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Will Wilby be Wonderful?

by Distin Dinoff, published on August 30, 2004

Wilby Wonderful, an Ontario/Nova Scotia coproduction making its world premiere at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, marks the second time Halifax-based Palpable Productions’ Camelia Frieberg and Canadian theater maverick and director Daniel MacIvor have worked together. The film, coproduced with Toronto’s da da kamera pictures, is set on a fictitious Maritime island where the lives of residents intertwine, and stars a talented ensemble cast including Paul Gross and Jim Allodi.

MacIvor has made a name for himself chiefly as a playwright and theater director. He has won two Dora Mavor Awards, for The Soldier Dreams and The Lorca Play, and he also wrote and directed Marion Bridge, which he later adapted into an award-winning film directed by Wiebke von Carolsfeld. He also cowrote the film adaptation of his play House with director Laurie Lynd, and the movie was produced as part of the Canadian Film Centre Feature Film Project in 1995.

According to Frieberg, MacIvor and da da kamera’s Sherrie Johnson, who is his theater business partner, had been kicking around the idea for Wilby for the better part of a decade. Although much has changed about the formerly titled Honey, many of the original characters survived the rewrites. MacIvor chose the project as his sophomore film-directing outing looking for a challenge, and he got one.

His first feature, Past Perfect, which debuted at TIFF 2002, had a more theatrical feel, with its two characters and only a handful of locations, whereas Wilby Wonderful is a quintessential ensemble film that gave the director the chance to ‘discover my aptitude for film,’ he says. Frieberg calls it a ‘quantum leap’ for MacIvor, but the filmmaker assures he was ready for it.

‘I’ve produced theater for many years, and I believe it is as creative to come in on time and on budget as it is to have a good story, so I wanted to be incredibly prepared,’ says MacIvor. ‘I spoke to [Wilby director of photography] Rudolf Blahacek and said we can cut shots or replace shots based on the storyboard, but we cannot add shots. Those kinds of things allowed me to be confident when I stepped out on the set, and confidence, due to preparation, is the most liberating thing you can have creatively.’

Despite Frieberg’s and MacIvor’s individual accomplishments and reputations (she has produced Genie Award winners Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter), it became questionable whether the film would get enough funding to ever see the light of day, although this wasn’t the case at first.

According to Frieberg, it looked initially as though getting financing would be easy, given the hefty performance envelope she had left over from The Sweet Hereafter. Eighty percent of the budget fell into place rather smoothly before shooting began, says Frieberg, but then Wilby was turned down by the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation in fall 2002. Frieberg was not impressed.

‘I really felt it was a worthy project,’ she says. ‘Daniel [a native of Nova Scotia] was a talent they should be doing everything they could to nurture and support in the province, and we wanted to do a picture in small-town Nova Scotia. We talked about taking it to Newfoundland, investigated it and got quite serious about it, but it felt weird to us to move something intrinsically meant to be in Nova Scotia.’

Frieberg took the performance envelope money out of the production before it was lost and basically started from scratch, working on keeping the picture in the province. Eventually, the NSFDC did come on board, along with Telefilm Canada, South West Shore Development Authority, The Harold Greenberg Fund, federal, Ontario and Nova Scotia tax credits, presales to CBC, The Movie Network, Movie Central and CHUM, and distributor Mongrel Media, covering the $2-million-plus budget. Mongrel picked up Canadian distribution rights after talks between Frieberg and Alliance Atlantis for U.S. and worldwide distribution ended three weeks into production.

Frieberg says MacIvor is the reason so many top-tier Canadian performers agreed to take part in Wilby Wonderful. Thesps Sandra Oh, Maury Chaykin, Callum Keith Rennie, Ellen Page (Love That Boy) and Rebecca Jenkins (Past Perfect) joined MacIvor on the cast list.

‘I’m interested in working with people I love and people I know – people I don’t have to prove anything to and who don’t have to prove anything to me,’ says MacIvor. ‘I think it is true that actors like to work with me because they know I’ll be focused on character. I think any movie I ever make will always be about performance and character.’

The shoot ran from July 21 to Aug. 25, 2003 in Shelburne, NS, dubbed ‘Camp Wilby’ by cast and crew. Post wrapped in February.

Frieberg is pleased that Wilby Wonderful will preem in Toronto as part of the Contemporary World Cinema program. She is hoping that after the Toronto screening, as well as its opening-night screening at the Atlantic Film Festival and trips to Vancouver, Hamburg and elsewhere, a significant enough buzz will have been created around the film to interest a U.S. distributor.

‘For a smaller boutique company to become interested, you have to have that kind of external validation,’ says Frieberg. ‘The more festivals we can get in, the more confidence it will give distributors in our picture. The same thing holds true for the foreign markets.’

As for the possibility of a third collaboration between Frieberg and MacIvor, the producer says something is in the works, without getting into details.

‘What we have is a great foundation for a future of doing stuff together, and [MacIvor] is committed to staying in the province,’ says Frieberg. ‘He wants to be here and believes in the talent pool that exists here, both in terms of cast and crew.’

Source: playbackonline.ca