SJIWFF: All in the family

In the last few years, the work of filmmaker Sherry White has been shown at festivals across the world—her short films have been screened at the Toronto Film Festival, the Atlantic Film Festival and the L.A. Shorts Festival.

She’s back on her home turf with her first feature length film, Crackie, which she wrote and directed. It had its world premiere just a few months ago at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic, and has been busy making the circuit ever since.

Jill Butler caught up with Sherry between destinations to find out more about the film, a story about a young outport girl who brings a rebellious mutt into an already fractured home.

So where are you now?
Well, I screened the film last night in Stephenville at the college, and tonight I’m screening it for a small crowd, and then I’m off to the theatre school in Corner Brook, where Megan [Greeley, who plays Mitsy in the film] still goes to school. So I’m on my way to Corner Brook for that.

Where did the inspiration for the movie come from?
Different seeds came from different things, and it was a very organic writing process. I was really interested in the relationship with the girl and the dog. We all think a dog is supposed to be our best friend, and when someone really, really wants something from somebody they really can’t give, it’s disappointing. But I like the idea that it was a relationship between a person and a dog, rather than a person and a person. You get a little bit more objectivity on it, you know?

Did you always know it was going to be a Newfoundland film about a Newfoundland family?
Well, I knew it was about a family. It’s not that it was ever going to not be a Newfoundland story.

The other real seed of inspiration was that I lived fairly close to the dump growing up. There was my house, and then the dump, and then beyond that was my father’s sawmill. So growing up I spent a lot of time driving past that dump. There were often garbage pickers there, and I started thinking about their stories, and their families. I knew they had dreams, and they hoped to get above where they were, and they have people in their families with differing opinions.

There’s definitely a theme of collecting and discarding. Was that intentional?
Yes, definitely. The idea that these things were all loved, at one point, and had been discarded or thrown away, or broken or destroyed. Or rotten. There was that quality to the characters as well as the objects in the film. Even the landscape.

This is your third film now, and the third to explore the idea of family. Why do you think you keep coming back there?
The discovery that family is not what we think it’s supposed to be is a big idea for me. Realizing families are all shapes and sizes, and are very rarely picture-perfect.

That’s very important to me. And to most people.

The different families in Crackie all reflect that. You’ve got Mitsy and her grandmother, then the errant mother and then Duffy [the love interest] and his mother…
Well, I think with Duffy’s character [played by Joel Thomas Hynes] and his mother… he’s just that that kind of guy. He preys on Mitsy, because he’s got a certain level of charm that somebody with low self-esteem would really fall for him. So the little scene that he has at home with his mother is just showing what a louse he is. He’s still getting his mother to look after him, despite the fact that he’s got somebody else’s mother living with them.

He’s a real piece of work. Do you think that there’s anything redeemable in his character?
I love that character and I think Joel did a fantastic job.

I think the character spends his whole life avoiding looking inside, because if he ever did, he might discover some redeeming qualities and just kind of feel embarrassed by them.

All the performances are remarkable, but Mary Walsh’s appearance in the film is a real standout. How did she get involved with the film?
Well, I’ve worked with Mary a fair bit over the years. I worked with her on Hatching, Matching and Dispatching and Young Triffie, and with her directly as a writing assistant, so I just knew her well on a personal level and I knew that she was that kind of person: an emotional ball who could also be really, really tough.

I just knew she could do an amazing job in this part.

Speaking of strong emotion, how far is too far? How do you know when to pull back and reel it in?
Well, sometimes I feel I didn’t go far enough here. It’s easier when you’re editing to stop when it’s going too far. You just cut it out.

I just think you can feel it. Some people might watch it and find that it goes over the top, and other people might see things as perfectly in sync with reality. It’s a personal thing. I can only go by my own feelings about that.

Was that the most challenging part of filming Crackie?
Well, we didn’t have a big budget, so there were time constraints. We were definitely under the gun every day, because we weren’t paying people very much money, so we didn’t want to be keeping them overtime.

Then there was the dog.

We had a great trainer, Glenn Redman, and he was really good. But it was still a challenge. He was a smart dog, he learned really quickly. He knew what was coming and he wouldn’t give us a second take.

That’s one of the old Hollywood rules, isn’t it? “Don’t work with kids or animals”?
Luckily we didn’t want the dog to like Mitsy very much.

Getting all that ‘pulling away’ was easy though, because he was just so attached to the trainer.

So how does it feel to take your films out there and show them to people?
When Crackie premiered at Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic—a really big film festival—I was really pleased with that. In the festival program they say it had the authenticity of a Ken Loach film.

I was just thrilled about that, because he’s been known to be so authentic and to really get that working-class authenticity. That they would even compare Crackie on any level to that was a really great honor.

I wanted it to be a universal story. There can be films made that take place in Newfoundland that aren’t just going to be pigeonholed as a Newfoundland story that other people can’t get, or that people are only going to understand if they come from Newfoundland. Or if they get Newfoundland humour.

I think that’s ridiculous.

I think there are all kinds of amazing films that come out of Newfoundland that are far-reaching, but a lot of them just haven’t reached.

I’d like to think that Crackie will reach as far as I want it to, because I’d like to see more films come out of Newfoundland that can be seen as a universal story.

Crackie will be closing the Women’s Film Festival on Saturday, October 24 at the Arts & Culture Centre at 8pm. For ticket info, visit www.womensfilmfestival.com


Writer and director Sherry White.

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