With her girlish figure, funky fashion and dramatic hair, Ingrid Veninger looks ready for someone to holler “action.” But her wide-ranging credits reveal the Bratislava-born, Toronto-raised filmmaker’s career has mostly been off camera.
Once the go-to actor for “rebel chick” teen roles in the 1980s, Veninger, tired of being typecast, moved into a long stretch of collaborative creativity, producing many shorts, features by Anais Granofsky, docs by Peter Mettler and Nurse.Fighter.Boy by fellow Canadian Film Centre alum Charles Officer.
More recently, Veninger stepped into the director’s role for the TIFF-premiering Only (starring her son Jacob Switzer) and Modra (starring daughter Hallie Switzer and featuring members of her extended Slovakian family). Her latest film, I am a good person/I am a bad person (TIFF 2011), captures a mother-daughter relationship strained on the film festival circuit. Art imitating life? Not exactly, Veninger explains.
How do you keep family dinners from turning into production meetings?
It would be impossible for me to work as intensely as I do if I wasn’t loved and supported by my husband John Switzer, who has his own independent life. My family does inspire many of the questions in my films. Boundaries are tricky for me, and John ensures they’re in place!
You shot your new film while visiting European festivals – plus you and your daughter play a filmmaker mom and her assistant/daughter. How did you make it all work creatively and logistically?
Hallie and I were scheduled to attend a festival but she was homesick. I proposed making a short to spice things up. I would play a performance artist and she would film it. In March (2011) I started writing but it ballooned into a feature. I had to break it to her I wanted her to act again! So I wrote her a draft, which she loved. The only way I can be this flexible is to spend my own money. It’s like the (John) Casavettes model – you create a system of sustainability, with low expectations but you’re free to take risks.
Has working on Mettler’s documentaries influenced your fictional work?
Yes. The way he goes in with a plan but responds to whatever happens. It’s not result oriented, it’s about the journey. It’s a hard thing to inject into feature filmmaking. The idea is the starting point but the idea can be a trap. He’s been an incredible inspiration for me to trust the process and the people you surround yourself with.
For the first time you play a major role in your own film – definitely a less successful and more insecure filmmaker than you are! So, are you a good actor-director or a bad actor-director?
Well, you start out as the apple of your kid’s eye and then fall from grace. I can’t wait to get into post-screening discussions with mothers and daughters. As an actor I’ve worked with amazing directors and also people who didn’t get good work out of me. For this film I had no time to look at footage, so I had to give myself over to that. We were shooting in places where the real world was crossing into our scripted fictional world all the time. But the line between directing and acting was always present. I would never have been able to do that if I didn’t have 10 plus years behind me.
What’s the next family meeting about?
Well I think the next challenge is to apply what I’ve learned to stories that still come from a personal place but maybe casting more established actors – and taking more time to write a script. But it’s always going to be about pushing boundaries.
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