Vanessa Crouch isn’t one to shy away from affection, though we’re willing to bet that her debut feature role in Vancouver’s little-film-that-could, FSM, may have had a bit more intimacy in store than she bargained for.
“There were some quite emotional scenes in there, which are always difficult to sort of get into it,” she recalls, sitting down with the Straight alongside FSM director Melanie Jones at a Chinatown café. “But the sexual content in there as well was new and challenging, and ‘How do I do that and not get awkward?’ ”
FSM, its title online-dating-speak for “female seeking male”, stars the Australian-born actor—sans twang, thanks to a childhood partially spent in Calgary—as Samantha, a 20-something DJ killing it in Vancouver’s underground electronic scene. Not so hot, however, is Sam’s love life, which leads the disillusioned part-time teacher by day to the Interweb in search of a connection that’ll last longer than her most recent half-hearted hook-up. (“I don’t think it even counted,” she later tells her stoner BFF during an afternoon smoke sesh at the park.)
What follows is a decidedly of-the-moment tale that looks at the stigma of singlehood and hook-up culture through a refreshingly hyper-local lens. Written by Jones, who drew primarily from her own experiences in Vancouver’s dating scene, the film illustrates the trials of mating and dating in the swipe-right era—from mixed messages that leave you sexually frustrated to disastrous coffee dates to hopping into bed with your loser ex, only to regret the decision not even midway through the romp. It’s all depicted with such painful accuracy that you can’t help but cringe knowingly at the familiar subtleties.
“There were definitely some lines in there that I felt had come out of my own mouth,” says Crouch. “It was incredibly relatable.”
One particular scene sees Sam getting her self-love on after she leaves a midnight hangout at her crush’s place without even a peck. It’s a powerful sequence that’s presented not gratuitously, but rather to reveal a softer, if not completely natural, side of Sam—one that yearns for the tenderness of human touch, just like many of us might.
Slotting into the category of commanding-but-seldom-seen is Vancouver itself, finally getting the chance to shine—really shine—on the big screen. Jones erases any lingering doubts about the film’s setting by trading in ambiguous skylines and snapshots of a battered Georgia Viaduct for a story line that not only walks viewers through some of the city’s most beloved ’hoods, but unabashedly works them into the dialogue, too.
“I basically just picked places that I go to, and that I sit at, and that I spend time at myself,” the affable filmmaker explains, “and I think that created a very personal view of Vancouver, as opposed to the tourist view of, like, ‘We’re gonna give you the best skylines.’ No, I gave you the skyline that I saw every day in Kitsilano; that’s what I wanted to show.”
Admittedly, FSM’s recognizable backdrop also has much to do with its budget. As a participant in Canadian producer Avi Federgreen’s INDIECAN 10K Challenge, Jones had only $10,000 to produce the film—though it’s safe to say that, even if she’d been afforded millions, she’d have spotlighted her hometown all the same. It comes down to one of the film’s most mesmerizing themes: intimacy—a feeling that’s bolstered by a predominantly Canadian soundtrack, which features an arsenal of local names like Jodi Pederson, Phil Woolf, and JP Maurice.
Vancouver DJ Kasey Riot even appears as herself in the film, spinning her own beats after Crouch’s DJ Sam Beta leaves the podium. It’s one of many scenes in the hazy, neon-lit club, where the music is constantly pounding and the environment nothing short of celebratory and supportive.
“I’m really proud of that,” says Jones, “not only did we make a film that’s from a female point of view that’s saying important things, but also that we represented a woman in electronic music on-screen positively.”
If the sentiment sounds familiar, it is. In fact, Jones consciously chose to have Sam portrayed as a DJ within the electronic-dance-music biz, a profession that, like film, offers far fewer opportunities to women than it does to their male counterparts. This sorry state is confirmed by Crouch, when we inquire about what she’d like to see improved in the local film industry.
“More women,” she answers almost immediately, adding that she’d love to see more money and support go toward smaller indie flicks as well. For Jones, it’s all about the hometown pride. “There’s a reason that American shows want to come up here and shoot,” she says. “But what if we just made films that take place in Kamloops or Prince George or Vancouver? It’d be really cool to see more of that.”
Vancouverites at the very least will get to experience exactly this: more female roles and our cherished city exhibited in all its glory, once FSM comes to the Vancity Theatre this Saturday (April 16) and Monday (April 18) as part of Canadian Film Week. Eleven other films, including The Pass System, a documentary that traces Canada’s troubling treatment of First Nations, and B.C. filmmaker O. Corbin Saleken’s debut, Patterson’s Wager, a charming comedy about a man with precognitive abilities, will also be shown in the lead-up to National Canadian Film Day next Wednesday (April 20).
It’s a big feat for a film that was made for pretty much peanuts and premiered less than six months ago at the Whistler Film Festival. “I don’t know what we were really expecting, because, you know, we’re such a little film,” Crouch says. “But the reaction has been so overwhelmingly positive. And everyone has been so nice that we’ve joked, especially in Whistler, that we couldn’t stop saying ‘Thank you’ enough to people, because people were
being so lovely and saying such nice things.”
“It’s a love letter to Vancouver,” adds Jones, “and it’s so nice that people will get to read that letter.”
Canadian Film Week runs from Saturday (April 16) to next Wednesday (April 20) at the Vancity Theatre.