Filmmaker Heath Tait: Portrait of a Vancouver Vagabond – Part 2
As I mentioned earlier, last June I had the pleasure of meeting Canadian Filmmaker Heath Tait at the Las Vegas Film Festival, when he came to accept an award for his autobiographical documentary “Vancouver Vagabond”. He impressed me then as a passionate, opinionated individual, who like many had struggled a great deal while trying to become recognized as an indendent artist while producing this project and an earlier one called “Pictorial Forest” that took years to finish. Hope you enjoyed the first part of this Filmmakers Notebook Q&A with Heath and now on to Part 2.
During your career you’ve experienced both good and bad news with regards to submitting your films to festivals. At this point, how do you think entering your work and attending them benefits you?
I have had so much ironic satisfaction in the last year. “Vancouver Vagabond” is my story of being a struggling filmmaker and I bring up the issues regarding US domination and the seeming futility therefore of being a Canadian filmmaker. Inevitably, it’s a very visceral and rather sad movie. My film festival campaign was, because of the “anti-American” sentiment as such, geared toward Canada, Europe and elsewhere other than the USA. Because of the online festival registry system Withoutabox.com, which is typically geared toward the US with its huge number of festivals, I ended up initially applying to a few US festivals along with mostly those elsewhere. I started the application process in June 2009 and several months later all my applications inside Canada and Europe and elsewhere had failed. It was an absolute disaster and I was devastated at an already crushing time with the world economy down the crapper etc… Then I received an email out of the blue from Nevada Film Festival. I had won the top Platinum Reel Award. My editor and I traveled to Las Vegas, had a hell of a great time there, and I accepted the award Nov 21, 2009. I thought that by creating a challenging film that no one else in Canada has ever dared to produce, one that reveals the ugly truth of the situation in Canadian film and more, that I would be embraced in Canada for this act of heroism, for the sake of the country. Not so. Obviously it’s an embarrassing issue that Canadians controlling the festivals, and government alike, do not want to discuss which is precisely why the issue continues. The irony couldn’t have been more profound as a result of the US acknowledging me, and it spoke volumes of the US, outside of their movie market tyranny and the suspicious ways of George W. Bush.
I continued the film campaign mainly in the US. The result of that was a string of awards and screenings, all but one in the USA, mainly California. The one screening I have had of “Vancouver Vagabond” inside Canada was at the Okanagan International Film Festival in July 2010 where the film won best Canadian Documentary. So, while it all smells a bit fishy to me, one thing that needs to be acknowledged, however, is the pressure inside Canada heading into the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in February 2010. I suppose no festival wanted to support a film that made critical light of its shortcomings with the world watching and soon at its doorstep.
Festivals have benefitted me in a variety of ways. First is the critical acclaim I have received through many awards. Whenever I win an award or a screening (equally significant, really) I am able to exploit the grandeur of it through social media etc and build the profile of the project in other people’s eyes, and in my own as well. It is very rewarding to know that you have beaten hundreds of others to the goal of producing an acclaimed work in this difficult period of highly accessible mass media. Obviously, this is the intention of giving and receiving awards. Apart from having an excuse to travel to unique and exciting, often exotic places and make connections, when I attend festivals I milk the opportunity with media; I shoot stills and video and produce social media photo albums of the journey, the award ceremonies etc. The video adventures I shoot have been cut into nifty featurettes to supplement the feature for DVD release. Now, with the big bad free internet hurting filmmakers as it is, there is little incentive for people to buy hardcopy DVD’s unless they can provide enough intriguing extras to augment the initial feature film. This is my strategy to guarantee appreciation for hardcopy releasing: pad the feature with a ton of well-produced, quality whiz-bang shorts between 5 and 30 minutes. We have about 40 that are to be released along with the 1st feature of the Vagabond trilogy, without even touching the supply of content reserved for VVII and VVIII. The series is huge and I look forward to getting it effectively to market in 2011, once the festival campaign is complete by 2010’s end.
Since “Vancouver Vagabond” is the 1st of an autobiographical trilogy, what do you have planned for the next two films?
Yes, the 1st Vagabond is a very personal autobiographical feature with elements throughout pertaining to the times and the people and the social political scene that I have lived through in Vancouver, in Canada and relative to the USA. In the 1st film I essentially set up a great many issues for furtherance in the following films. VVII will do just that, further the many interconnected social political stories and issues established in the 1st, detailing and elaborating their form. As such, VVII is not nearly so personal as the 1st and unlike the first Vagabond which plays more like a drama with large production values, VVII will play out more like a conventional documentary. It will still be huge in its assembly, but it will be stylized less as a narrative documentary with recreations, expensive film content and a huge musical and sound FX score, and more as a talking-head type doc mainly shot on video with a more rudimentary, street-sweeping type of approach. VVII digs into the dirt of the filthy rotten issues I have uncovered in mainly the city, so this approach is best for the 2nd of the series. VVIII will be a cross between the first and second. It will have both a critical urban video documentary approach and a pastoral, cinematic autobiographical approach, wherein conclusions of a personal nature as a “small c” canadian filmmaker will be explored. Both VVII and VVIII will have many extras to accompany the main films, furthering the stories that the features are comprised of.
Describe the biggest challenge you face in getting the next two movies in the series made?
I’ve been sitting on explosive social/ political content that I shot back in 2005/6 in the precarious decision-making years leading into the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
I barely touched any of it yet, except to set up the stories involved, in the first feature of the trilogy, a very personal story (refer to “Inside the Forest”, below), which only briefly touches upon Vancouver as a backdrop to my experience as a filmmaker through the 90’s and beyond in the host city.
Now that the Olympics are over, these historic documentary elements, in combination with more recent footage and findings will really tell the greater story. I can’t wait to get going on VVII. It’s an enormous collection of subjects, all relating back to the greater elaborate puzzle that is the first “Vancouver Vagabond” feature.
So, there isn’t a problematic challenge producing the next two features in the series. The plan always was to create a franchise and I look forward with zeal to being able to, finally after so many frustrating years, work with the material so far undiscovered and in the dark to all but myself.
Tell me about the “Inside the Forest” project you mentioned which is also listed on your website as in production.
“Inside the Forest” was a feature film that I was creating up until 2005 when I abandoned it after I became cognizant of the realities of Canadian film releasing. Until then, I was more of an artist and always held the dream of being able to find and rely on a producer to take care of the business end of production. Once I found out how dismal the returns for Canadian movies are in their own market and elsewhere, I knew the business plan of it was hopelessly flawed and it would destroy me. So, I abandoned the film and committed instead to going out with my video camera to find out the greater Canadian situation in social issues and politics, and thus was born the “Vancouver Vagabond” series. I have used a lot of the film footage from “Inside the Forest” in the first VV feature, which as a personal story about my struggling years inside Pictorial Forest’s creation, is similar to “Inside the Forest”. What you saw was the old website I had going until 2005. That website is now a branch off of VancouverVagabond.com, which is all about the origins of VV.
We still have more to come with Heath in Part 3 of our Filmmakers Notebook Q&A, but meanwhile you can learn more about him at his website http://www.pictfire.com/index.html or by visiting his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/heath.tait.