Monday, October 4, 2010

Wheelman - Part III - "Cannonball Run"

Bonjour, Mon Petit Concombres.

My Dad's given me some suspect advice over the years but one indispensable little chestnut he shared with me when I started my driving career was:

"Yeah, feel free to drive ten kilometers over the speed limit anytime.  Cops normally won't hassle you."

Ahhhh, sage advice indeed.

In order for me to pick up my next passenger in time I'd have to embrace this philosophy and plot the quickest and most efficient route back out to the airport.   This would invariably involve navigating THE BEAST over the MacKay bridge.  I fished the .75¢ toll out of my pocket as I maneuvered the van onto the overpass.

I cleared the bridge, maneuvred my way through deepest, darkest Dartmouth and then jumped back on the highway.  I kept my speed sure and steady.  En route I saw a few people pulled over by the cops for speeding.  I decided to drive as conservatively as I could.  The last thing I needed was to be busted by the fuzz doing Mach Two in an Atlantic Film Festival van.

Now with the whole parking bugaboo ironed out, I gracefully tucked and rolled out of the de-winged space shuttle right in front of of the terminal entrance and let the van slowly coast into the bus lot.  I was already inside when the van's front wheels kissed the stone barrier of the first free parking space.

To my chagrin, the arrival floor was already lousy with cranky, shuffling travelers.  I ran around with my "Pick Up" sign yelling helpful things like "WOOP-WOOP-WOOP!" in order to attract the attention of my intended guest.

In retrospect, I didn't need to be so showy.  Seriously, if you ever feel like you're not getting enough attention from people, just make up an official-looking "Pick Up" sign and hang out at the airport.  People will stare the crap out of you; to the point that strangers will actually come up to within a foot, stare at your sign, then stare your face like it's an aquarium and then go back to gawking at the sign again.  It's like a extrovert's fantasy.

Unfortunately, I'm a shy, retiring, hothouse flower type ("Hey, YOU, stop laughing!") so I was somewhat relieved when my passenger soon turned up and introduced himself.

His name was Munro Ferguson.  Like me, Munroe was inspired to craft his first motion picture at the tender age of seven.  Unlike me, Munroe actually followed through and made the film, called (appropriately enough) When I Get Older.  By thirteen, he'd already starred in the experimental picture Rameau's Nephew and continued to study art while earning a BA in Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

In 1988 he had considerable success with the science-based comic strip Eureka which was syndicated in over thirty newspapers worldwide.  In 1992 he did some graphic work for Atom Egoyan's In Passing and character design for the animated IMAX film Journey to the Planets.  Two years later he joined the National Film Board's Animation Studio and became the primary creative force behind the well-received animated short How Dinosaurs Learned to Fly.

Munroe seemed delighted that the Festival had dispatched transportation out to meet him, especially considering all the gear he had with him.  He was slated to present a workshop two days hence entitled "A Stereoscopic Primer: 3D Live Action and Animation" designed to give film-makers a sample of what creative avenues this technology might offer to them.  As such, he had a carry-on bag, one suitcase, a lightweight but awkward cardboard box and a heavy metallic case which I assumed housed film cans and/or projection equipment. 

"Oh, I also hope this is okay," Munroe said.  "I have my producer Kat with me.  She may not be on your list but she also needs transportation to the hotel.  Is it okay if she tags along?"

I turned and introduced myself to the beaming and gracious Katherine "Kat" Baulu.  Since 1995, Kat has been producing films and she recently helped to bring one of my favorite documentaries to light: Rip! A remix manifesto.  Despite their combined payload of luggage and equipment, there was no way I was going to abandon her to the niceties of our local cabbie pool.

"Sure!" I said.  "No problem.  The van's big enough to play racquetball inside, so I daresay we can squeeze you in."

Relieved to have at least one part of their journey accounted for, Munroe and Kat used a luggage cart to get their burden out to the van.  Try as I might I couldn't get the back hatch popped open so we carefully loaded the gear into the cabin and were soon en route back to the city.

They'd both flown in from Montreal and although somewhat winded by their recent whirlwind appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival and their flight to Halifax, they were both talkative and cordial.  Munroe seemed pleased that he'd had a chance to take in Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams in which the storied director was given full access to the Chauvet caves in France to capture 3-D images of the 30,000 year old cave paintings found inside.

This got us into a lively discussion about the glut of 3-D films coming down the pike.  I confessed that I thought it rather weak that the process was being grafted clumsily onto virtually every new release, whether or not they were shot with the technology in mind.  We both got a chuckle out of all the new film trailers screaming..."Coming soon in IMAX 3-D!!! Also in 2-D"

Despite this I expressed amazement over the state of 3-D technology.  A few years ago I'd attended an IMAX 3-D production called "Haunted Castle".  Despite the lame duck storyline, the effects were phenomenal.  It was pretty trippy to be able to lean left and right during the film and get a sneak preview of what was lurking just around the corner of a hallway even before the camera began to make the turn!  Or look down through the bars of the grates underfoot to see creepy "did-I-just-see-what-I-think-I-just-saw?" snippets of something horrible down in the basement...

As cool as this was, the brief introductory animated short Paint Misbehavin' was even better.  In this brilliant little clip, a sign painter attempts to put the final brush strokes on a project.  In his haste, he slips and sends paint cans and their contents free-floating into the audience.  I could barely contain my laughter as I looked around to witness fellow viewers vainly put their hands out to try and grab a glob of paint or duck their heads to avoid a flying paint can.
Munroe managed to sway my opinion on 3-D somewhat.  Although he admitted that the process shouldn't just be slapped on every film as a marketing gimmick, if properly married to a project in the development stage it can turn a typical action film into a memorable visceral experience. Hey, Avatar, I'm looking in your direction...

This, he argued, can be especially true for documentaries.  What better way to increase the learning potential of sometimes impenetrable subject matter than to render it in 3-D?  The viewer becomes immersed in the content as an experience, is left with a striking association and is more likely to retain what they've learned.

As such, Munroe is now working on a new 3-D documentary in association with the National Film Board and the Montreal Neurological Institute.  It's called Neuropolis and it will take audiences on a journey though the cityscape of the human brain.  Munroe and Kat's enthusiasm for the project was more than infectious so I'll certainly be following it's evolution with great interest.

I managed to get my two passengers back to the hotel with their cargo and wits intact.  They thanked me profusely and I returned the pleasantries.  Truly it was a joy to meet them both.

We hoped to see each other again but I only bumped into Kat briefly in the hotel lobby that Friday as she prepared to return to Montreal after their presentation.  Despite the slew of people she must have encountered she still remembered who I was and wanted to say goodbye.

I went home that first night still on Cloud Nine.  With my airport pick up process and procedures down to a science, I was really looking forward to another day of meeting more interesting people.

But fate, as it often does, would throw me a curve ball.

EPIC:  More info on Neuropolis:

ALSO EPIC: Link to How Dinosaurs Learned to Fly:

JUST AS EPIC:  Here's a link to the excellent Brett Gaylor directed/Kat Baulu produced documentary about copyright and remix culture RiP: A Remix Manifesto:



Film Cans said...

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David Pretty said...

Wow, what a fascinating piece of trivia. Check, please!