TIFF 2014: Interview with Sleeping Giant’s Andrew Cividino

Andrew Cividino’s short film Sleeping Giant perfectly captures the uneasiness of growing up

Sometimes a short film is its own thing. Sometimes it’s a calling card, a director’s notice that this great story could be even more as a feature. The Short Cuts Canada programmes at TIFF give lots of opportunity to check out cool films from up-and-coming directors. Andrew Cividino is one of them. A graduate of the Ryerson University film program in Toronto, he’s made four short films. Sleeping Giant is his first at the festival, and the short is already being made into a feature. Following a boy Adam and his misadventures with a pair of local boys on Lake Superior, their dynamic changes with the arrival of pretty young Taylor. The film captures the competitiveness of kids and the uneasiness of those awkward tween years. Catch the trailer and my interview with director Cividino after the jump.

What inspired the film? Did you have those kinds of cottage country boyhood experiences growing up? (Having spent some quality aimless time up north as a kid, it’s quite authentic.)

I grew up spending my summers on the north shore of Lake Superior and every year families from all around the country would show up and sort of let their kids off of the leash for awhile. We were like a pack of wild dogs. We came from all sorts of different backgrounds and experiences and we were really left to our own devices at that critical age where you’re just starting to explore your relationship with the world. It’s such an intense time and there’s this sense of invincibility, of pushing and pushing to define boundaries. I wanted to make a film that showed a group of kids pushing those boundaries until they pushed back.

The style’s very verité; I feel like I’ve plunged right into these kids’ lives. Was making the film largely scripted, or did improvisation play a role? Did you have to shoot a lot to get what you wanted? The short packs a lot in with direct economy.

The film was largely improvised. We actually started last summer planning to shoot a feature but our funding fell through half way through casting and we decided to go ahead and experiment by making this improvised short anyhow. We used scenes from the feature and workshopped them with the actors, after which we’d leave the script behind and go to set. We shot a lot of material in a very short period of time. The nature of how we shot it led to some challenges putting certain scenes together, but it also elevated a number of scenes to a place that I don’t believe we could have gotten to if we were married to the words on the page.

Isaac Weibe in Sleeping Giant

Where did you find your cast? Were there any challenges working with younger actors?

We set out a huge casting net across Ontario, with a specific focus on the Thunder Bay area where we shot. We went to high schools, community centres, the mall, theatre groups… in the end we found two of our leads when Nick Serino walked in without an appointment. He’d seen an ad we posted on Kijiji and decided to swing by. He had never acted before and I have no idea what compelled him to show up, but I am very thankful. From there we met Nick’s cousin Reece, and the two of them are incredible performers. That’s not to say it was easy to work with a group of teenaged boys, though. Years off my life.

Any thoughts on the casual violence and competitiveness of adolescence?

I think that part of adolescence is figuring out how we fit into the world around us. There’s a need to push and push to figure out where there are boundaries, where our ability to exert power ends. In a large way it’s about discovering where we have power, and I think that destruction is the quickest and easiest way to exert power on your surroundings. You can crush bugs, break windows, and set fires and there’s an immediate result. You feel like you have agency.

What’s next? Thoughts on a Sleeping Giant feature, or any projects in the works? Maybe follow the adventures of the crayfish along the shoals of Lake Superior?

We just completed principal photography on the Sleeping Giant feature! We were up on Lake Superior for six weeks with a number of the same cast and crew members. It was an incredible experience, unlike anything I’ve ever done. We had such a magnificent crew and what I think will be breakout performances for our leads (Nick Serino and Reece Moffett are in the short as well) so I’m very excited to spend the coming months putting it together.

Sleeping Giant appears as part of the Short Cuts Canada Programme 1, today Friday, September 5th at 9:15pm, and again on Sunday, September 7th at 9:00am. Both screenings are at the TIFF Bell Canada Lightbox. For more info on the programme and ticket links, see here.

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