Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fort McMurray, Film-Making, and Fascination

There are many things people from outside our community simply don't associate with us. I've written about some of them, things like fibre arts and live theatre. In the past year I've become aware of another aspect of life in Fort Mac that many don't even realize exists, and even some people inside the city would likely be surprised to discover it. That aspect? Film-making.

I'm going to be very honest. As with all the other things I admit to knowing nothing about what I know about film-making wouldn't fill a teacup (maybe an espresso cup). I like films, though, and I especially like independent film-makers. I always have, from way back in my days in Toronto. I suppose it's because I am always intrigued by what inspires people, about what fires their creativity. Once you add in the "Hollywood effect" that creativity and inspiration can be dampened, I think, but independent film-makers are a bit different. They have some freedom to explore and invent - and in that way remind me a bit of bloggers, too.

I guess I first met local film-maker Tito Guillen through my association with YMMPodcast. When I first began this blog I reached out to Toddske at the podcast, and what started as a very casual e-mail ended up with my appearance on two podcasts, and plans for further collaborations. It also meant I was able to get to know Toddske and Tito a bit, and learn more about them, and what they do. While Tito might work in the oilsands industry he has a passion - and it's for making films.

I met Tito for coffee a few weeks ago. He has an interesting story (okay, I'll admit it, I haven't heard a boring story in this city yet). Tito came here when he was very young, an immigrant to our country from El Salvador. His parents had left their home country in search of a better - and safer - life. If you know anything about the history of El Salvador (and I do, although I didn't tell Tito this - I've always been interested in Central and South America, fascinated by their culture and history) you know it has been turbulent and difficult and, at points, simply dangerous. So, Tito's parents packed up, came to Canada - and ended up in Fort McMurray (which must have been a tremendous culture shock for them).

I guess they found what they were looking for here, as they stayed, and this is where Tito grew up. And as he grew he developed a passion for movies. As he grew older he discovered that one didn't just have to watch movies - you could make them, too. I remember that epiphany myself, people - when I realized I didn't just have to read what others wrote, I could write, too. It's an incredibly freeing moment in your life, I think, to realize that you can take a personal interest and turn it into something to do creatively. You can see the passion and vision and drive in the people who have done this - and you can see it clearly in Tito Guillen.

When Tito talks film-making he gets pretty fired up. The words come fast and with passion. And I admit I learned a lot speaking to him, too. I learned how many independent film-makers don't film with 35mm film due to the cost, but that Tito does exactly that (and he credits the financial freedom from his "day job" with his ability to do this). The difference that makes may seem subtle on this page but is huge on the screen as it gives his films the "movie" feel people expect, and it gives his films a little edge when it comes to screenings at film festivals. It gives his films a professional polish, and it just sets them apart a little bit, which is to his advantage.

I must say, though, that I think Tito's films would be great whether they were on 35mm film or not. I think they are lovely little pieces, works of heart and art. I've gone to his website, Hyperphotonic Media, and watched every single film (and clicked through his photography, which is also damn good, especially his landscape work - the young man has a "good eye"). The films might differ in theme and intent but they are all executed well, and they show progression, I think. They show growth in skill and confidence. And that's an amazing thing to see.

I think what is truly best about Tito and his films is that they have been embraced locally - and that local success has translated into international success, too. His films have screened not only in Fort Mac but in places like New York, Georgia, and Las Vegas. That's significant success by any standards, as what any film-maker (or writer) wants is to see their work out in the world. It's exciting to see your work (the thing you've put days and months and sometimes even years into) out there. And I think the local support has made this easier for Tito, too. If you find support locally it makes you more willing to put yourself  further out there, to take more risks and chances. I think that's what Fort Mac has done for Tito, and for his film-making adventures.

Tito does other things, too. He is integral to the YMMPodcast, and he has acted as a producer for independent film series like "The People That Touch Your Food" (an incredible series of short films, people). He does photography, and often when we speak he tells me about "shooting" weddings or similar events. I think, though, that what is closest to Tito's heart are his short films. I think they are his passion and his calling, and I think it's a lovely thing. When Tito's parents left El Salvador they left to find a better life, but they ended up doing far more. They ended up finding a place where their son could explore his passion, and worry not about civil unrest and disappearances and political strife but could rather enjoy the freedom of this country - and this community. They found what they were looking for in Fort McMurray, like so many do, and now their son has taken their leap of faith and turned it into a personal adventure of his own. And that, people, is a phenomenal thing.

My thanks to Tito Guillen for agreeing
to be written about ;) and for the great films!

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