Emotions ran high in Toronto last night as the ten-years-in-the-making TIFF Bell Lightbox finally made its official debut as a screening venue. After a day long block party outside the building, a who’s who of the city’s film community gathered to witness Bruce MacDonald’s “Trigger.”
“One of the cornerstones of what we are doing in this organization is supporting Canadian films and filmmakers,” Toronto International Film Festival CEO Piers Handling said as he took the stage before the screening. “It’s been a huge part of who and what we are… So it’s entirely appropriate that we open this building with a film that we have many, many connections to: ‘Trigger.'”
Handling noted the long list of Canadian cinematic talent associated with the film, from its director Bruce McDonald to its screenwriter Daniel MacIvor, to its cast that includes Molly Parker, Sarah Polley, Don McKellar, and Callum Keith Rennie. But the most notable person involved with “Trigger” is also the reason why last night’s Lightbox debut was such a stirring event for so many people. Tracy Wright, who along with Parker is in nearly every scene of the film, passed away earlier this year after a battle with cancer. She was a remarkable presence in the Canadian film and theatre worlds, and “Trigger” was her very last project.
“This is a moment of huge celebration, for us as an organization, but as also for Bruce and the film team,” Handling said. “But at the same time, we obviously dedicate this to the memory of Tracy who was an extraordinary actor who contributed so much – not just to the Toronto film scene but to the entire Canadian film scene.”
The film – which indieWIRE reviewed earlier this week – follows a night in the life of former childhood friends Vic (Wright) and Kat (Parker) who reunite ten years after their friendship and their popular band, Trigger, came to a dramatic end. Filled with quick, clever dialogue and featuring pitch-perfect performances from both women, the film was clearly well-received from its hometown crowd, with a moving standing ovation resulting from the credits’ dedication to Wright.
Wright was very much the dominant topic of conversation at the Q&A that followed the screening. MacIvor and Parker recalled how optimistic Wright had been during the shoot, at which point she was aware she had terminal cancer. Even after a long day of shooting in the cold, this was clear. Parker had offered sympathies to Wright regarding how difficult this period in her life must be. “What are you kidding,” Wright had said. “I just got married and I’m starring in a movie.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “Trigger” is how quickly and extraordinarily it came together to accommodate Wright’s illness. Wright’s husband, Don McKellar (who she married just prior to “Trigger,” though the two have been together for quite some time), passionately described the film’s genesis after the screening.
“Can I just say, because I think maybe people don’t understand,” McKellar said. “This script was written and Bruce had talked about making the film with Molly and Tracy. But when Tracy became sick, they thought that maybe they could rush it into production. And when they told me that they were maybe going to try and do that, I suggested to them that it was perhaps not possible. They said they could get it together by June, and I felt that would be too much of a burden on Tracy. I wasn’t telling them to do it faster, I was saying it wasn’t possible. But then when I got home, I got a phone call that said we’re doing it next weekend. Which I felt was just not possible. It’s just not something you can do with movies.”
“Trigger” proved McKellar wrong, shooting over eight days on four consecutive weekends.
“Somehow they did it,” McKellar said. “And everyone embraced that spirit. It was an astonishing thing to see. When they first proposed it, secretly I thought it was maybe too much pressure on her and that it would be difficult. She was weak at the time, and she really didn’t want to seem sick and she didn’t want it to be this charity thing. She would have been mortified if anyone thinks of it as charity. But I supported it because I thought it would be a nice distraction for her at this terrible time. But then very quickly I realized I was wrong. Because acting for Tracy wasn’t ever a distraction. It was really who she was. And I think that everyone who became involved really embraced this project. Not just out of compassion but really out of validating why we make movies and the importance of movies in our lives.”