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IN CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE MCDONALD

Bruce McDonald’s DREAMLAND tells the story of a hit man played by Stephen McHattie, who is hired by a gang to cut off a finger of heroin-addict trumpet maestro, his doppelgänger. The maestro is to play at the wedding of a vampire and his child bride, who is supplied by the gang who operate a child prostitution ring.

 

In conversation with FRIGHTFEST’s Paul Risker, McDonald discussed his creative influences, putting the PONTYPOOL band back together to create a cinematic dream, and the divided audience.

 

FRIGHTFEST: Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?

 

Bruce McDonald:  If I were a better guitar player, I would be in a punk rock cover band. Unfortunately, my guitar playing skills were lacking and making movies was another version of having a band for me. Through a series of accidents I came to be acquainted with Super 8 cameras and that got me started, but the main thing is the socialness of making films, which is not a solitary endeavour – it’s a group effort and I’ve always liked that notion.

 

In terms of the defining moments that made me think, ‘Oh, I could do that’ or, ‘I want to do that’, there are certain movies that you see when you’re young. Everyone is influenced, inspired and entertained by movies, and for me it would have been the duel header of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

 

With 2001, I was amazed to learn that human beings had made this movie, while NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I thought, ‘I could do that too.’ It was an odd movie - Hollywood stars, in black and white, and it wasn’t  virtuoso craftsmanship. It was a great idea with a great story, and not that it looked like a home movie, but it looked possible to do.

 

FF: Director Lorcan Finnegan remarked to me, “You can’t help referencing everything you’ve ever watched because everything you’ve ever done ends up in your subconscious, and when you are creating a film you end up delving into that subconscious area.” But as distinct cinematic works, can these two films be seen as influential in the different stories that comprise your filmography?

 

BM: The subconscious is a great place to draw from and to listen to, and both 2001 and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD have a dreamlike quality to them. There’s something extraordinary in their subject matter and sense of reality, that they push the boundaries of the here and now, or the normal state of things.

 

When you’re young and you’re first starting out, you feel your job as a director is to try to control things, but as you evolve, you learn that it’s very difficult – you can control some things, but many things are beyond your control. The idea of leaving a door open to the unconscious or the subconscious is very liberating, because you allow things in, or you connect with things that are not controllable, and so it’s like you let them out of the box.

 

David Lynch is a great proponent of that in his films and he wrote a great book called CATCHING THE BIG FISH, which is about him trying to channel his unconscious or subconscious through meditation. But his films are a perfect example of those dreamy qualities.

 

In terms of different genres and palettes, and types of stories, whether comedies or dramas, westerns or horror, being a movie fan as we all are, I have a pretty eclectic taste - hardcore experimental films to Marvel movies, and everything in between. And not being a writer, working with different writers is a part of my journey too, where you will collaborate with people and take a trip to different places that you might not ordinarily go on your own.

 

 

FF: What was the genesis of DREAMLAND?

 

BM: The writer Tony Burgess and actor Stephen McHattie, and Lisa Houle, who is also in the film, we all made a movie together called PONTYPOOL. We had a fun time making that and if you look at the very end of the credits, there is a thirty second portal into DREAMLAND, where Steve plays this contract killer, with Lisa as this mob moll. We just did it as a button on the end, not thinking of what the next thing was.

 

… Talking again about the band and the social nature, when you work with a group of people, there is that instinct to do something together again – let’s put the band back together, let’s do another tour, let’s do another show.

 

The inspiration for DREAMLAND came from a short film by Robert Budreau, called THE DEATHS OF CHET BAKER, in which Steve McHattie plays Chet Baker, who was found dead outside of an hotel in Amsterdam. The premise of the film was how did Chet Baker die? Was he pushed, was it suicide?

 

… I challenged Tony by saying, “What would you think of if Chet Baker was a heroin addict and lived in his own little dreamland?” So we tried to think what a movie would be like imagined by Chet Baker surfing on heroin. Tony’s first pass was coming up with this notion of a contract killer and this doppelgänger, this strange world of the underworld and the over world, this dreamy, heroin soaked crime movie that might be imagined by an heroin addicted jazz musician. Of course, the impulse was to always try to capture the quality of a dream.

 

 

FF: The mix of child prostitution, the child bride and the violence, anxieties heightened around the issues of sexual slavery and grooming, and the scandal of child abuse in the church makes this a divisive piece of filmmaking. Thinking about the idea that comedy should know no bounds, could the same be said for cinema?

 

BM: There are a lot of issues and hot buttons in the world that artists and storytellers touch on, and in this case child prostitution. I always thought of DREAMLAND to be more of a comedy than a serious investigation into an issue, and I think comedy as you were saying has a great ability to take you places, and to shine a light on things. They can reach very far, whether you are Mel Brooks doing SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER, or even the new film JOJO RABBIT, which some people are divided on. Some say, “It’s not a funny subject” while others say, “Oh, it was a funny movie.”

 

Comedy is subversive and the best comedy is highly subversive. I grew up watching MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS, and after 2001 and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I would probably rank it as the third member of that little foundational triangle, because they were very subversive and surprising, surreal and shocking. Comedy and the notion of subverting, there’s a delight to rattling the cage, and yeah, DREAMLAND is for a very specific audience.

 

We knew making it that this was not for a general audience, and going back to the things that inspire you, or some of your foundational things, when I was growing up there was a thing that was popular called the midnight movie. We would go and watch ERASERHEAD, SONG REMAINS THE SAME, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL or EL TOPO, these kind of strange movies, but they weren’t things you would see at the multiplex, and DREAMLAND falls into this idea of the midnight movie.

 

The people that would go to this type of movie, sometimes under the influence, sometimes not, but there was this feeling of seeing something that was not forbidden exactly, but something that was born in the shadows or on the edge of things, or was not invited to the main event. Sometimes you scratched your head, sometimes you felt under the spell, but often you felt like you’d seen something that was different, provoking, but still entertaining and fun to experience. So making DREAMLAND, one of our end games was to make a midnight movie for the midnight people because you’re right, certain people look at movies for different reasons - some look to movies for laughs, some intense dramas, some for social issues, some for family time, so people have peculiar and very specific requirements for movies.

 

DREAMLAND is available on DVD and Digital from Bulldog Film Distribution.

 

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