TIFF 2021 Interview – WILDHOOD director Bretten Hannam

Jason Whyte | Get Reel Movies See it all at www.tiff.net

WILDHOOD is about a teenager, Link, who has a Mi’kmaw mother and white father. Believing his mother is dead, he’s mainly raised by his dad in a trailer pack, but he doesn’t really fit in there and his dad treats him and his younger half-brother like crap. One day Link finds a pile of letters and cards from his mother. Turns out this whole time his dad has been lying–she’s really alive. In a fit of rage and frustration, Link torches his dad’s car and escapes with his half-brother into the back woods on a quest to find his mother. But he’s never been anywhere, and doesn’t know the best way to go, so when Pasmay, a Mi’kmaw teenager, offers to give them a lift to where they’re going, they accept. While they travel together it’s impossible for Link to ignore the growing attraction he has to Pasmay. An attraction that seems to be reciprocated. Together they form their own odd-ball family all the while tracking down Link’s mother, and help him to learn about his culture, language, and community along the way.

Hey! You have a movie at TIFF! Is this your first Toronto experience?

This is the first film I’ve directed that’s gone to TIFF. It’s super exciting to be able to share the film with so many people.

So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past!

I’ve been making films for just over a decade now, but I’ve been telling stories longer. I grew up hearing stories from my grandmother, uncles, and family friends. Maybe some that a little kid shouldn’t have heard so early, but I think I turned out ok regardless. But that love of stories is something that comes into the films I make. I got started in shorts, like a lot of people, and I made some bad ones, some okay ones, and a small number of good ones. But a lot of mistakes, though anyone will tell you those are necessary in order to figure out your own process and approach. I went to the Canadian Film Centre as a screenwriter and stayed there for a year before returning home to Nova Scotia, and I did a Telefilm Talent to Watch before it was called Talent to Watch! Learned a lot from that process and continued to make shorts and work on scripts. In fact I worked on a short version of this film before going into production on the feature.

How did WILDHOOD come together?

I started writing the script ten years or so ago. Got some feedback over the years and people seemed to like the story but there was always a suggestion to change key elements that I felt would alter the story too much. So I sat on it until Gharrett, one of our producers, asked if there was anything I had to read. He liked the material so we worked together to develop it over a few years and get it in shape to shoot. From there it was a bit tough, since we were all geared up to shoot when the pandemic hit. Obviously there were more immediate concerns of safety and wellness, but as things took shape and we got a grasp on what was happening in the world it seemed like there was now time and ability to film. Getting to camera took awhile with all the new regulations and protocols, but we made sure to adhere to them to be able to film. Luckily most of the film takes place outside so that made it a bit easier in some ways. Post-production was a new challenge, since I’m based in Nova Scotia, and our post team and resources were in Toronto. That meant a lot of zoom meetings and notes throughout editing and beyond. But as harrowing as it is sitting in front of a screen for ten hours a day seven days a week, it was awesome that it was possible to do, otherwise we’d be sending a lot of parcels and packages!

What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?

When I’m working on something it’s usually a story that’s come to me for some reason, and it wants attention. In a weird way they stick around and don’t go away until you give them a shape of some kind. I’m fairly sensitive to that when I’m working on something so I try to give it space to unfold and open up as much as possible before I start to move parts of it around and find its form.

Beyond that I would say my main drive is to make something that is good. And I don’t mean that in capacity of quality, though that’s a goal as well, but in a way that people get something out of it. That is can help in some way. That might mean making community laugh, or smile, or just to see themselves and each other on the screen. We have so many stories, and there’s been a lack of focus on them, that drives me to look at the land and people around me and work on films like this. Collaborating with people in my community, Elders, knowledge keepers, and youth. I work with the Wabanaki Two Spirit Alliance frequently and I’m always listening and learning from everything they do.

What was your biggest challenge and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The answer to this is the same for the most part and that’s collaboration. I love collaboration, and when everything is coming together, and people are all snapping off new ideas that add and grow on what we already have, allowing the work to take on a new life and new shape–that is the stuff I love to be a part of on set. But at the same time, it can definitely be challenge to navigate a collaborative environment, especially when people have opposed ideas. Thankfully on this project we were all pretty aligned in our goals, but even so it’s my responsibility to listen and hear these ideas and to bring them into the flow of the story to be interpreted by so many other amazing, creative people. That is always a challenge, but it’s for sure worth it.

I must get on the technical side! I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was made.

Usually I storyboard a film before I begin anything, but this time I only did that for one or two of the scenes. Instead I worked with Guy Godfree, who was our cinematographer, to dig into the world of the story and the approach of filming. Since we were on the land, there is a naturalness to everything–living and growing and breathing. Guy moves with the camera a lot. In fact I think it’s always on his shoulder, except one scene, or some car stuff, which have movement in it anyway. Guy has a great eye, and I remember discussing capturing stuff pre-action or post cut in scenes. He was able to move in the space with the actors and respond to what was going on in the scenes quickly–if we had made a strict storyboard or shot list that candid, intimate quality wouldn’t have come across the way it does in the footage now. The locations were also incredibly important to the film, and Gharrett was scouting locations constantly throughout the process of filming, while also doing forty other jobs. Those awesome locations gave us the feeling of place that roots the characters in the story and allows them to sink into the scene.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at TIFF?

We’ve been isolated so long, and working on this movie so long it feels like I’ve been in a bunker. So I’m just excited to finally put it up on a huge screen with amazing speakers and just let it go off for people to experience! Having as many people as we possibly can in one place to experience it will be amazing. I’ve been waiting so long!

Clearly this is such a different time with hybrid festivals and online screenings, and TIFF is no exception as some are attending in person and some are doing it virtually. How do you feel about the future of film festivals?

I’m happy that this hybrid model exists and helps festivals continue on in these times, but I have to say there is something magical about going in person to a screening. Being in the theatre in the dark with other people and sharing a story, there’s nothing like it. While I can’t predict the future of film festivals, I do hope things are able to return to theatres more than laptop screens. I’ve had so many great talks and encounters just outside a screening with people I don’t know because the movie has brought us together in some way, and I don’t think you get the same thing exactly with online. But I’ll still take it!

Where is the movie going next? More festivals? Theatrical release? Streaming?

There’s a lot going on it can be hard to keep track of it all! But next I believe we’re going to be playing at FIN Atlantic International Film Festival. We’re opening the film festival actually, which is huge and super exciting as well!

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or work in the business. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into filmmaking, especially now as things are evolving at such a fast rate?

Embrace the fact that you’re going to make mistakes. In fact, make some bad films. You learn more from the bad ones than the good ones where everything turns out…do those even exist?

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

This is hard. There are a lot. The one that comes to the surface before others in memory is one from FIN Atlantic International Film Festival. There was an odd time slot that was empty and they announced there would be a small screening of a film TBA. Didn’t know what it was really, didn’t hear much about it. But I went to that screening and it was this film called Moonlight and it utterly made me fall in love with film again. Which is a good feeling when you can find it! The way the story unfolds, the experience of it all was just perfect for me and where I was at the time. I left the theatre feeling electric and alive, like I could have so many ideas and so many things to express. That’s a wonderful feeling and I’ve only experienced it a handful of times in my life. So I’d say the answer is MOONLIGHT.

This is one of the many movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on this movie and all of this year’s lineup, point your browser to www.tiff.net! Special thanks to TIFF PR for helping us out with coverage this year!

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