A Toronto-based troupe of dancers look within themselves in order to relate to their latest performance's subject matter: the Berlin Wall. After the wall is directed by Darcy Tithecott, a Canadian filmmaker, screenwriter, and editor. A graduate of Humber College’s B.A. of Film and Media Production program, he is currently in the midst of releasing his short documentary, After The Wall, and working on future independent projects.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
I started making films from a very young age, about 10-12 years old. Eventually, that led me to attend Humber College for Film Production where I got to participate in quite a few student projects, either as a director or some other crewed position. However, none of them were really fit for release beyond a classroom screening, as far as I’m concerned. So, even though I did brief P.A. stints and worked on a screenplay for a small Toronto company that never got made, I consider After the Wall to be my first real film project since I had to put many of my skills to the test, and develop new ones, in a practical way that ended up going somewhere and is, hopefully, finding an audience.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?
My inspiration for my film began with ProArteDanza, a renowned Toronto-based dance company who created a performance piece in 2019 celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall for the 30th anniversary of the event. Coincidentally, 2019 also marked the dance company’s 15th anniversary. I was drawn to making the film as many of the young dancers in the company, like myself (though I’m not a dancer), were not even born at the time the Berlin Wall came down. I was interested to know how they used their own personal lives, as well as their emotional challenges, limitations or barriers, to help them connect with the tragedies that the Berlin Wall represented.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry?
From a Canadian standpoint, I think the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker is getting support for your film, not just monetarily, but also in terms of exhibition and finding an audience. While we have institutions in place to help filmmakers realize their projects, nowadays there is way more focus on the filmmaker rather than the films they make. Thus, there is a greater pressure for both yourself and your film to be likeable and marketable to a general audience which seems counter-intuitive for independent filmmakers since we are not known for making crowd pleasers or blockbusters. I think Canadian independent film is a little too focused on trying to appeal to Hollywood and some of our institutions are more than happy to oblige this way of thinking among young filmmakers who are chomping at the bit to start their careers and want a taste of success after years of toiling in the industry to make ends meet.
How difficult is it to fund indie short films?
I like how this question comes right after the previous one as I hope to propose a solution for all independent filmmakers. When it comes to financing an independent short film, I think there is hope to be found in the internet and an abundance of prosumer gear. Crowdfunding is definitely here to stay as the future of independent film financing since the biggest hurdle standing in your way of meeting your financial goals is your outreach on social media. On Instagram or Facebook you can find likeminded people and communities that you can advertise to with just the click of a button. They won’t give you your entire budget, but it’s likely you’ll find one or two people interested in giving you a shot. As for equipment, it’s never been easier to peruse online stores and pick up a decent camera, sound recorder, lav mics, and LED lights for a fraction of most rental prices. Take our film, for example: we shot it on a Panasonic mirrorless camera with three small LED lights, and a Tascam pocket recorder with a wireless lavalier microphone. This approach to independent film financing may aide in the death of the middle class of independent films, but it’s also a more democratized and low-stakes way to make your own films with practically no oversight from non-creative investors and financiers. In essence, I suppose many independent filmmakers run into more roadblocks the more they try to compete with Hollywood and big budget fluff when that model is slowly becoming outdated in an increasingly free-for-all landscape.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work? First and foremost, I have to recognize the influence of my producer and mentor, Moze Mossanen; a veteran Canadian documentary filmmaker. Since partnering up with him on this film I’ve learned more about filmmaking than I ever could from making ten films, both from working closely with him during the phases of production and from watching some of his films. You can definitely see echoes of his film My Piece of the City (2017) in After the Wall as both films are about Toronto-based artists revealing the personal side of their performances. Second, I have to mention Francois Truffaut, currently my favourite director. His films are imbued with a lust for life that makes you want to live yours and do what his characters are doing, whether that’s falling in love making a movie, or claiming your youth. Even his more melodramatic films have this quality. I have to recommend Stolen Kisses (1968) and Day for Night (1973) above all others, not just because they are my favourites, but because they best exemplify this aspect of his style. Finally, there’s the Hong Kong filmmaker, and art house darling, Wong Kar Wai, a filmmaker I’ve only just been getting into. He's very similar to Truffaut, the more I think about it, with a similar eye for raw humanity in all its emotional depth brought to life by visual filmmaking. You can’t go wrong with Chungking Express (1994), Fallen Angels (1995), and 2046 (2004) if you're looking for something interesting to watch while in quarantine.
How did your film go into production and how did you finalize the cast and the crew? The whole project started when a former professor of mine, Sherry Coman, posted an opportunity to work with a local filmmaker who was looking for a director, cinematographer, and editor to make a short film with ProArteDanza, something they do every once in a while. By the time I put my name in the hat, the director and cinematographer roles were filled, so I would be brought on as an editor, sound recordist, and writer. However, throughout pre-production, people began to leave the projects, leaving Moze and I to press on largely by ourselves. We managed to get some help wherever we could, but never for more than a day of filming. We were forced to make the film by ourselves, which meant that I had to brush up on a lot of skills I more or less neglected after school because they were never my strongest suits. I’ve never been a cinematographer, and I’m definitely still not one now, but I had to adapt and brush-up the best I could in order to keep the film afloat. Same goes with post-production sound. Then again, COVID-19 made post-production a solo endeavour save for sending cuts back and forth between Moze, myself, and ProArteDanza, so perhaps an emphasis on self-reliance was always in the cards for our film.
How was the film received by your audience and film festivals and what is your plan for further distribution of the film? The first audience we screened After the Wall for was a group of ProArteDanza board members since the film slowly became important to the dance company’s continuity when COVID-19 ruined their slate of projects for 2020. That screening was very successful, especially since we were working with a small marketing firm to get the word out and build some publicity. As for film festivals, we’ve been seeing some early gains among our earliest submissions, especially here in Canada, having been selected for the Montreal Independent Film Festival as well as a finalist for Toronto Independent Film Festival of Cift and Vancouver Independent Film Festival. Recently we won a jury award at the Europe Film Festival U.K. for Best First-Time Director, which is a huge honour I was not expecting. But, we still have other festival submissions we have to hear back from and I definitely don’t want to jinx our chances with any of them, especially international festivals we have our eye on. As for distribution, we are currently in talks with CBC, but are also considering self-distribution if push comes to shove.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the making and the distribution of independent short films? I would encourage filmmakers to throw caution to the wind and make their movies, especially short films because of how small scale, inherently independent, and low stakes they are which makes them great learning experiences. As I said before, there are more and more resources for up and coming filmmakers that make the whole process more democratic and accessible. The age of gatekeepers is slowly dying and film is becoming more akin to starting a band with a couple friends in your garage; all you need is something to say, an instrument, and knowledge of how to use it. There’s also something to be said for how COVID affected creatives, both professional and amateur. The pandemic kept a lid on our creativity like water in a pot and the events of the world around us were the flame underneath. The hope is now that restrictions are beginning to be retracted that pent up energy is on the verge of overflowing and will burst into a surge of unbridled creativity from independent artists. I would say to independent filmmakers that this is your time to shine! The film landscape now, for the first time in a long time, resembles the Wild West where nobody knows what is going to work and the big studios are losing their control over their entertainment monopoly. We all have the chance to change the landscape for a long time to come and if we don’t enjoy ourselves now and get to work, the railroads are going to be here before we know it and the plains will be tamed. So, get out there and make your movies YOUR WAY!
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on? In a few months I’ll be helping a friend make his first feature film which is extremely exciting! I've also been writing a feature of my own for a while now, but nothing is set in stone yet. As for After the Wall, I still have months of pulling out my hair over festival verdict anxiety which will keep the project going for a little while longer. I’d like to make more short documentaries, so the hunt is on for a new subject.
Why do you make films?
It’s always been my dream to make movies, it’s pretty much the only thing I can really do. I know it sounds corny, but it’s as simple as that and I don’t intend to stop.