Fostering new film talent

Local director Taylor Olson makes his feature debut at the Fin Atlantic International Film Festival

T

aylor Olson found his passion for directing movies while acting in films and creating his work.

The local actor and filmmaker previously wrote a couple of scripts that his director friends turned into short films. In 2015, he was collaborating with a friend on a short film. They had two days for shooting but Olson’s friend realized he only needed one. With the gear available, Olson came up with the idea of writing another short film for his friend to produce.

But Olson’s friend encouraged him to direct his short horror film. Behind You was his directorial debut. “It wasn’t a really great short film,” he recalls. “I had two days to write it, pull it together and do it. It played at a number of film festivals and it got a couple of small… It was a good way to start. I was thrown into the deep end with no time to think.”

After directing seven short films, Olson’s hard work and passion have drawn attention.

His first feature film, Bone Cage, will screen at the 40th annual Fin Atlantic International Film Festival (running virtually Sept. 17–24).

Olson adapted the film from the Catherine Banks play of the same name. He is thrilled to pay homage to one of his favourite Canadian playwrights.

“I read the play while I was in university and I love Catherine’s work,” he says. “Matchstick Theatre did the show on stage in 2017 and I got to play Jamie’s heir. The second day of rehearsal, I was like, ‘oh Jesus, it would actually make a good film’ because of the poetry of Catherine’s writing and the poetry of the visuals. That’s how I came into contact with the idea of making the film.”

Shot around Nova Scotia (including Stewiacke, Hubbards, Timberlea, and Windsor), Bone Cage chronicles the internal struggle that Jamie, a wood processor, faces regularly. By day, Jamie clear cuts for a pulp company, destroying the local ecosystem. Realizing the magnitude of what his work does, Jamie starts going back to the destruction site at night to find and rescue injured animals.

Olson, who also plays the lead role in the film, says the story centres around the toll of the destruction on the main character’s life and the people he loves. Jamie dreams of escaping and creating a new and better life for everyone.

Taylor Olson

“It’s in a place where you have dreams but those dreams are seen as weak, impractical, or you don’t have the tools to go out and get them—how that can affect your life,” Olson says. “A lot of the story centres around rural patriarchal expectations and how an old school way of thinking in how we’re meant to be and how we sometimes don’t all fit into that box.”

The film relates to the current environmental issues, but also to the tumultuous circumstances, everyone is living in today. “We’re feeling a sense of isolation during the pandemic that’s happening right now,” Olson explains. “There’s very much a parallel to the isolation that Jamie feels being in the community and people do not seem to understand necessarily how he is feeling but what he’s doing.”

The pandemic has forced the film festival to transform. After multiple plan revisions, Fin organizers decided in early June to make the festival solely an online event. In a typical year, there would be 50 staff and between 200–300 volunteers. In 2020, there will be no volunteers and only 14 full-time and contract staff.

“Some film festivals that are happening like TIFF are doing some live events, but they’re downscaled certainly and much smaller,” says Wayne Carter, Fin’s executive director. “From the perspective here, we just felt that if it meant we were going to try to do events where we had to limit it to 50 people, it’s really not the film festival experience that people have come to enjoy. We thought ‘let’s just throw all of our efforts into making our online experience this year as good as it can be.'”

Organizers feel that the change has gone smoothly so far, with the goal to make the at-home experience special while re-creating the in-person festival vibe. Each day of the festival, there will be a gala film with an accompanying Q&A session with some of the people who made it. Gala films will only be available for 24 hours each. Headlining the gala series is Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling.

Non-gala films will be available for the entire eight days of the festival. “We’re seeing a little bit of an uptick on sales this year because people are thinking, ‘well, you know what, the passes are a great deal,'” Carter says. “It’s 99 bucks, and it gives you access to everything; I think a lot of people are going, ‘well hell, I can probably watch 10 or 15 films over eight days’.”

Bone Cage is one of 114 films selected for Fin and is screening simultaneously at the Cinéfest film festival in Sudbury, Ont. While disappointed not to have the in-person experience, Olson feels fortunate to have screening opportunities in this unpredictable year.

“We were getting worried whether we should release it or not,” he says. “it’s exciting to be at Fin. It’s awesome they are creating a platform for all of us filmmakers to show our work so people in the Atlantic and other provinces can see the films they normally wouldn’t travel for out to Halifax. We were really happy to be selected for that festival as well.”

Telefilm’s Talent To Watch program funded Bone Cage, along with four other titles, including three other Atlantic Canadian selections: Jason Arsenault’s P.E.I.-made Wharf Rats, New Brunswick director Jillian Acreman’s Queen of the Andes, and Ruth Lawrence’s Newfoundland gala film Little Orphans.

Fin emphasizes Atlantic Canadian content in every category. Atlantic Canadian filmmakers created six of the short films in this year’s event.

“The festival acts as a champion and a promoter of our local film industry and the content made here,” Carter says. That is an integral piece of the film festival experience, and so many of these folks are making short films then, in turn, go on to make features. Taylor Olsen is a perfect example of that. He cut his teeth, making short films first. Now, this is his first feature, so the film festival’s role in the local industry is very much to give a platform forum and be a champion for people who are making screen content across Atlantic Canada.”

Bone Cage hits close to home for Olson: many generations of his family worked in the forestry industry. He’s familiar with clear-cutting and what it does to our world. Overall, he hopes that the film motivates audiences to consider a new viewpoint.

“Hopefully, the film can raise awareness of the difference between selective logging and clear-cutting… We won’t have the land to work anymore if we keep doing it,” Olson says. “I like to make films that challenge people… I’m hoping it makes them think of policies around climate change and the environment and how we support these industries to healthier practices… Think about these characters, sit with them and think about Jamie and his position.”

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