired him as a film-maker, so I immediately said yes," Mr. Gross said, noting that he also looked forward to returning to Nova Scotia where he had previously filmed Buried on Sunday in the early 1990s.

"It's great. I love it here," he said. "I think Nova Scotia is on the brink of big things as far as the film industry goes. Film-makers are looking for places other than Toronto and they're coming to Nova Scotia. It's a great place to work."

Ms Frieberg agrees. In fact, the respected film-maker hopes her relationship with Mr. MacIvor and other Nova Scotian interests will continue to provide future opportunities in the province to which she and her family moved several years ago.

She hopes to use the Shelburne facility in future projects as she sees great things for the Nova Scotia industry.

Mr. MacIvor said he looks forward to a long association with Ms Frieberg and he is in the process of moving back to Nova Scotia to pursue other projects.

"I love Nova Scotia, obviously, and Shelburne has been great. I'd work here again in a heartbeat," said the acclaimed writer.

The setting, he added, was "just perfect" for Wilby Wonderful. It's a "dark comedy that takes place over one day in the fictional town of Wilby. With six characters, there's a great deal of intrigue, love and broken hearts."

Through this script, Mr. MacIvor said he wanted to explore "communites" - not so much the place - but in relationships.

"My inspiration for the story was an effort to explain the nature of community … how people feel they're outside of the community and their struggles to fit into a group."

The film may be ready for theatrical release in Canada by October and has also been pre-sold to television networks CITY TV, TMN, Movie Central and CBC, and will be distributed in Canada by Mongrel Media.

Ms Frieberg also hopes it will be invited to some of the movie festivals next year, in particular the Cannes Film Festival where there would be greater opportunities for foreign sales. This is a good project, she said, with great potential for it to have legs and staying power.

Source: www.southshorenow.ca

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