The Frozen Goose
Margaret Lindsay Holton is a mid-career award-winning Golden Horseshoe artist from Southern Ontario, Canada who has traveled & reads extensively. We have conducted an interview about her latest film project, The Frozen Goose.
What is "The Frozen Goose" film about?
In the simplest of terms, it is about a broken family coping in the aftermath of war. In this instance, World War One is over. The men are coming home. Families are picking up the pieces. In deeper terms, it stands as an exploration of familial dynamics shattered by world events. ...Quite a common occurrence in the world of today.
Set in 1920, in Southern Ontario, a shell-shocked soldier returns to the farm of his best friend (who died heroically at Vimy Ridge). By virtue of a promise, he tries to 'fill the boots' of Father, Husband and Provider. He fails miserably. The widow is luke-warm, the children are unruly, and he just cannot find work. As his depression prevails, the two young children decide to take matters into their own hands. The girl, Bella, sets out to her Uncle's store to ask for work. Her brother, Charlie, tags along. As the situation unfolds, Bella is challenged to 'cope' beyond her years, and young Charlie loses it .... All hell breaks loose.
Why did you want to make a film about it?
Films are fundamentally about human character. The prevailing question, given certain circumstances and a given crisis, is: what will the character DO? If the film 'works', it successfully conveys the truth of the protagonist's experience to the audience: it is believable and resonates. If the film 'fails', it is primarily because the story arc is unconvincing. No amount of cine-pyrotechnics can save a bad story.
This is my first formal 'narrative' short, based on a published short story of the same name that appeared in a World War One anthology in 2014. That story, The Frozen Goose, was set as the final story in the anthology, a good place to be. As the author of that original story, I knew I had a 'keeper'. The challenge was to transcribe it into a workable screenplay, cast it properly, set-dress it convincingly, and keep the momentum of the story working towards a revealing and believable conclusion.
To that end, storyboards were intricately drawn and a shot list was carefully defned. Yet, during shooting, unfavourably weather conditions meant that certain scenes had to be 're-shot' on the fly. It was a valuable lesson for me, because no matter how much you prepare and think you've got it covered, the unexpected happens. Suddenly all that planning goes out the window. You, as a Director, are forced to improvise. In many ways, the making of the film amplified the story itself: the challenge was to overcome the seemingly impossible.
In the end, I managed it. Of course, it is not 100% as I had hoped, but overall, with some judicious editing by Carroll Chiramel, and some added stock shots and fancy foley, I do know we've got it. At a recent 'test' screening, I was heartened to hear both giggles at Charlie's tell-tale antics, and was even surprised when one audience member broke into song with one of the WW1 ditties in the film. That is encouraging, especially for a first narrative film.
As the logline goes, 'Life is Never Really What You Think It Is' ...
Who is your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is, and remains, my now dead father. Dad was a really remarkable 'ordinary' man. In many respects, he was like so many of his generation. It was not until after he died, as example, that the story of his courage during WW2 was revealed. He was one of only five Canadians who won the Polish Cross of Valour for outstanding bravery at the front. Yet, not once during my lifetime did he ever 'burden' his family with the known horrors of that war. Instead, he unstintingly dedicated his life to making Life BETTER for his friends, associates and, most importantly, for his family.
Aside from my father, I continued to be inspired by a handful of humble yet heroic leaders, including the strength of character of Mahatma Gandhi, the current soft-spoken Dalai Lama, the commitment of Mother Theresa, and perhaps unusual for some, the present Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II. That lady has been one heck of a Queen, fulfilling her 'role' as Head of State most diligently. She has consistently led 'by example'.
In the filmmaking community, I was very fortunate to get to know the late great Canadian documentarian, Peter Wintonick. Peter was a most marvellous man: witty, compassionate, passionate and very companionable. It was he, after seeing a few of my documentary shorts, who first tarred me with the title as 'the Maya Deren of the North!'. I was equally touched and honoured when he wrote the delightfully poetic foreword to the exhibition catalogue for my first public solo photography show, 'Memory's Shadow' at the Art Gallery of Burlington. Peter was a Big Man with a very Big Heart.
How were the characters in the story crafted?
Perhaps the most unique character development in the story is the unseen 'dead' man, the unnamed father-husband who died at the front. In order to convey both his enduring caring personality and the loving intimacy he felt for his family, I used fiddle music to project his absent persona. As a fiddler extraordinaire, his music (beautifully rendered by David Clarence MacLean) is a re-occurring motif that ribbons in and out at poignant points of the film.
His wife, the sad and disheartened widow character, (well-played by Leslie Gray, Co-Founder of Koogle Theatre), is enshrouded in period costumes that meld her into the background. She becomes a part of the now hollow home. Yet, as we watch her methodically cut bread and perform her wifely duties, we become aware of her consistency, her sense of duty, and her quiet determination to 'soldier on' in the face of tragedy. The audience learn a lot about her, not so much by what she says, but by what she does.
The children were cast to best reflect the nature of their scripted characters. Bella, (convincingly played by Hannah Ralph), is on the cusp of maturity. Charlie, (played by the charming sprite Cameron Brindle), warms hearts as he displays both innocence and young boy hubris. Both child actors were encouraged to 'be themselves'. As a result their characters authenticity rings true. We did have some hilarious moments during rehearsals when things went completely off the rails during the damnable 'scarf tying' scene ...
As for Uncle Harry, and the returning broken soldier, Tom, I knew I needed two high-contrasting male types to best amplify the social and emotional disparity between the two. So, with Uncle Harry, (Rod McTaggart) the audience see and hear a warm-hearted 'shop keeper'. He is a solid citizen, a local proprietor who looks out for his neighbours. In contrast, Tom, (John Fort), the war-torn soldier, is aloof, alone, adrift and isolated. He just does not fit in. The audience are not really meant to 'like' him when he is first introduced. And yet, his true character is revealed at the very end. Then, the audience slowly realize that he was the dead soldier's "best friend" for a very good reason.
Which is the most complex and challenging essence in your story to make into a film: Love, Loss, Anger or Deep Misunderstanding?
I discovered that conveying the subtle emotional changes in the young girls character the most difficult. She, Bella, is on the cusp of maturity. She KNOWS things are difficult at home, but equally, she's still a kid at heart. She likes to goof around with her younger brother. Still, the time has come, Bella must grow up. I had to convey that evolving transition in the film. Finding those right and revealing points with the young actress proved demanding.
Which awards have you won with your art?
My art career, by any standard, has been unconventional. Overall, I have remained very independent, befitting, I suppose, for a 'self-taught' artist. I am not, and never really have been, particularly motivated to 'crowd please' or chase 'award' carrots. All in all, I just know I have a job to do. I must 'produce'. I am a 'Canadian Arts' producer.
After finishing a dual degree in English Literature and Philosophy taken at the University of Toronto and Edinburgh back in the 1970s, I began my art career in the realm of typography. (During that time, I transformed one doodle into a typeface design, 'Lindsay', and then sold it to graphic house giant, Letraset in England). I proceeded in the publishing arena for a few years: as a proofreader, editor, publicist and finally, as a book marketer. My love of language always propelled me to explore and investigate the arts of rhetoric further. I soon fused these attributes into a business, MLH Productions, and began to 'package' book projects to various Canadian publishers. Projects were varied: a cross-country skiing guide, a banker's memoire, profiles of 25 successful entrepeneurs, and a historical survey of religious groups developing the multicultural city of Toronto. I was exploring the IDEA of 'social realism'. Then I wrote my first semi-fictional novel, 'Economic Sex', under pen-name, published by Coach House Press of Toronto. My second novel, 'The Gilded Beaver by Anonymous', won the Hamilton Arts Council Best Fiction Award in 1999. I established my own artist's press, Acorn Press Canada, (registered in Ontario), and have since produced an assortment of poetry, prose, photo and artist books, as well as a musical CD, 'Summer Haze', and soon, a DVD. All of my publishing efforts remain a vital part of my evolution as an artist. I enjoy it as a form of 'witnessing', so I do it.
Tangentially, I was always been aware that I must survive on what I earn. In the mid 1980's, after a stint exploring 'experimental' documentary filmmaking with a Ryerson Film Arts grad - (we co-produced, directed and shot the 54 min 'In the Eye of the Hunter' that was broadcast on Rogers Cable 10 in 1986) - I started working 9-to-5 for my late father, as his 'sales director' in his fine wood-working studio at Holton Fine Furniture in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. When I left his firm two years later, I established my own custom-design Canadian fine furniture business in the greater metropolis of Toronto. There, I serviced top-notch architects, interior designers and high-end clientele. (Sidebar trivia: My wonderfully talented team designed and built the library at the Canadian Film Centre as well as custom bedroom suites for the then great theatre impresario, Garth Drabinsky.) During those 14 years, I also exhibited and sold widely in Europe, Asia, the US, and won several industry design awards, including First Prize at the CNE, with Karl Luber, for a wonderful piece of top-notch marquetry that we did, 'Thee Mirror'. This item now resides in a private art collection in Toronto.
When my father became seriously ill in 2000, I closed the business in Toronto, and came home to rural Ontario to help the family tend to him. After re-locating, and after he had passed away, I settled into painting, writing for a living again, and, by chance, I picked up pinhole photography. I attended a basic pinholing workshop with framed Canadian pinholer Di Bos at the Dundas Valley School of Art.
Today, I make all my own pinhole cameras, print my own prints, and have shown my works at two celebrated public art galleries in the area to good reviews, the Homer Watson Gallery in Kitchener and the Art Gallery of Burlingon. I have also shown privately, at The Rosedale Diner in Toronto, and at various Fall Studio Tours in the region. Pinholing is an intriguing mind-expanding journey into the alternate world of 'slow photography'. These things are just what I do .... as a Canadian arts 'producer' and self-professed 'artspeneur'.
Likewise, I have held a brush for as long as I can remember. I continue to paint my signature 'naive-surreal-folk-abstract' originals. In this medium, I often document the prevailing essence of the previously explored. Mind-stopping landscapes continue to enchant. Clients often come back to see 'what's up with Lindsay'. There is usually something 'new' underway when they drop by my lakeside studio on Lake Ontario.
Over the past four decades I have been built a solid reputation as a focused multi-disciplined mid-career Canadian 'outsider' artist. With little 'formal training', I remain motivated to produce a uniquely Canadian vision to the world. My 'Canadada' is no joke. It is a semi-mythical place that stands as a fusion of personal, subjective and objective realities that manifest a CHOSEN world view. This vision recognizes, yes, the 'survival-of-the-fittest' edicts of yesteryear. But it also grounds this Darwinian philosophy with the all too pressing necessity of a sustainable revolution that will guarantee all species survival on the planet in the 'here and now'. We are the Caretakers. It really is Time that we, as the dominant species, started taking that responsibility seriously.
So much of Life's innate Greatness remains beyond our limited spectral comprehension. The act and art of filmmaking can be a bridge, if used judiciously, between what is - and what really can be ...
To that end, my next short is about a fun-loving bohemian family who run a quirky Bed & Breakfast. The script is in development now. And then I will attempt a feature, 'Bruckner's Bed'. - All willing.
The Canadian Premiere of The Frozen Goose will be at the Art Gallery of Burlington, Ontario, Canada, on September 11th, 2016. Additional details and production updates can be found on The Frozen Goose fanpages, on Facebook and Twitter, at TheFrozenGoose.
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