Tideland straddles worlds

TORONTO—B.C. child actor Jodelle Ferland took over the director’s chair from Tideland’s Terry Gilliam.

The maverick filmmaker and Monty Python alum stepped out moments before Ferland popped into his inter ­view room at the InterContinental Hotel to say her goodbyes. Ferland had just finished her last interview of the day at the Toronto International Film Festival, during which she revealed that she was hoping to go laser bowling in a few weeks for her 11th birthday, her favourite cartoon character is Bugs Bunny, she’s got a lot of cool Hello Kitty stuff, and “Terry’s really funny.”

When asked what it was like to be the only person on-screen for much of this bizarre movie—sharing more scenes with four broken dolls she created voices for than with the film’s other live actors—she giggled. A question about performing roman ­tic scenes with Vancouver actor Brendan Fletcher, who’s twice her age, elicited more giggling.

The only question she seemed to enjoy answering was the one about how she started acting. Ferland’s older brother and sister—who no longer act—were memorizing monologues. They’d left the house, and their mother heard someone talking upstairs and couldn’t figure out who it was. “Mom went upstairs and opened the door and I was repeating the monologues that they did, because I’d memorized it from when they were repeating it. So she put me into acting too.” Ferland was two. Since then, she’s gained credits on virtually every TV series shot in B.C., and she’s shooting Case 39, in which she’ll be starring with Renée Zellweger.

Ferland was happy to talk after she popped into Gilliam’s room, settled into his chair, and was asked if she was going to play the part of the director. Taking on her deepest voice, she said there were no challenges in directing the movie and it was “really easy to direct a 10-year-old”.

After Gilliam and Ferland laughed through her goodbyes, Gilliam offered the exact same answer. “It was easy. She’s not a 10-year-old; she’s probably about a 25-year-old, experienced actress. She’s astonishing. I followed her lead. I’d set up the situation, but she would actually come totally and utterly prepared. She knew exactly what she wanted to do and I just photographed her.”

In news releases, Gilliam described Tideland as “Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho”, and the film is defiantly unconventional even by the standards of someone known for burning the envelope.

Gilliam knows Tideland (which was shot in tideless Saskatchewan) won’t have the same appeal as dead parrots (never mind 12 Monkeys), but his grin never vanished as he talked about the film’s possible drawing power or lack thereof. “For me, I just want to go whatever the opposite direction is everybody else is going in. I close the door to all the projects that could make me quite a lot of money, because there are other people who can do that and those are kind of safe projects and I’d rather explore the more interesting and dangerous. The one thing in common they all probably have is fantasy and reality. I work the borderline between those two states.”

That’s definitely Tideland’s turf. Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly play a nightmare trailer-park version of Kurt and Courtney, and Ferland is the daughter, Jeliza-Rose, who looks after her folks and cooks the heroin. Both parents die early in the film, although Bridges remains a presence while his daughter takes care of his decomposing body.

Gilliam said he sees the movie—which he adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel—as hopeful. “A basic story about a kid looking for love is what it is,” Gilliam said. “My wife says it’s shocking because it’s utterly innocent. Here’s a story about a little girl who’s put in the most difficult and disturbing situations and somehow survives because her imagination and her will to survive re-create the world into something magical and livable.”

And Gilliam was adamant that it’s a world he couldn’t have created without Ferland. “A child has never done this before. I can’t think of a child dominating a film like this one, ever. She’s never gone [from the screen]. She’s there, everywhere, all the time.

“It was what terrified me. I thought it was the most stupid thing I’d ever thought of doing. Trying to make a movie where you’ve got a child onboard the whole time? And I was actually getting so frustrated because we didn’t find her immediately. Finally this tape came in from Vancouver and they brought Jodelle here and she was breathtaking. The film literally would not have been possible without her.”