Modra director Ingrid Veninger taps into teen angst and family
Most parents feel lost at the prospect of their grown children leaving home, but director Ingrid Veninger had a unique solution: she’d make a movie about her daughter, Hallie Switzer, as a parting gift.
“My daughter was going to be going to university and moving out of the house, and I was wanting to have a shared experience with her. I wanted to give her something she can show to her grandchildren,” the lively director tells the Georgia Straight from her hometown of Toronto.
Watch the trailer for Modra.
“Maybe I was going through some separation anxiety and I wanted to hold on to her. If she hadn’t have wanted to do the film, I wouldn’t have made it.”
The result is Modra, a deeply personal story of a 17-year-old Toronto girl who travels to a tiny town in her ancestral home of Slovakia with a boy from home in tow. Most of the rest of the cast in the picturesque village of Modra are Veninger’s relatives—including her 96-year-old great-aunt, Teta Josefa.
Veninger says she wanted to capture that teenage year that falls between the freedom of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood. In the film, Hallie’s character is overwhelmed with the sensory pleasures of being in a different culture and the conflicting emotions she feels about her travel mate, Leco (Alexander Gammal). “I like those grey times because they’re very fleeting,” Veninger explains. “Seventeen is interesting to me because it’s the limbo land, fraught with chaos and confusion and desire.”
Travelling with her daughter to Slovakia brought back memories. When Veninger was just two, her parents fled the country to come to Canada. It was 1968, and Soviet tanks had rolled into then-Czechoslovakia. It wasn’t until she was 17 herself that Veninger took her first trip back to Modra, and it made a huge impression on her.
“Meeting my family for the first time and being in this village for the first time, I found a sense of community, and I still crave that sense of community,” Veninger says. “Part of that comes from being an only child and being with my parents, who had to learn English and rebuild their lives in Toronto.
“At the same time, I felt like a stranger, and yet there was this profound sense of home.”
Veninger’s last film, Only, focused on her son at the in-between age of 12. Almost everything about her recent work has had family ties, including the fact her parents are travelling out here by train for the premiere at the Vancity Theatre on Friday night (February 11), with postcards and her mother’s traditional Slovakian outfit on hand. Veninger has not regretted mixing family with her career, or the relationship she’s built with her daughter.
“She had an experience that is bigger than the film. And the experience of working with her as a professional has made me respect her as an adult, a colleague, and a collaborator,” Veninger says. “She’s going off to King’s College in Nova Scotia and I’m ready to let her go. I guess I don’t have that separation anxiety anymore.”