Taking a walk down Princess Margaret Boulevard holds many meanings for Ryerson film graduate Kazik Radwanski. He walked down that street when he visited his grandmother. He named his fourth-year thesis film after it. And now he will watch the film as it premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday.
The opening of the film finds Isabelle Rodarte, played by Gina Sylvester, aimlessly wandering Princess Margaret
Boulevard. Only with a sign placed on her front door by her children can she locate her home.
The 14-minute short chronicles the plight of Rodarte, an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Produced by Daniel Montgomery and shot by a small Ryerson crew, the film not only won this year’s TIFF Group’s Student Film Showcase in May (out of 500 entries from film schools across Canada), but was selected to be part of the festival’s Short Cuts Canada program. It will also screen at film festivals in Halifax, Sudbury and Vancouver.
The opening scene contains no dialogue, but observes the main character in a documentary-esque style.
“I’m a big fan of the golden rule of film, which is show me, don’t tell me,” says Richard Crouse, film critic and member of the showcase jury that awarded the film. “They handled the issue with great sensitivity.”
Alzheimer’s is so extreme that it becomes a universal topic of interest, Radwanski says. And the crew knew they would have to do their research.
“Who are we, two 22-year-olds, to make a movie with such emotional weight?” Montgomery asks.
Prepared to answer this question, Radwanski and Montgomery visited nursing homes and met with a geriatrician during the six-month shoot. They were introduced to the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, the test used to conclude whether patients have the disease.
Radwanski knew something about this process, having gone through testing in high school for learning disabilities.
And Rodarte’s own examination becomes a key scene in the film.
“I would say the most important part about this film is Gina,” Radwanski says, adding that this was Sylvester’s first leading role, after having taken theatre classes at Ryerson.
The cinematography caught Crouse’s eye. “I thought it was beautifully done, one of the most cinematically beautiful pieces we saw,” he said. “They did an exemplary job.”
Yet Radwanski and Montgomery were surprised the TIFF group chose their film, which they submitted late after encouragement from the programmers.
“I got the call on my cell,” Montgomery says. “Maybe I reacted too strongly. I think the guy (on the other end) was overwhelmed,” he laughs.
“It just felt incredibly gratifying that they were taking us seriously,” adds Radwanski. With a number of short films under their belts, including Assault and The Nakuru Slums, and their own production company, MDF Films, the two Ryerson grads are planning to do another short and then a feature-length film, something many people believed Princess Margaret Blvd. had the potential to become.
Meanwhile, their work will be noticed.
“Short films are calling cards,” Crouse says.
“They’re a good way to show what you can do. This film will get eyes on it. That’s what this whole festival is about.”
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