If they name a homecoming king at this year's Whistler Film Festival, which is marking its 10th anniversary, it surely will be Bruce McDonald, who has three films there this year. He will also be the subject (along with Monte Hellman) of a tribute, co-hosted by Atom Egoyan.
McDonald will screen the world premiere of Hard Core Logo II, Trigger - co-starring the late Tracy Wright, and the documentary Music from the Big House. Marsha Lederman spoke with the Toronto director during a break from production on his latest project, a documentary series about the music scene along Toronto's Yonge Street.
You've been busy.
The harvest was bountiful this year. I don't know how else to explain it; everything sort of happened.
Let's begin with Hard Core Logo II. Why did it take almost 15 years for a sequel?
We didn't think about it for many years. It didn't even occur to us that such a thing could be done. And then it took a while to find the right approach. Our lead character ends up dead on the street in the first one, so it took some head-scratching to figure out how we'd revive this little juggernaut.
Joe Dick figures in the plot. Will we get to see him in flashbacks or dream sequences?
Oh yeah, you'll get a good dose of Joe.
Any other characters we'll recognize?
Bucky Haight. He's a major character in this one. It's sort of like the minor characters from the first one are the major characters in the second one, with kind of nods and flashes to some of the original characters. It's sort of like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Taking these kind of nobody characters and making them the stars of the film.
You're working with a real musician this time (Care Failure from Die Mannequin) playing herself. Was it your intention to blur the lines even further between reality and fiction?
Yeah, cause what I liked about the first movie was this feeling that this was a documentary. We've kind of embraced that notion even more in this one by playing with the styles of documentary, but especially that half the characters in the film are playing themselves. It's a fun game.
Were you at all intimidated by the success of the first film?
The funny thing is it took a few years to kind of achieve its iconic status. It wasn't like we were doing a sequel to Ghostbusters, something that made a bazillion dollars and we had to hit that same target. You just hope that the companion honours the mischief and the soul of the first one.
In Music from the Big House, you travel to Angola Prison in Louisiana with Rita Chiarelli, who jams and performs with some of the inmates. What was it like in there?
It was like going to another planet. Very sad. Very, very strange. And being there and seeing these guys that would never leave there and knowing that everyone had done something horrible brought up a lot of issues: ideas of crime and punishment, and forgiveness. It was surprising how deeply we all felt about whether it's possible to forgive somebody. That's the question of the film. Do you have it in you to forgive somebody who's done a very bad thing?
You don't reveal what these people have done until the very end. Why?
There was a lot of debate: Do we do that at the front, do we do that at the end, do we do that at all? But to reflect our journey, we put it at the end, because that was our experience. We didn't know until we got back home what these guys did. When we were there, we looked at these guys more as musicians and people rather than criminals. We all felt a little strange when we found out what these guys did, after quite liking a lot of them. It's a real shock when you find out the nature of their crimes.
I understand you rushed Trigger into production after Tracy Wright was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. What was the shoot like?
We had to shoot very quickly once we found out the news. We shot on four different weekends, which allowed us all to think about the work. And it was just wonderful to see Tracy and Molly [Parker]with such a great script by Daniel [MacIvor] It was emotional at times, but mostly very positive. Because we just all wanted to be there for her and salute her.
Was she able to see any of the film?
She saw the cut before the sound mix was done and she was really, really pleased. And she got to see it on the big screen. And it is a remarkably great performance. It's one of those great things to see somebody at the top of their game hit it out of the park.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
The Whistler Film Festival runs Dec. 1-5 ( whistlerfilmfestival.com).