Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Director brings 'slow burn' to his thrillers

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FILMMAKER Robert Cuffley lives in Calgary but generally makes his films everywhere except Calgary.

His 2002 drama Turning Paige was a portrait of a troubled teen (Katharine Isabelle) shot in Moncton, N.B. Walk All Over Me, a kinky 2007 comedy-thriller about a would-be dominatrix (Leelee Sobieski) and her professional mentor (Tricia Helfer) was lensed here in Winnipeg. And his latest film, Ferocious, now playing at the Towne, is the story of an actress (Amanda Crew) confronting a blackmailer in her prairie hometown. It was shot in Saskatoon.

Cuffley spoke to the Free Press on the phone from his Calgary home.

FP: Is it safe to say all your films tend to have a female-centred point of view with an emphasis on the power dynamics between men and women?

RC: It's actually a little bit unconscious. This might sound fake, but I didn't know it until it was pointed out to me. But I know my own gender pretty well, or at least I think I do. And females are: a) more mysterious to me and b), in power positions, they're very much underrepresented. But I'm not trying to be a hero. It's just unconscious.

FP: That's where the drama is.

RC: Yes. With Walk All Over Me, I was told no one is going to pay to see two women in the lead. They were wrong. Harvey Weinstein bought it. And that was five years ago and I think already things have changed.

There's so many indie films that have female leads in them, including action pictures, which isn't really my thing. But thriller/suspense, I love. The inspiration for this was (the 1984 Coen Brothers thriller) Blood Simple, with a very small cast, and very few locations. The element that I tried to bring to it most was what I call the slow burn. With this, that was basically Kim Coates 30 feet away from you, looking you in the eyes and then step by step moving closer. And you start to get scared because he's such a menacing character.

FP: Was it a coincidence that it was shot in Saskatoon, given that both Michael Eklund and Kim Coates are Saskatoon homeboys, or was their history incentive to shoot the movie in Saskatoon?

RC: More the former. I had worked with Eklund on a previous movie and I intend to work with him until I'm dead.

One of the Saskatoon producers said this would be great for (Kim Coates) and I said I didn't think he'd do it. I call that my Canadian low self-esteem. In fact, when he read it, within 40 pages, he said, 'I'm doing this and I don't care what they pay.' That was very flattering.

FP: Did you shoot this film before Saskatchewan pulled the funding on its film industry?

RC: Ours was the last film. I was there for a screening and I met the makeup artist and some of the technical crew and they're all moving to Montreal or Winnipeg or Calgary. It's just sad. To be rooted out like that is a real shame.

FP: You're planning on doing a couple of projects in Winnipeg in the near future. What are they?

RC: One is a wrestling comedy called Chokeslam.

FP: That sounds different for you... unless it's about female wrestlers.

RC: It is, actually. It's about a deli clerk who rekindles a romance with his former love in high school who is now a giant woman wrestling star. The other one is more of an adult thriller. It looks pretty good for both of them getting greenlit.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2013 D3

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