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Culture clash

Winnipeg filmmaker mixes city's Filipino and Mennonite communities together for romantic comedy

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/3/2020 (198 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Let’s face it: the Canadian film industry has produced lots of films people aren’t particularly interested in seeing.

So you’ve got to hand it to Sean Garrity, a Winnipeg filmmaker who is interested in enticing a movie audience most filmmakers ignore, and has a plan to get his movie shown across the country.

MOVIE PREVIEW

Click to Expand

I Propose We Never See Each Other Again After Tonight

Directed by Sean Garrity

● Opens Friday, March 20

● Cinema City Northgate

● 103 minutes

● 14A

Garrity, 53, has a track record for making films that break through. The sex comedy My Awkward Sexual Adventure, his Winnipeg-shot 2012 collaboration with star and scriptwriter Jonas Chernick, apparently struck a chord internationally. It sold in 24 countries and was translated into 15 languages.

It swept the 2013 Canadian Comedy awards, was remade in Lithuania and Ukraine, and a Bollywood version is in production right now. (Garrity humbly adds that in 2014, he was told by a group of ESL students visiting from Beijing that it was "the most popular illegally downloaded film among Chinese university students.")

After spending a few years in Toronto, where his social psychologist wife Yumi got a post-doctoral position after finishing her PhD at the University of Manitoba, Garrity and family returned in 2017 and he had some time to contemplate his next project.

"When I came back to Winnipeg, I was doing odd jobs. I edited a movie for someone. I was doing story editing for people. And I was trying to decide how I wanted to get my next film off the ground," he says. "I wanted to make it a very Winnipeg film because I’m back and I’m very enthusiastic about Winnipeg and about coming back."

He hit on the idea of a romantic comedy — ultimately titled I Propose We Never See Each Other Again After Tonight — in which the climax is set at a wedding social.

"Me and Guy (Maddin) and Matthew (Rankin) — everybody is making these Winnipeg movies and creating this mythology of the Winnipeg we grew up in," Garrity says. "How did we all miss the wedding social? How come that’s never been in a movie?"

More importantly, the film has a specifically Winnipeg demographic spin as its premise: Mennonite boy meets Filipina girl. When he found the money to make it, he approached it, in one sense, as a corrective.

"I just felt like those were two very essential communities in Winnipeg and they’re really under-represented communities, in a way," Garrity says.

"One out of every 10 Winnipeggers is Filipino, so if you’ve got a movie that’s a Winnipeg movie with more than nine characters in it, it’s more of a statement to not have a Filipino in your movie," he says. "I’ve made seven movies and I’m guilty of it. I’ve only cast two Filipinos in all the movies that I’ve cast (prior to I Propose).

"Part of it is that there’s not a lot of Filipino people in the city pursuing a career in acting," he says, acknowledging actress Stephanie Sy — who was almost in his film — and current Broadway performer Andrea Macasaet, who plays the heroine’s sister in I Propose.

"It’s a small number, comparatively speaking," he says. Rounding out the cast proved a challenge.

"I had to go talk to the guy who taught drama at Sisler High School to ask him: ‘Who did you see coming through where you said, "Oh my God, look at the talent there." Who are those people?’"

Actor Kristian Jordan (from left) with director Sean Garrity and actor Hera Nalam. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Actor Kristian Jordan (from left) with director Sean Garrity and actor Hera Nalam. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

One star search took Garrity to Raffy’s Cafe on Ellice Avenue, a karaoke joint with a largely Filipino clientele.

Long film title explained

So what's with that mouthful of a 10-word title, I Propose We Never See Each Other Again After Tonight?

Sean Garrity has a story about that.

So what's with that mouthful of a 10-word title, I Propose We Never See Each Other Again After Tonight?

Sean Garrity has a story about that.

"I used to live in Argentina when I was in my 20s," he says. "One day I was at a bank exchanging traveller's cheques — that's how long ago this was — and while waiting in this slow-moving Latin American line, I met this couple from Vancouver. They were backpacking, whereas I was living there."

The couple asked if he would be willing to show them around the city. Garrity was in classes all day but promised to meet them later at a bar outside the old Buenos Aires Opera House to take them to a party of Argentine artists.

"So at the appointed time I show up, and she shows up, but he stays behind," he recalls.

The woman told him her fiancé was ill and not a good traveller, but that she was game to hang out. Garrity and the unnamed backpacker ended up closing down the bar.

"I was having a coffee, so she ordered something, and then we started having beers.

"And then there was this moment when I think we realized that we were never going to see each other again, ever," he says. "So we start telling each other these secrets that we've never told anyone. She starts telling me she's been messing around on her fiancé and she's not sure if it's going to work out. I start telling her all this stuff about my life.

"And we never go to the party. We close this little bar and we stay there until, like, three in the morning. She went back to her hotel. I went back to my place. And we never saw each other again."

That incident was the inspiration: "These two meet out in the street and they go to a bar and very quickly, she says: 'Listen... ' And then she says the title of the film," he says.

"She has a bunch of stuff she wants to get off her chest and she tricks him into telling her a bunch of stuff that's secret and deeply hidden about himself."

"There was a couple there MC-ing and doing kind of a comedy routine and they became (the heroine’s) mom and dad," Garrity says. "We cast them from the karaoke bar."

The movie ultimately chose Winnipeg writer-actor Kristian Jordan and upcoming young actress Hera Nalam as its leads. Nalam, who had been cast in the Manitoba Theatre for Young People touring show Torn Through Time, was so perfect for the role, Garrity adjusted his shooting schedule for her — from Jan. 31 to April 27 of last year — to accommodate her stage obligations.

But that too worked out in giving the film its Winnipeg feel.

"That was part of the deal for me, the winter shoot," he says, acknowledging some attendant headaches. "We bought a Steadicam to set... and it froze. Because it’s Winnipeg.

"Winnipeg is a lot of things to a lot of people," he says. "But there’s no question that it’s winter."

Garrity is eager to have the finished film reach Winnipeg’s Filipino community. That’s why he arranged it to open next Friday at the Cinema City Northgate on McPhillips Street, a Cineplex venue that divides its content between second-run Hollywood features and foreign-language pop films from India and the Philippines. It presents an unprecedented opportunity for Filipino-Canadian audiences to see themselves in a familiar movie house.

Propose will offer a rare sight for Filipino-Canadian moviegoers: seeing Filipino-Canadian actors on the screen. From left: Elmer Aquino, Andrea Macasaet, Mithus Mallari and Melissa Hizon. (Brad Crawford)

Propose will offer a rare sight for Filipino-Canadian moviegoers: seeing Filipino-Canadian actors on the screen. From left: Elmer Aquino, Andrea Macasaet, Mithus Mallari and Melissa Hizon. (Brad Crawford)

In fact, though some of the film’s dialogue is in Tagalog, Garrity opted to leave out subtitles. For those not familiar with the language, the movie will still reflect a Canadian experience, Garrity says.

"Remember going over to your friend’s house growing up and your friends parents are from Hungary or the Honduras or Haiti or whatever, and there’s kind of a two-language thing going on in the house? And you sort of get it. Because the kids are talking back in English and the parents are mixing and because of the tone of the voice and the context, you sort of get it.

"That’s the reason I’m not subtitling it. I do believe in the universality of that experience," he says, adding that he lives it at home with his Japanese-born wife.

"My wife speaks in Japanese to my daughter," he says. "It feels very Canadian to me and that was something I was interested in preserving.

"The idea is very much to show to Cineplex that this movie can do well," Garrity says, adding he expects the film will be just as successful in other cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, where the actual number of Filipinos is larger than in Winnipeg.

"I think the argument is: Make it work in Winnipeg and it’s going to travel."


Ultimately, the fate of the film may rest with its leading lady. Garrity, for one, hopes so.

"I’m quite confident that if I can get the movie out, she’s going to have an incredible career ahead of her," he says of Nalam. "She’s just a stupendous actor. She’s got so much charisma."

"She’s incredibly full of life," says Jordan, her co-star. "There’s a funny parallel between us and our characters. I’m a bit withdrawn or self-conscious. Hera might feel those things too, but she’s just a very outward person, and full of life and interacting with everybody. I think I learned quite a bit just watching her interact with people. She sets other people at ease, which is a really wonderful trait. And you’ll see that on screen."

It's a maze out there. (Mongrel)

It's a maze out there. (Mongrel)

Unlike her Winnipeg-born character Iris, Nalam, 24, was born in the Philippines and moved to Winnipeg with her parents and two siblings from Cebu City in 2011. In the scope of her extended family, "my batch of the family were the last ones to move here," she says.

Nalam’s mother is a professor at the University of Manitoba; her dad is a maintenance mechanic at Gateway Industries. Much of her extended family lives in Winnipeg, inspired by one of her grandmothers, who was the first to emigrate here.

"I would consider my mom my first influence in theatre," Nalam says. "She has a PhD in literature, she did a lot of writing and directing. She did all the artsy stuff and growing up and... I just kind of watched her.

"I didn’t really think I’d pursue that, but here we are," says the graduate of the University of Winnipeg theatre honours program.

Nalam says she is distinct from Iris, the character she plays.

"Iris is very timid. She’s a people-pleaser and I consider myself a people-pleaser, but I’m not afraid to say something if I’m not comfortable with something," she says. "Iris, on the other hand, would not say anything."

Sean Garrity (right) with I Propose actors Hera Nalam and Kristian Jordan. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Sean Garrity (right) with I Propose actors Hera Nalam and Kristian Jordan. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Nalam says Garrity has endeavoured to show the Filipino-Canadian community as never before in Canadian film — or in a Filipino film for that matter.

"I like how Sean was very respectful of showing how warm but also how tough it can be in a Filipino household or the Filipino community where everybody seems to know each other," she says.

"One of the big reasons I love Winnipeg is the acceptance of art and the encouragement of doing what you love to do here," she says. "I don’t know if I see that a lot in the Filipino community."

Nalam says Filipinos love art, music and movies, but being an artist is another matter.

"I feel there’s a standard there that’s a little messed up," she says. "Back home, you can’t be an actor unless you look a certain way. You can’t be a singer unless you sound a certain way.

"But I find it here in Winnipeg, it’s different," she says.

"You are who you are and we accept you for who you are. And I love that."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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