The red-carpet, invitation-only première of Peruvian director Claudia Llosa's Manitoba-lensed feature film Aloft at the Centennial Concert Hall on Thursday accomplished its mission to inject a bit of film festival glamour to an otherwise rainy/snowy night in downtown Winnipeg.
The première itself represented something of a triumph for federal Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, who attended. Glover wrested the posh "Movie Night" event from its home base in Ottawa to bring the event to cities across the country.
"Because of Shelly Glover, they've done one in Newfoundland and they've done one in Calgary, so we chose to do this one," Manitoba Film and Music CEO Carole Vivier said of the Aloft screening, which about 1,000 people attended. "The purpose of it is to really open up independent film to the public, and show them what we make in Canada."
If the film's trio of above-the-line stars -- Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy and Mélanie Laurent -- were not in attendance, director Llosa herself supplied a bit of movie-star beauty to the proceedings, a feat that was all the more impressive since she arrived in Winnipeg without her luggage.
Llosa, 38, made a beeline for the street after the screening to have a cigarette outside the concert hall.
She described her feelings as an unseasonable, yet somehow appropriate, snow started falling in downtown Winnipeg.
"It was super-emotional. I had such a great experience making the film here," she says of the film, originally titled Cry/Fly while it was shooting in March and April of 2013.
"It doesn't look like it in the film, but we had so much fun doing it," she says with a laugh, referring to the film's downbeat mix of terminal illness, faith and falconry. "People are so nice here and I just felt so comfortable doing the film here. It just feels so good. With this, I feel like it's closing the circle."
It also allowed one of the film's local producers, Buffalo Gal Pictures president Phyllis Laing, a chance to do the red-carpet experience after having missed the gala première at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.
"So this event is even more meaningful for that reason," Laing said. "This will be the first time I've seen it large."
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An Oscar and Emmy winner was in attendance at the screening, although most might not have recognized him as such.
Producer Mark Johnson, Academy Award winner for Rain Man and Emmy winner for Breaking Bad, had some droll comparisons to make about shooting Aloft in Manitoba as compared with shooting Breaking Bad in New Mexico.
"One of the things I was happiest about was that everybody, from the municipal side to the man in the street, everybody was happy you were there," Johnson said. "There have been enough places, frankly, where there have been enough companies shooting there that they get blasé and cynical about it. Here we were made to feel welcome everywhere."
Breaking Bad, the celebrated series based in Albuquerque, was eventually embraced by the populace, but not immediately, he says.
"New Mexico residents were happy to have Breaking Bad shooting in their neck of the woods after a few seasons, but it was initially met with suspicion," he said. "The city government wasn't crazy about it at first because it was 'that meth show.'
"For the longest time, we couldn't get advertising, because why would Chevrolet want to sponsor a show about a guy who makes crystal meth?" he says.
Coincidentally, Johnson says his return visit to Winnipeg for the première facilitated a scout for another feature.
"And the film we're looking to do stars (Breaking Bad's) Aaron Paul, so thanks to Buffalo Gal, we're investigating shooting here."
Aloft will be distributed by Mongrel Media in Canada and Sony Pictures Classics in the U.S.
Mongrel president Hussain Armarshi said Aloft will be released in Canada in February 2015.