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$1000 Feature Film Challenge

A host of guerrilla filmmakers rise to the $1000 challenge.

Still from Me, the Bees and Cancer, courtesy of pUNK Films.

Ingrid Veninger makes small movies with big hearts. Whether in 2010’s tender coming-of-age story Modra, which enlisted much of her extended family in Slovakia as background artists, or in the more recent i am a good person / i am a bad person, a frank mother-daughter drama about life on the festival circuit starring the filmmaker and her daughter, the defining mark of Veninger’s directorial work is a humane minimalism—aptly termed “humblecore” in Adam Nayman’s assessment in the Globe and Mail.

When Veninger announced that the proceeds of this summer’s limited run of i am a good person / i am a bad person would go toward backing five feature films, it seemed a fitting extension not only of her career as an innovative producer but also of her independent spirit as a filmmaker. (It’s no surprise that her production company is called pUNK Films.) Veninger and Stacey Donen, Director of Programming at The Royal, invited pitches for films to be made on a tight budget of $1000 and screened just a few short months later. Thirty-four filmmaking teams took them up on their offer, and five projects were greenlit. Shot over the summer and edited in September, the films now see their debut in a set of screenings born of what Veninger and Donen have called the $1000 Feature Film Challenge.

The programme promises quite a bit of thematic and stylistic variety. It opens with Nadia Litz and Michel Kandinsky’s Hotel Congress, about a pair of Torontonians at a Tucson hotel. The second night spans both documentary and fiction, beginning with John Board’s Me, the Bees and Cancer, a personal reflection on the longtime assistant director’s experience with modern medicine and alternative therapies. Board’s film is followed by Brett and Jason Butler’s dark comedy Mourning Has Broken, about a husband who hasn’t quite registered his wife’s recent death. The final night of programming pairs Ben Roberts’s Sockeye, the 17-year old director’s debut feature—starring his father, Rick Roberts, who is soon to play Jack Layton in the CBC biopic Smilin’ Jack—with Liquid Handcuffs: the un-making of METHADONIA, which is described as a “live-documentary” detailing the process of making John L’Ecuyer’s proposed film.

Part-festival, part-symposium on the radical potential and inherent challenges of micro-budget filmmaking, the programme should be on the radar of anyone curious about independent filmmaking in its purest sense.

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