In the decade since Carl Bessai left film school in Toronto and moved to Vancouver, he has made more than a dozen features, documentaries, and TV shows, ranging from journalistic examination (Indie Truth: An Inquiry Into the Documentary) to drawing-room character study (Emile) and environmental splatter flick (Severed).
Watch the trailer for Cole.
His indie feature Cole, a family drama set in rural B.C., opens in theatres this Friday (September 17). And just a few weeks later, he has two more titles in the Vancouver International Film Festival. One is the improv comedy Fathers&Sons, starring Jay Brazeau, Benjamin Ratner, Blu Mankuma, and many more great local actors. And the other film debuting at the VIFF? Well, he’d like to talk about it, but he’s pretty busy right now.
“Sorry I’m so hard to pin down,” Bessai says, calling between screenings in Toronto, where his second title, a spooky thriller called Repeaters, is playing at that town’s little film fest. For a moment, it’s not clear whether he’s referring to his packed schedule or stylistic eclecticism.
“I am trying a bit of everything,” he admits. “Most of my films are pretty low-budget and kind of personal, and I think it’s good to know how to make something more accessible.”
Where Repeaters features up-and-comers Amanda Crew, Dustin Milligan, and Richard de Klerk as a trio of youthful miscreants caught in a paranormal occurrence, Cole—which stars de Klerk as a budding writer attempting to leave his provincial circumstances—is somewhere between an art film and an afternoon special.
“The film was unique because it came to me, and I usually initiate my projects. It came from a young screenwriter called Adam Zang, and I felt that he really captured something special about coming from somewhere small and trying to get somewhere bigger.”
Once he and the producers settled on Lytton as a filming location—a beautiful spot where the Fraser and Thompson rivers meet—Bessai moved there to get a real feel for the place.
“I lived in that little town for several weeks and rode my bike around everywhere so I could experience it for myself,” he says.
The director, who was born in Edmonton, usually handles his own cinematography, and he made Lytton’s dusty physicality a central element in the otherwise melodramatic movie, which also features support work from Vancouverites Sonja Bennett and Rebecca Jenkins.
If Cole and Repeaters are relatively commercial ventures, Fathers&Sons—which will launch the Canadian Images series at this year’s VIFF—was largely self-funded, continuing the trend Bessai started almost three years ago with the ensemble-crafted Mothers&Daughters.
“I made that movie with the prize money that came with the audience award for Normal, in Vancouver, the year before,” he explains. “Basically, I decided to reinvest this money in a trilogy of improvised comedies.” (Sisters&Brothers, still on the horizon, will complete the deal.)
“Comedy is new for me,” Bessai confesses. “But if there’s a common thread in my work, it’s that I like to make actors’ movies and that, regardless of style or genre, they put truthfulness first.”