We talk with the writer, director, and star of i am a good person/i am a bad person.
i am a good person/i am a bad person
Directed by Ingrid Veninger (Canada, Vanguards)
September 10, 7:15 p.m.; AMC 6 (10 Dundas East)
September 13, 12:30 p.m.; TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 (350 King Street West)
September 17, 8:45 p.m.; TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 (350 King Street West)
Though she originally got her footing in the Canadian film and television industry as an actor (that’s her alongside a young Stephen Dorn in the Canuxploitation classic The Gate), Toronto’s Ingrid Veninger has been garnering more attention in recent years as a writer, director, and producer. Her first feature, Only (co-directed with Simon Reynolds) cast her son Jacob Switzer in a sweet, adolescent first-kiss story set in rural Ontario. Her follow-up, last year’s Modra (which was selected by TIFF as one of Canada’s Top Ten), had Veninger again plucking from her family tree, casting her daughter Hailee Switzer as a young girl accompanying a friend on a trip to Slovakia, and her extended family as the locals of the titular Slovakian town.
Veninger’s latest, i am a good person/i am a bad person, sees her pulling triple-duty as writer, director, and star, as (fittingly) indie filmmaker Ruby White, who is touring her latest film around Europe with her put-upon daughter (Hailee Switzer, again). Her strongest film to date, good person/bad person grapples unflinchingly with the often despairing realities of independent filmmaking, and the similar unpleasantness of family tension (the film opens on an uncomfortably routine oral sex scene which wouldn’t be out of place in one of Todd Solondz’ domestic cautionary tales).
We spoke with Veninger in the backyard of her Toronto home about her latest film, the blurring of fiction and autobiography, and how she manages to wear so many hats.
Torontoist: The thing that seems most apparent is that this film seems, in places, a lot darker than Only or Modra. Where is this coming from?
Ingrid Veninger: I think that I wanted to explore the underbelly a bit more. I’ve had the image of the opening shot in my head for about 10 years. But this story really came about so fast. In January when Modra was in [TIFF’s Canada’s] Top Ten programme, we were watching lots of films and getting some sparks. Then we were doing our spring tour for Modra, which started in England. And Hailee was exhausted. Because we had just done our fall tour and she was homesick and missing her boyfriend. So we had the idea to make a new film that she would shoot, and her boyfriend could record sound on. And I sat down to write this short script that we could work on, just the three of us, and then it just ballooned out of that, and I asked Hailee to act in it alongside me. And we already had our flights booked for the tour, so we incorporated the festivals and all the places we were going to on that tour.
You mentioned last year’s Canada’s Top Ten programme, which also included Denis Côté’s Curling. Rumour is that that film was an influence on i am a good person/i am a bad person.
Yeah. And I don’t know what it was about that film specifically, but it made me want to make another film right away. It was just one of those moments. I remember leaving the cinema and getting in the car with my husband and he was like, “Oh god, no. Take a break.” But I had this idea for a script we could shoot at these festivals and if Hailee was game, I knew I had to do it.
There’s a few scenes in the film where Ruby screens her film at these European film festivals, and there are just a few people in the cinema. Is this something you’ve experienced in the past, this difficulty of getting people to see indie films, especially at foreign festivals?
I think it is a snapshot. It’s more about the commercial release for Modra, when [distributor] Mongrel [Media] picked up the film at TIFF and we got a week at the Royal. We got a nice boost in the reviews, and I thought, “This is our chance to get people to see it on the big screen.” I wanted to make sure everybody knew about the film, whether they saw it or not. It’s a non-stop task to build awareness. I remember showing up at the Royal one night and there were three people in the cinema. So I really relate to Ruby. It’s your duty as a filmmaker to hit the streets and get people out. Especially for her, it’s kind of her final cry for validation.
So how real are scenes like that in the new film, where you, as Ruby, are going around parks handing out flyers, petitioning people to see your film?
Well the line can get a little blurry, and sometimes thin. But it’s definitely made up. I wrote a script where I put myself in all these situations. I’m also fascinated by street artists and buskers, so I wrote these scenes where my character would be handing out postcards and maybe interact with someone and something would happen and then that person would become a character in the film.
As far as this line getting blurry, it happens a bit in all your films where you cast your children, but here it nests a couple of times. Because you have these director-actor dynamics, and then real mother-daughter dynamics, and then the mother-daughter dynamics of the characters. Does it ever get confusing, wearing all these hats?
Well I don’t get confused which hat is which. But having started as an actor, I’m really interested in using your personal experience and crafting something fictional out of it—using everything in your real life and creating something heightened, and more concentrated. But it always comes from a personal place for me. I want to grow out of the experience, and discover something, and be surprised. I think of the process before the product, and pull from my past and my own experiences to try and crystalize things.