By: Michelle Ferguson
The screen dims, as the melancholic music continues to play. From the black screen emerges the words: “Al·ge·bra: noun. From Arabic al-jabr ‘the reunion of broken parts.’”
The credits start to roll concluding the first movie of the night. The 150-strong crowd breaks into applause, before settling back into their seats for the next film.
Ottawa’s independent film community convened Feb. 23 to celebrate two of its latest accomplishments during a Local Indie Double Bill at the Algonquin Commons Student Theatre.
Eager to show the director’s cut of his award-winning short-film, al-gebr(a), local filmmaker, Jith Paul, decided to pair up with fellow Ottawa-based director Karim Ayari for the back-to-back screening.
An extra five minutes was added to the eight-minute short, originally crafted as part of the 2012 Digi60 Filmmaker’s festival, where it won an award for best technical quality.
“It was kind of challenging to cut it down,” said Paul, in an interview with the Times a week before the screening. “I’m finally happy to show the version that I wanted people to see in the first place.”
A recent Algonquin TV broadcasting graduate, Paul got involved in the Ottawa independent film scene as part of a “five-year experiment.”
Although he has always been passionate about film, the local filmmaker first graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor’s in engineering. After working a of couple small jobs in Toronto he moved to Ottawa, enrolled at Algonquin and refocused his career by starting his own production company called Treepot Media.
“Sometimes you have to figure out if it’s more than just a whim,” said Paul, “just dive in with two feet and see what happens.”
According to Paul, Ottawa is a very “indie-friendly” city.
While cities like Toronto and Montreal are better equipped to house bigger TV productions, Ottawa fosters more creative short-term works.
The accessibility to technology has led to a real “explosion” of independent movies in the past year or two, said Paul.
In fact, al-gebr(a) was shot with the same Red Epic camera that was used to shoot the top-grossing blockbuster, The Hobbit.
But the process is considerably different from filming a Hollywood production.
“As an indie filmmaker you do everything, you wear a lot of hats,” said Paul.
“I would find it quite an adjustment to have to wait for someone to move a stool, because that’s art department and not electric.”
In fact, Paul and Ayari both worked on each other’s films, with Ayari acting as director of photography on al-gebr(a) and Paul as assistant camera on Thirteen Downs, the beautifully shot feature film that topped off the Double Bill.
Written and produced by Karim Ayari, co-founder of Splitklips, another local production company, Thirteen Downs premiered at the Ottawa International Film Festival.
Shot in Wakefield, the feature-film tells the chilling tale of a family’s unravelling secrets.
“The idea behind this movie at first was to make a feature film that I could use to eventually get funding to make other bigger movies with bigger casts,” he said after the show, highlighting the financial difficulties often faced by independent filmmakers.
Ayari said he is very proud of what he was able to create in a limited amount of time — the movie was shot in one week and the cottage was booked one day before shooting began.
“I think it says a lot about what you can do with just adrenaline and passion,” said Ayari.
With extremely tight budgets, cast and crew are often working for free, said Paul — or next to it. So what motivates these actors, directors and crewmembers to dedicate entire weekends to free labour?
“It’s my biggest passion,” said actor Sasha Chichagov, who played the leading role in al-gebr(a) — a visual artists who loses his sight.
“Anything that has something to do with film and acting, I will never say no.”
Although he started acting at 18, Chichagov had to put his passion on the backburner.
His day job: he is a scientist, who will soon be setting out on an expedition on Baffin Island to study glaciers.