TORONTO—Unlike many of the offerings at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, Vancouver writer-director Kris Elgstrand’s Songs She Wrote About People She Knows didn’t announce itself as a film about “big” themes. It’s a modest movie, made on a tiny budget, but the writing and performances are pitch-perfect and it looks great.
Elgstrand’s partner, Arabella Bushnell, doubles as the costume designer, and the film was partly shot in their apartment on real, actual, beautiful celluloid.
Bushnell is Carol, a middle-aged office worker who expresses her frustration with others by writing and performing brutally honest songs about them. When her boss, Asshole Dave (Brad Dryborough), hears her takedown of him, he quits his job to pursue long-discarded dreams of being a rock star.
Thus begins a zany road trip down the West Coast to follow a story line that could easily have been absurd or trite but isn’t. Instead, Songs She Wrote, opening Friday (April 24), manages to explore essential questions about how to connect with other human beings and what it means to be free, and it does so without using cheap movie tricks like gratuitous sex. Bushnell and Dryborough said that this was a very intentional choice.
“I’m not sure that any of these characters are necessarily lovable, so the fact that they don’t get together is really appealing,” Bushnell told the Straight during an interview at TIFF’s Bell Lightbox theatre moments before the film’s premiere. “Why is it that in movies everyone ends up making out with each other? This is a movie about people finding themselves but not through sex. It feels very real that way.”
“The first movie we made together with Kris, The Cabin Movie, was about three couples that go to a cabin to make amateur porn, and there’s no sex in that either,” Dryborough added.
Despite their moment of red-carpet glitz, both actors said they could relate to the film’s theme of finding ways to creatively express oneself within the fabric of ordinary life. Dryborough, who works as a bartender at the Twisted Fork Bistro on Granville Street, also has a long list of Hollywood North day-player credits. Bushnell wanted to shout out to the Sunset Inn & Suites on Burnaby Street, for giving her the time off to come to TIFF. But both insisted that part-time service-industry jobs aren’t detrimental to their creative lives. In fact, they’re grateful for the chance to work with their friends and long-time collaborators on SSWAPSK.
“There’s a real sense of giving. We started working with these same people in film school, and we all still work together when we can,” Dryborough said. “In a sense, it’s like we’ve all grown up together. Even the people who have done really well on TV or whatever still help each other out. For our club scene, everyone showed up to be extras because they knew they’d have fun, get to hang out at the ANZA Club, whatever. It was great.”