The journey from short to feature film


It was sitting on a beach in Asia in the late ‘90s, contemplating life and the daunting reality of turning 30 that filmmaker Sean Garrity decided to return to his home of Winnipeg and officially start his career.

After travelling and living abroad for 10 years, Garrity felt it was time to put the skills he had previously learned at film school into action.

“If I want to tell an honest story, I want it to be a Winnipeg story and I want it to be about being in Winnipeg and the sense that we have living there,” Garrity explains of his decision to move back to Canada. “It seemed to make sense to me.”

He began making music videos and short films, some of which transformed into feature films. In 2002, Garrity’s father passed away, someone who he describes as a “selfless, incredible hero.” Motivated to tell stories with truth and that resonate with people, Garrity used his short film Blind as somewhat of a creative outlet to express that difficult chapter in his life.

It is the story of a father and daughter who travel west to see the Rocky Mountains, before his daughter goes completely blind.

“The original short film was in many ways me sort of dealing with my dad in some way,” Garrity says. The director explains how the father in the short film reflects characteristics of his own father, and the reasoning behind the theme of blindness starts to emerge. “Playing with this blindness as not a loss of vision, but a transformation of vision and in that sense I was sort of dealing with my father’s passing.”

Longtime friend and screenwriter Jonas Chernick liked the ending of Blind so much that he wanted to make a feature out of it. And so, the film Borealis was born.

Filmed in Manitoba, Borealis is a dramatic comedy that follows Jonah, a father whose gambling habits and attachment cause him to be ignorant towards his world around him, and his teenage daughter, Aurora.

With Aurora’s eyesight rapidly deteriorating, Jonah wants to show her the northern lights in Churchill, Man., before her condition worsens.

“If I want to tell an honest story, I want it to be a Winnipeg story and I want it to be about being in Winnipeg and the sense that we have living there.” – Sean Garrity, director of Borealis

The feature film made its prairie debut at this year’s Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) on Oct. 3 after screening in Montreal, Sudbury, ON and Vancouver.

Garrity says Borealis transformed into a narrative more closely related to Chernick. “It’s very different in many ways from the short film and I sort of had to renegotiate my relationship with my own characters and my own story after he had written it.”

Chernick not only wrote the script, but also plays the father Jonah in the feature film. Aurora is played by American actress Joey King, whose performance grasps the reality of going blind and proves her ability to take on more mature roles.

Garrity directed the film, and his attention to detail is what makes the film so personable, such as his decision switch in and out of focus and to shoot the film in widescreen.

“I thought it would be really interesting to be able to play with a visual affliction that basically makes you lose your peripheral vision and then exaggerate that further by having this format that is very peripheral because its so wide,” Garrity explains.

The combination allows the audience to have a sense of Aurora’s visual experience, establishing an emotional connectedness that guides you through the entire film.

Borealis is set for theatrical release this winter. 

Conversation with Corb Lund sparks movie about Alberta punk-rock band, the smalls

Calgary director says filmmaking is often unpredictable and collaborative

The smallsbodyfinalEdmonton Indie-rock band the smalls reunited last year after 13 years (Left to right: Dug Bevans, Mike Caldwell, Corb Lund and Terry Johnson). Photo courtesy of Crowsnest FilmsPeople get into filmmaking for various reasons, but Calgary producer and director Trevor Smith’s reason was purely his love for film. Smith worked in a boutique video store and is a graduate of the University of Calgary’s film studies program and SAIT’s film production program. He began his career by creating music videos and films in shorter formats.

Short films always felt to me like testing ground for feature-sized ideas,” states Smith in an email-conversation.

Smith’s push into a feature-length film hinged on a conversation with Alberta country singer Corb Lund. Before his country career, Lund played bass for punk-metal-rock-whatever-you-want-to-label-them band, the smalls, along with singer Mike Caldwell, guitarist Dug Bevans and drummer Terry Johnson.

“When Corb told me the smalls’ reunion was likely going to be a reality in 2014, it excited me immediately,” Smith says. “I didn’t know then what we were going to do, but knew that a lasting film tribute was my priority.”

And so, Smith joined the band on tour and his feature-length music documentary the smalls: forever is a long time was created. The film played Oct. 4 at the Calgary International Film Festival this year and its screenings are selling out across Alberta.

Citing a wide range of influences, the band creates a sound where punk roots merge with elements of rockabilly; the drums are hard-hitting, a reoccurring combination of metal and jazz. There is so much intensity and structure in their songs, yet the experimentation is still apparent, which made them a revolutionary band for Edmonton in the ‘80s.

“I love the smalls dearly, and immediately knew that their story was ours to tell and tell with passion,” says Smith.

That passion is a key ingredient to how a film comes to be. It’s part of a process, starting with a single idea and transforming into a full-length film. The different stages in this process are collaborative Smith says. “The producer, the cinematographer, the editor- they all have a voice, their own creative instincts, and that friction can be so frustrating, and yet so magic when it all gels.”

As a result filmmaking has to take its natural course.

“The film in the edit suite is never the film you imagined when you first started conceiving the film,” Smith explains. “So many hands and forces have driven you to this point. There’s a limited amount of material, and an infinite number of combinations.” 

the smalls: forever is a long time is set for theatrical release this winter.

The editor responsible for this article is Zarif Alibhai and can be contacted at

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Northern Banner Releasing. Joey King (left) and Jonas Chernick (right) shooting a scene from Borealis last fall.

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