Director Aaron Ries joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about Dziadzio, a short film we voted as one of the best of 2018.
Q: ‘Dziadzio’ touches upon inter-generational disconnect and suburban restlessness. How much of this film was a reflection of your own experiences?
A: I lived with my Polish grandfather, or ‘Dziadzio’ one summer during university. We were both at very different times in our lives. I felt like I would never be able to get a job after university, and he was living in his family home now alone. It made for an eye-opening experience where I learned a lot about aging and how different we were. How we both relied on each other differently, but also how we were similar.
He was born in Poland and grew up there. I’m half-Polish, and have been immersed in Polish culture since birth. However, there’s a difference between me and someone who grew up there and relates to it with vivid memories and impressions. I’ve never even been there, but am still connected to it in a way that’s different than my grandfather was – yet this thing connects us intricately.
This all was set against the landscape of North York – an inner ring suburb of Toronto filled that is filled with tree lined streets and family homes, but is still very much deep within the city. North York is surrounded by snarling highways, endless traffic, and simultaneously can be as quiet as the countryside. It was a landscape that I became obsessed with, and started crafting a narrative that built on two characters, separated by age and their view of culture, that became Dziadzio.
Q: Stefania writes sexually daring emails, fiddles around with a knife and snorts pills. Can you tell us more about the character and what you wanted to explore through her?
A: That boredom isn’t always a quiet, graceful state. Stefania, like so many young people, is stuck in a situation by circumstance, but is ready to explode out of it, and live a life unto herself. I wanted audiences to feel the danger and darkness of her feeling alone and stuck with nothing to do. Not through any overt machination of her intentions, but through the things that follow her and the situations she gets in.
Bored people are ready to throw all caution to the wind and embrace the imperfect we live in not out of excitement, just because they don’t know have anything else to do.
Q: The film has such an interesting visual style. Can you tell us about putting that together with DOP Jesse McCracken?
A: Jesse is an incredible cinematographer and friend, and working with him was one of the key creative partnerships that made this film possible.
Jesse and I went through the script several times, ideating how the camera could interpret the story and the visions from it. Jesse solved many of the key creative problems and made my ambitions real, coming up with ideas how we could turn something that was written in pure dream-state come to life through practical effects. It was a collaboration that made the film what it is.
Q: The film showcases what a special talent Sydney Herauf is. Can you tell us about working with Sydney and what she brought to the project?
A: Sydney brought an insane energy to the project, something that was evident from first meeting her. Her audition for the film made her a clear fit as soon as she started reading her first lines. She wrote an entire backstory for Stefania, beyond anything I’d dreamt up, and took charge of taking the character into existence and making it her own.
She struck up an alliance with Otto, who played Dziadzio, and created a friendship with him to bring them both to a place where they could interact realistically in front of the camera. Sydney is a true star, and a talent that I know we’ll hear more from. Stay tuned.
Q: The film has screened at a number of festivals, including TIFF 2018. Have you had any notable responses to the film, particularly from those either side of the generational gap?
A: The response has been amazing to the film, which has been so rewarding, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity. As the film was coming together, you never know what direction you’re heading, and the further down the hole you get the less confident you become about a project.
But, throughout while John Gallagher – who edited the film, and was another key partner in it – and I worked through bringing it together in post, we kept to the one tenet that we wanted people to feel the ride of the film, if nothing else. And, to know that people found it unique, interesting, and rewarding was all I could have asked for, and more.
I’ve talked to people young and old – students from the high school I went to that enjoyed it, Polish friends who enjoyed the details of the Polish-Canadian relationship, lovers of thrillers and horror that enjoyed the throwbacks to ‘anxious’ feeling cinema and even my own Dziadzio, who was impressed by the technical aspects of the film – though maybe he wouldn’t have traditionally been a fan of this genre of cinema.
Q: Can you tell us more about your background as a filmmaker?
A: I started making videos 5 years ago, first taking photos and filming my own street-shot videos, until I realized I had to sit down and create a full story if I wanted to bring about the things I wanted to convey on screen. Dziadzio is my first short film, and was a 2.5 year process to bring together from writing to filming, editing and now releasing.
Q: Can you name a few of your favourite films?
A: I’ll give you four: Wild at Heart by David Lynch, Crash by David Cronenberg, Point Break by Kathryn Bigelow, and Laurence Anyways by Xavier Dolan.
Q: What are your ambitions for the future?
A: I’m working on another short film now, and hope to make a feature film after that. I look forward to sharing them. Hopefully they turn out good!