Winner of the DAAD Award in Berlinale Shorts 2012 and highly acclaim in the international film festival circuit, this wonderfully entertaining musical documentary tells the true life story of Trevor’s great-uncle, Jimmy. Trevor Anderson is a self-taught, independent filmmaker. His work has screened at many major international film festivals, including Sundance, Berlin, and Toronto.
Ioana Mischie: This musical documentary tells the true life story of your uncle, Jimmy. With an outstanding music and splendidly designed choreographies in retro ambiances, you create a hilarious and moving personal portrayal of a former Broadway dancer, almost reminding of the 40’s musicals and of classical musical stars like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. What made you choose this innovative way of making a documentary and what motivated you to explore Jimmy’s life?
Trevor Anderson: Jimmy was a Broadway dancer, and at one point in his life he met Judy Garland. It seemed like the best way to tell his the story of his life by making a musical – something he loved. It felt like a way to be true to him. Also, the story as it was handed down to me through my family seemed to have these very natural chapters to it, so we could do a “growing up on the farm” song, and then a “going off to war” song, that sort of thing. Jimmy’s life story as I received it is a hard one, with addiction, prison and loneliness featuring large: making a musical was also an attempt to bring some beauty and joy into a pretty sad story. I wrote the lyrics and Bryce Kulak, who is also the lead actor, composed the music. Bryce and I had written a children’s musical for the theatre before, and we knew we wanted to write something for adults. We realized that this story was our chance to do that.
Ioana Mischie: You portray the life of your uncle from 11-years-old to adulthood, through outstanding songs and choreography. Storytelling is intensified through the catchy charismatic re-interpretation of Judy Garland. And now comes the “hard” questions: How did you work with all the actors, how long were the rehearsals and how difficult was to direct all the “narrative choreographies”?
Trevor Anderson: We recorded the songs first, in a week at a recording studio. Then, we had two or three rehearsals for each song, spread over the course of a couple weeks, when the choreographer Gerry Morita and I worked with the actors to create the dances.
Ioana Mischie: The well-chosen set design and costumes are creative proofs of how you can create a playfully remarkable short film, with humor, talent and open-mindedness. Why did you choose those specific locations and not a Broadway-look-alike environment?
Trevor Anderson: We shot the film in the downward spiral of a parking garage exit. Jimmy starts at the top level and descends down the concrete spiral, and the other performers enter and exit at the different levels as Jimmy moves down. On one hand, it was just a very direct metaphor for the downward spiral of Jimmy’s life. Also, because Jimmy’s story ends with him on the street, it worked well that the spiral really takes us onto the street at the bottom. I knew I wanted to set it in one strong visual location to hold the story together, or it could become too sprawling or scattered to tell Jimmy’s whole life. If we’d shot in a studio or various locations, I thought it might feel too spread out, and I wanted the location to help give the audience a feeling of unity. Also, by not filming in a theatre on a stage I hope it helps the movie feel like a movie, rather than a filmed play.
Ioana Mischie: You are a self-taught filmmaker. When did you start to approach cinema and what motivated you to make this step?
Trevor Anderson: My background and training are in the live theatre, where I worked as a playwright and stage director. After ten years of doing live theatre I decided to make the jump into writing and directing movies, so I started making short films to learn by doing. I made my first short film, Rugburn, in 2005.
Ioana Mischie: You are also the co-founder of the rock’n’roll band The Wet Secrets. And your song “Secret March” was listed in 2010 by Grant Lawrence of CBC Radio 3 as one of the “Best Songs of the Decade.” How did this musical background impact your filmmaking career?
Trevor Anderson: Being in the band and having recorded a couple albums helped me understand and be prepared for the process of recording the music in a professional studio. We had a great recording engineer named Doug Organ who recorded the musicians and singers at his Edmontone Studio, here in Edmonton. Doug’s also a friend, whom I met through the band.
Ioana Mischie: You feel somehow close to documentary filmmaking, although you don’t document real life, you rather rebuild the story from an artistic perspective. How do you interpret the line between documentary films and fiction films?
Trevor Anderson: That’s a line I’m always crossing. In this film, my voiceover narration is the documentary part, where I’m directly telling the audience Jimmy’s story as it was handed down through the family to me. Then we move from there into these extended musical numbers that are like fantasy riffs on the story I’ve been told, almost like my daydreams about it. Though we call the film a documentary and it has played at Hot Docs in Toronto, it feels more accurate to call it a hybrid because so much of it is staged with actors. By making it so stylized, as a musical, I wanted the audience to really feel that this is my “take” on the story, rather than an attempt to present cold, hard facts. In the personal documentaries I’ve made, so far I’ve tried to bring some level of creation to each of the films, using true stories as a jumping off point from which to try to make something new.
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