After last year's production lull, the Manitoba film industry is back with a vengeance with three theatrical feature movies currently shooting simultaneously in Winnipeg.
The films include a post-apocalyptic thriller set mostly in an apartment building fallout shelter, a serial-killer thriller about a woman afflicted with "face blindness" and a coming-of-age story about a young girl seeking out her birth mother.
The Divide, a claustrophobic suspense film from director Xavier Gens, stars Michael Biehn of James Cameron's The Terminator and Milo Ventimiglia, the star of the TV series Heroes. The two may not be playing the heroes, exactly, in the film, which commenced shooting Tuesday on location around the Millennium Centre on Main Street.
The film also stars Rosanna Arquette (David Cronenberg's Crash), Courtney B. Vance (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and Lauren German, an actress whose credits include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel 2. German's character is at the centre of the film, set in New York, which is virtually destroyed in a mysterious explosion in the first act. Eight survivors take refuge in the fallout shelter of an apartment building, where they are menaced first by mysterious men in HazMat suits and eventually by each other.
Biehn was the hero of Cameron's films The Terminator and Aliens, and also played a psychotic Navy SEAL in his sci-fi epic The Abyss.
Gens' last film, Hitman, starring Timothy Olyphant (High Life) grossed nearly $100 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. The Divide seems to be modelled more closely in tone to Frontiere(s), his gory 2007 cult horror hit about a female thief forced to do claustrophobic battle with a twisted Nazi family looking to refresh their bloodline.
The Divide was scheduled to begin shooting here earlier but was delayed in part by the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which paralyzed air travel between Europe and North America. Gens is from France.
L.A.-based producer Ross Dinerstein says the bulk of the film's six-week shooting schedule will be at the soundstage of the Manitoba Production Centre.
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Faces in the Crowd, starring Milla Jovovich and Julian McMahon, began shooting in Winnipeg on Saturday and continues until June 15. Resident Evil star Jovovich, who has already been seen in town in the company of her two-year-old daughter, stars as a woman who barely survives an attack by a serial killer known as Tearjerk Jack, and emerges from the experience with an inability to see faces.
Also in town, Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck) plays the police detective trying to protect Jovovich's elementary schoolteacher from another attack.
She has not arrived yet, but rock legend Marianne Faithfull will also be in the film, playing "Dr. Langenkamp," the therapist who tries to help Jovovich's character through her trauma.
The film's writer-director Julien Magnat, like Gens, was born in France and has a history in French genre cinema, and received both writer and director credits on the comic book movie Bloody Mallory.
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The Quebec-Manitoba co-production titled The Year Dolly Parton was My Mom, is a girl's coming-of-age comedy set in the year 1976. It launched a three-week Manitoba shoot on Monday, after starting principal photography in Montreal on April 12.
It's about 11-year-old Elizabeth (Julia Stone), who is jolted from her sleepy suburban Winnipeg existence when she discovers she was adopted and sets out on a cross-country trek to find her birth mom while her adoptive mother (Macha Grenon of The Barbarian Invasions) pursues her. Gil Bellows also stars as Elizabeth's dad.
Written and directed by Tara Johns, the film is produced by Montreal-based Palomar and co-produced by Winnipeg's Buffalo Gal Pictures.
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The three films may just be the beginning of a busy film year.
Actor Jay Baruchel, the star of She's Out of My League and the upcoming comedy The Trotsky, confirms he's "99 per cent sure" he will be coming to Manitoba at the end of the summer to make his directorial debut in a hockey comedy titled The Goon, which Baruchel co-scripted with Superbad scriptwriter Evan Goldberg.
Buffalo Gal Pictures producer Phyllis Laing says a couple of thrillers are in the works, including The Haunting in Georgia, a sequel to The Haunting in Connecticut, scheduled to go before cameras in August under the direction of Tom Elkins, who edited The Haunting in Connecticut. Also on Buffalo Gal's slate is a minimalist thriller titled ATM, scheduled to film in late September. And the third season of Less Than Kind is scheduled to shoot in September and October, Laing says.