Another reprint from 2006 from a dedicated independent filmmaker:
For writer/director David Weaver, independent films are more of a mode of filmmaking – even of thinking – than simply a matter of economics.
“You're really not trying to appeal to the widest possible audience,” he maintains, “you're appealing to those few, and they'll tell their friends who'll see it, and that's how you get your audience. It's not like Michael Mann's Miami Vice, which you know about because it's on every billboard you go by.” It's a truism, but it's also an apt assessment of his own approach to filmmaking. Growing up in Toronto, Weaver's background is in literature and, of course, cinema, with a BA from the University of Toronto, followed by film studies at Columbia University. It wasn't until he returned to Toronto, however, that he made his first short. No Mystery was completed in 1993, followed by three more shorts where he occupied the dual role of writer and director, Drive (1996), A Boy's Own Story (1998), and In Memory, a 10-minute 1999 TV short starring R.H. Thomson. It was with the release of 2000's Moon Palace, a 25-minute film that was screened everywhere from MoMA to Chile and received awards and rave reviews, that the word really began to spread about David's own work.
“Virtually everywhere it screened, people told me I should do a feature-length treatment,” he notes. Six years and two feature films later, the project has made it to the top of his list.
“The next piece I'm going to do is an expansion of Moon Palace,” he confirms. Listening to him describe the film, his driving forces as a filmmaker become clear. “A guy gets a job at a Chinese restaurant. The job of the lead character is to write very accurate fortune cookies based on what the people in the restaurant are talking about.”
The premise obviously invites multiple story lines, an element that's common to much of Weaver's work. Character driven is a term often used to describe Canadian, and even independent film in general, but Weaver's work considers ideas and theme with as much weight.
“It's character, with a strong concept underneath,” he says. “What does it mean when your creativity feeds off of other people? We want to believe there's a design to our lives, but is it just something we impose? It's a little bit about being a writer, and being a filmmaker.” Weaver's other features, Century Hotel, (2001), co-written with Bridget Newson and starring Colm Feore, Mia Kirshner, Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida and 2004's Siblings, equally demonstrate his penchant for scripts that balance character and concept. Siblings (Alex Campbell, Sarah Polley) tells the darkly comic tale of a crew of disparate step-siblings thrown together by the mismanaged lives of step- parents, the abusive dad (Nicholas Campbell), and drunken, harpy mom (Sonja Smits). When Joe (Alex Campbell), the eldest, kills them accidentally – or not – the kids must band together to cover it up and keep the rest of the world at bay. In spite of the thematic parenticide, it's ultimately a movie about finding family. Weaver made the film after being completely taken by writer Jackie May's script.
“What was really great about Siblings, even though it's this (kind of) comedy, it felt like characters you could identify with. Through one or more characters, we can recognize something of ourselves in them,” he explains. “I think I'm definitely interested in ensemble pieces. I'm more focused on concept than some other Canadian directors.”
Being an independent filmmaker means doing that perennial dance for funding, a quest that can take unsettling, or exhilarating, turns.
“Part of the reason we made Siblings as a feature film (through the Canadian Film Centre), is that Telefilm Canada, at the time, seemed intent on making Hollywood-style movies – although I don't think that's necessarily true now,” he says. “So, here I had this little film. It wasn't playing Main Street. You walk into this room, myself and Jackie May and the producers, and we're in front of a dozen or so people who are going to decide. And I thought there's no way they'll all get it. I thought that they'll say the parents can't really be killed, or they have to be (punished) in the end. But they did, they all got this story.”
Siblings premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005 to stellar reviews, both in the press and via word of mouth, just as Weaver would have it. “Independent movies by definition are made by community,” he says. “Not only made within a certain community of people, but word is spread through community.”
Along with work on Moon Palace, Weaver's in development to do a film with three other local directors, featuring four stories all set in Toronto. “Like New York Stories,” he describes, “with Erin Woodley, Sarah Polley and Sudz Sutherland. We're supposed to begin in spring 2007.” (see below!)
“Local directors, and local stories – it's the essence of independent film.”