Jeremy Podeswa's Sight and Sound (and touch, taste and smell), "The Five Senses'" Canadian Auteur
by Anthony Kaufman
First, there was Atom Egoyan, then there was Don McKellar, now, there’s Jeremy Podeswa. Though each of them would surely wince at the direct lineage, the filmmaking connections are inevitable. Filled with dry humor, cold light, and a set of stories circling around man’s and woman’s inability to communicate, Podeswa’s “The Five Senses” — which won Best Canadian feature at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and Best Direction at the 2000 Genies — has made the young auteur the next in line for the Canadian directorial thrown. (It’s also got him some attention in the States; he’s represented in the U.S. by William Morris‘s Cassian Elwes and Mike Lubin.)
“The Five Senses” goes much further than its title suggests. Though it may be advertised as a little movie structured around the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing, it’s rather an ingenious, meditative look into the pushes and pulls of intimacy. Starring Molly Parker, Gabrielle Rose, Mary-Louis Parker, and Daniel MacIvor, the film is Podeswa’s second directorial effort. His first, “Eclipse” (1994), garnered acclaim on the festival circuit and was sold to 16 countries worldwide, but not the U.S. “It got me here,” he says. “It got me to the next movie.”
And the next begot the next. He’s currently in pre-production on a television movie in Canada, he’s got a first look deal with Canadian studio, Alliance/Atlantis, writing an adaptation of Catherine Buth‘s novel “Minus Time,” and for Robert Lantos‘ company, an adaptation of Anne Michaels‘s acclaimed novel “Fugitive Pieces,” for which he will direct. On the eve of “The Five Senses'” U.S. release by Fine Line, indieWIRE’s Anthony Kaufman spoke with Podeswa about Egoyan, the Canadian industry, schematic narratives, and the good old-fashioned art film.
indieWIRE: So you’re pretty busy right now. Is this primarily due to the Canadian success of “The Five Senses”?
Podeswa: Yeah. I think that has a lot to do with it. Certainly, you could say my stock has gone up in Canada quite a lot in the last year.
iW: Do you feel that you are being heralded as the next Egoyan; if so, how does that definition make you feel?
Podeswa: Hopefully, the industry is complex enough and big enough in Canada that you don’t have to be the next anything. There can just be more interesting people around. There’s Atom Egoyan, Patricia Rozema, Denys Arcard, David Cronenberg, Clement Virgo and Bruce Macdonald, and Don McKellar and Francois Girard. You’re just part of the industry.
iW: How do you feel about style comparisons between the two of you?
Podeswa: It’s sort of inevitable. Atom and I have talked about it, because it constantly comes up. We’ve known each other for 20 years, I’ve known him since his first film and he’s known me since my first film. Certainly, there’s a lot of cross-pollination. And I love his work and I admire him. At the same time, a lot of what we have in common has to do with our shared histories. Atom’s a first-generation Canadian with immigrant parents, so am I [his father’s Polish, mother’s English]. We both grew up as film buffs, in artistic families. Antonioni is one of his favorite filmmakers and one of mine. A lot of the reference points — things we were influenced by — are the same. We do tend to be interested in a lot of the same things, but the differences in our films are really interesting to both of us. Atom’s films, if you go beyond the surface level, they’re quite different from my films.
iW: I remember when Don McKellar’s film “Last Night” played in the States. I thought it was really great, and I was disappointed in that it didn’t find its audience here.
Podeswa: I think it’s true. That’s a funny thing with independent films, period. And by definition, all Canadian films are independent films. I think that sometimes they hit, sometimes they don’t. I don’t know how much to contribute that to the Canadian-ness of the movie that the movie didn’t hit. It could have been bad timing, or not the right campaign, or who knows what else came out that weekend — there are all kinds of reasons why films don’t work commercially. I think it’s too bad, because it’s really a great, great film, and there should have been a really good audience for it. But you know, “The Red Violin” did really well, and “Sunshine,” technically a Canadian movie, is doing really well.
iW: How do you feel with your film on the verge of its release here?
Podeswa: Everybody likes to focus on the Canadian thing, but I do consider it as just another independent film. We’re up against “Chuck and Buck” and we’re up against “X-Men” — I think those are the real factors. I just hope they [Fine Line] spend enough money. I hope they keep the movie in theaters long enough for word-of-mouth to build up. So far, the response has been great. I’ve been traveling to festivals around the States. People are really responding well. I feel cautiously optimistic. My movie is, in a lot of ways, an old-fashioned art film and there’s not a lot of those around. And people seem to appreciate that about it. I wasn’t sure how people in America would respond. It’s just about making sure the audience knows about the movie.
iW: So let’s talk about the movie. How did this idea come about, of using the five senses in a narrative way?
Podeswa: I’m very attracted to schematic structures, my brother is a chemical engineer, he has a very mathematical mind and he’s also a visual artist. I think we have a lot in common. And my first film had a very tight structure, narratively. While I was thinking about the next film to do, I was also reading this book by Diane Ackerman called “The Natural History of the Senses” — an anthropological and sociological look at the senses. But it also has this great sense of enthusiasm. Her attempt in the book is to really make you look at the world in a different way. To really go outside and smell the flowers, and walk barefoot in the sand, but she does it with such gusto that it doesn’t seem clich