For Hollywood studios, there can be no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unqualified disaster, with the usual array of blockbusters sent off the rails into a nebulous, post-vaccine 2021 release schedule.
But if there has been a silver lining to that horizon-spanning dark cloud, it is that smaller independent films have had a shot at success in the studio vacuum.
This is especially true of Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity’s feature I Propose We Never See Each Other Again After Tonight, which got the kind of theatrical runs across Canada typically reserved for big studio movies, including 10 whole weeks in Winnipeg. (This was before cinemas once again shut down two weeks ago.)
Garrity’s plan for the film was always to reach out to Filipino-Canadians with its star-crossed love story between a Filipina gal Iris (Hera Nalam) and a Mennonite guy Simon (Kristian Jordan), especially since the film puts emphasis on Iris’s family and the first-generation issues that arise when tradition sparks up against cultural rebellion. (Much of the film’s dialogue is in Tagalog, which Garrity pointedly doesn’t bother to subtitle.)
Starting Tuesday, Nov. 24, the film is available as a video-on-demand option, but Garrity is satisfied the film reached some of that Filipino-Canadian audience in its theatrical runs across the country, especially in Winnipeg where, during its 10-week run, it actually played in three different cinemas for three weeks (Cinematheque, McGillivray and Northgate). That’s simply unprecedented for a local film, and that comes on top of a five-week run in Toronto, seven weeks in Edmonton and Garrity’s first ever booking in Halifax.
"No one might think this is important, but it was a big deal to me, because for 20 years and eight feature films, I’ve never been able to get a screen in Halifax or on the East Coast anywhere," Garrity says in a phone interview. "There was some kind of wall there. But we managed to get on the screen in Halifax and we managed to hold onto it for a couple of weeks, so that was a little notch in my belt."
Even so, Garrity understands many people have been hesitant about making the trip to a cinema during the pandemic, so he is hopeful I Propose will do well in the VOD format.
"There were a lot of people that I’ve talked to who said: ‘I’d love to see your film but I’m nervous about theatres.’ Even though it seemed theatres were one of the few places that got (safety protocols) right.
"So I think even though the film did as well as it did, there is a larger untapped audience who, in non-pandemic times, would have come out to the cinema to see it," Garrity says. "So our challenge now is to connect with those people and let them know that it’s on VOD."
That might not be as difficult as it seems. Garrity says the film has sparked lots of attention on the internet, especially from Filipino-Canadians who ventured to the cinema.
"The online activity seem to indicate that we were hitting that demographic, but then a lot of other people seem to be digging it as well," he says.
Garrity says he is currently looking at offers for screening the film beyond Canada, including from the Philippines.
"We’re just kind of negotiating. There might actually be two offers, so we are seeing which would be the best," he says. "But there really is a feeling that there is an interest in the broader Filipino community in seeing it."
The film’s depiction of inter-generational conflict seems to have especially hit home for many, he says.
"Hera (Nalam) has told me a lot of people have come up to her saying, ‘Oh my God, I’ve had that conversation with my mother! She said that exact same thing to me!’
"They really really identified with it," Garrity says. "So it’s an exciting step ahead of us and there are a lot of very exciting negotiations that I hope to be able to talk about soon about finding a wider audience."
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.