Time, memory and the things that matter most

Newfoundland filmmaker Jordan Canning’s latest short film ‘Seconds’ makes the top five in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Emerging Filmmaker’s Competition.

Just as we are all born, we will also die.

So, when you are down to your last moments, what are your final thoughts? Are they of your family, your lover(s), the things that made you happy? Your childhood, perhaps? God, heaven, the afterlife? Or is this it? Maybe it’s the things you regret doing? Or those you didn’t do. Whatever you might be thinking, as a living, breathing being, your time is up.

Newfoundland filmmaker Jordan Canning has pondered the question before, and felt inspired enough to make it the subject matter of her latest short film, ‘Seconds’. The 29-year-old St. John’s native completed the film earlier this year using $500 jointly awarded to her by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and Royal Bank of Canada, sponsors of the Emerging Filmmakers Competition. On Thursday it was named a top five finalist in the third annual event.

Making the short (film) streak long

It’s not the first time Canning’s work has earned critical acclaim. Last year her short film ‘Oliver Bump’s Birthday’, which also explored the themes of time and mortality, screened at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax, the Vancouver International Film Festival, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, and the Yorkton Film Festival, where it won the Golden Sheaf Award for ‘Best Short Subject’. It will also show at the Nickel Independent Film Festival in St. John’s later this month.

‘Not Over Easy’ (2010) made its rounds too, following the previous year’s multiple award-winning short ‘Countdown’, which placed as a top 10 finalist in the prestigious National Film Board of Canada Cannes Short Film Competition.

“…the film’s solemn aesthetic and witty ending convey its underlying message beautifully.”

Most notable of Canning’s latest effort, however, is how powerfully it conveys its message. The details of Peter Grimsby’s (played by Gord Rand) life flash before his eyes as he chokes on a piece of meat while eating a meal alone. An original piano composition by Igor Correia accompanies a beautifully-shot sequence of flashbacks (filmed in Toronto, St. John’s and Middle Cove) narrated by the main character as his chair falls to the floor in slow motion. Written and directed by Canning, the film’s solemn aesthetic and witty ending convey its underlying message beautifully.

On Friday The Independent caught up with Canning, who is home from Toronto for part of the summer and currently at work doing continuity for Rock Island Productions’ feature length adaptation of the Kevin Major novel ‘Hold Fast’.

Last year she completed the Talent Lab, an intensive four-day artistic development program through TIFF, and all 24 participating filmmakers were allotted the $500 to shoot their films. “This year’s theme was time,” she explains, taking a few minutes from the ‘Hold Fast’ set to chat on the phone. “And that’s all they give you, basically.”

Peter Grimsby, played by 'Republic of Doyle' alumnus Gord Rand, confronts mortality in what could be his final 'Seconds'.

With the help of a small assemblage of friends, including Sam Pryse-Phillips, Duncan De Young and Jonathan Eagan, the bulk of ‘Seconds’ was shot over three days last February. Canning and Rand worked together on ‘Republic of Doyle’ a couple years ago, and as she thought about who might be best suited for the role of Grimsby, she recalls, he came to mind. “Gord comes from theatre and he’s got such a great, natural comedic sense, but also a really endearing and lovable aura about him,” she says.

Canning says she was excited about the vast possibilities that existed with a theme as open-ended as time. “You really could justify any film about time, but I wanted it to be meaningful, to me at least. I wanted to tell a story that meant something to me,” she says.

“I like memory a lot — it seems to come up in my scripts. And I started thinking about really specific memories. A lot of them were my own specific memories, and just this idea of this guy arbitrarily choking to death alone in his house. “Maybe I’m just neurotic,” she laughs. “Sometimes I think about, what if I was alone and just started choking to death — what would happen? So the idea came together around that: a guy surprised by all the seemingly inane but specific things that come to mind in those final moments of his life.”

Five films, three awards. What odds? Good ones.

A panel of judges will decide the winner and runner-up, who will be awarded $15,000 and $10,000 respectively. But ‘Seconds’ and the other four finalists are also streaming on the Emerging Filmmakers Competition web site where viewers can vote for their favourite short, an award that carries a $5,000 prize.

“You make short films and you submit them to festivals and hopefully they get in,” Canning says as she is called back to the set. “But until you put a film up online it doesn’t really get seen by that many people, so what’s so great about this one is that it’s up for a month and people will actually get to see it.”

Canning is also currently at work on a second draft of ‘Oddly Flowers’, a feature length adaptation of Newfoundland author Jessica Grant’s novel ‘Come, Thou Tortoise’. She recently spoke about the project with Sarah Smellie for Signal: The St. John’s Blog. Click here to read the interview.

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