Anne at 13,000 ft

Kazik Radwanski
Canada, USA 2019

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75 min. English.

Anne is in her late 20s, she works at a daycare centre in Toronto, where the kids love her, she’s just moved into her own place, she takes to skydiving like a duck to water. The camera is never far from her, following her every movement, excited, agitated or apathetic, registering the shifts in her mood as it skips from one situation to another at will. It captures certain warning signs as well, though you could overlook them at first, the enthusiasm that borders on the childlike, the glass of wine too many, the inappropriate pranks. The people around her notice things too, although no one ever says what Anne’s problem might be, her mother cautiously asks her if she’s doing ok, the man she meets at the wedding talks of his struggles with depression, her colleague reminds her politely that 90 children can’t be left alone. Anne’s behaviour grows more erratic and tension is generated by what could happen, the unpredictability of a woman under the influence, the influence of what? It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but oddly exhilarating too, like how it feels in the pit of your stomach as the plane rises in the air and you know you’ll have to jump. (jl)

Kazik Radwanski was born in Toronto, Canada in 1985. He studied film at Ryerson University and co-founded the production company Medium Density Fibreboard Films (MDFF). Starting in 2009, his short films Princess Margaret Blvd., Out in that Deep Blue Sea and Green Crayons screened in the Berlinale Shorts competition across three consecutive years. Anne at 13,000 ft is his third feature-length film.

Finding your place in the world

ANNE AT 13,000 FT is the third feature in a thematic trilogy grounded in character-centric portraits of outsiders who can’t connect with others. Since my first short film (ASSAULT, 2007), I’ve always chosen to shoot close to my actors’ faces, studying every detail and nuance of their expression. I like to capture subjects’ movements and speech so that the faces of their characters become the emotional landscape of my scenes.
ANNE AT 13,000 FT introduces us to 27-year-old Anne who’s struggling to find her place in the world. Society has a way of excluding people and making them not feel whole. Self-worth and self- advocacy are fragile and hard for some people to find. I connected with the idea of a character fighting to find a way to simply exist and live a free and fulfilling life.
This film marks a new development in my process, because I wrote the film’s character – Anne – for an actress I greatly admire, Deragh Campbell, who has acted in several acclaimed features (I USED TO BE DARKER, FAIL TO APPEAR and STINKING HEAVEN). I met Deragh in 2013 at TIFF and have followed her work ever since. This work is a true collaboration between myself and Deragh, who brings a nuance to the character I couldn’t have achieved without her. Furthermore, it’s very much a product of the Toronto film scene and its current moment. For the first time in a while, in English  Canada, there's a lot of people making independent and autonomous films with more unique voices emerging. Working here in Toronto, I've had the privilege of being able to work with the same core group of collaborators (producer Dan Montgomery, editor Ajla Odobasic, and cinematographer Nikolay Michalov) on all of my films. We learn from each film together and continue to grow and refine our craft.
Making this film, we wanted to learn from our locations and environment in order to make something that feels true to the city, and its inhabitants. To capture a sense of realism we shot on location in live environments. The daycare featured in the film is run by my mother, Theresa Radwanski, who appears in the film. Many of the supporting actors work at the daycare as well. To research the film, Deragh spent time working alongside them. We shot in spurts over the course of two years and we would edit in-between. This allowed us to pivot and re-align, focusing in on what felt true.
ANNE AT 13,000 FT is my most ambitious work to date, not in terms of budget or scope but because it’s the culmination of a process and methods developed over the past decade with the same core group of collaborators. (Kazik Radwanski)

Conversation with Kazik Radwanski and Deragh Campbell: “The idea of doing a thing where you literally cannot hide”

TOWER (2012) and HOW HEAVY THIS HAMMER deal with masculinity and how these men, Derek in TOWER and Erwin in HAMMER, sort of perceive themselves in a state of alienation and arrested development. I think ANNE registers as an oblique continuation of these themes. Can you talk about taking on a female character for this one?

Radwanski: I don’t think I could make another film about a man after HAMMER, and TOWER. (Laughter) I just don’t know if there’s a third one, it seemed unbearable – HAMMER being almost a step up to, I guess you could say, the unlikeable male character. I wanted to do something different and I just didn’t have those instincts with a female character, to push them in that way. At the same time I felt very cautious making a film about a woman. I wanted to learn a lot. It forced me to take a step back and think, which is why it took so long to make. It was kind of a mutual thing that took us a while to find our way into it.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you count on your main actors to rethink or redefine certain attributes of their characters. I’m interested to hear what that type of collaboration looked like between you two.

Radwanski: So if I were to contrast this with HAMMER and TOWER, it would almost be a forced rethinking of it, Erwin and Derek being different than what I had pictured. I think of these characters very abstractly and a lot of these ideas come from an introspective place, and filtering through it. With Deragh, both of us were constantly challenging and making the character new.

Campbell: Yeah, I mean, it was interesting. Maybe a bit similar to how I work with Sofia Bohdanowicz as well, to work this way, but this idea to work in a close collaborative relationship with a director so you can both have different vantage points on a scene, where you’re both gathering information and trusting each other, then it’s a matter of Kaz changing the situation. So let’s say we want to achieve a certain conflict and it just isn’t getting there, then it’s either Kaz adjusting the scenario to achieve it, or it’s me trying to find another way to bring it there, so the idea is that we have the same goals and that we’re working from these different places to get there. One thing – maybe we discovered it through talking about the film – is this thing where we didn’t really know who the character was, and so shooting a scene was a way to do research about a character, seeing how she reacted in different situations.

How long was the filming process for this one?

Campbell: 20 months.

Radwanski: Yeah, two years. Sporadically of course, but yeah.

I’m curious how you grappled with the skydiving sequence.

Radwanski: It was the first scene we shot.

Campbell: Well for me the idea of skydiving is maybe almost a cheesily literal extension of my acting philosophy, if I have one, which is the idea of, like, put yourself in a situation and you don’t know how you’ll react. And then whatever your reaction is becomes part of the characterisation – the idea of doing a thing where you literally cannot hide. Like when you go skydiving, I’m not going to be up there and be capable of pretending I feel one way if I feel a different way. It’s a very extreme thing. So the idea of having an experience that contributes to a characterisation, that to me is really interesting. Just in the way you kind of wonder, this is a weird way to put it but like you know how sometimes you’ll wonder: Would I be heroic in a certain situation? If someone had a gun, would I tackle them and save everyone? (Laughs) Basically, through acting, I think sometimes you put yourself in different scenarios and you discover information about yourself that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

It’s sort of a perfect distillation of what you mentioned earlier, of changing the situation to elicit a certain response. How many attempts did you have to shoot it?

Radwanski: It was the first thing we shot but then we looked at the footage – the cinematographer Nikolay [Michaylov] and I – we talked about it a lot, how to film in mid-air. There’s a lot of variables, but we weren’t too happy with the footage and were afraid to ask Deragh to jump again, so we did a series of camera tests where I jumped out of a plane – my first time jumping out of a plane – so I was the stand-in and we showed Deragh the footage and she jumped again. And when she jumped again it was amazing how we got to the point of her fainting in mid-air.

Campbell: That was my first time doing that. (Laughs)

Did you enjoy it as much as Anne does in the film?

Campbell: No, I did not like it – I would not skydive again.

(Interview: Wilson Tyler, brooklyrail.org, Fall 2019)

Apparent parallels between the Dardennes and Kazik Radwanski

(…) While much of contemporary realist cinema can be said to be indebted to the Dardennes, the parallels between the Belgian brothers and Radwanski are particularly apparent: in their concern for those living on the margins of society, in their interest in what is often referred to as “naturalistic” performances, and in their highly mobile, incredibly controlled, and usually handheld camerawork, which bears superficial similarities to the “fly-on-the-wall” aesthetic of documentary. But if we think a little harder and consider the stages of their respective artistic processes, the ways in which the Dardennes and Radwanski construct their films around first principles about the ontology of their chosen medium, what may have first been a casual resemblance becomes something a little more tangible. In a piece on the Dardennes’ L’ENFANT (2005), filmmaker and critic Dan Sallitt writes that “all effects in the Dardennes’ films are pegged to the phenomenology of photography, to the exterior viewpoint that the photograph enforces on the most interior events. Even the performance style in the Dardennes’ movies…is calibrated to the limitations of the image in revealing inner life.” By speaking of the “phenomenology of photography,” one need not be referring to a medium-specific “essence” that can be easily contained or discerned within a genre as inflexible as, say, “realism”; rather, one could point out the simple, perhaps overly obvious fact that cinema, like the written word or the staged drama, has certain distinct properties, and that these properties allow for certain kinds of articulation, even as they limit others.
All of Radwanski’s films to date have been about revealing and respecting this limit. (…)

(Josh Cabrita, Cinema Scope #80, Fall 2019)

Production Dan Montgomery, Kazik Radwanski. Production company Medium Density Fibreboard Films (MDFF) (Toronto, Canada). Written and directed by Kazik Radwanski. Cinematography Nikolay Michaylov. Editing Ajla Odobašic. Sound design Matt Chan. Executive producers C. Mason Wells, Nathan Silver. With Deragh Campbell (Anne), Matt Johnson (Matt), Dorothea Paas (Sarah), Lawrene Denkers (Mum).

World sales Cercamon

Films

2007: Assault (11 min.). 2008: Princess Margaret Blvd. (14 min., Shorts 2009). 2009: Out in that Deep Blue Sea (16 min., Shorts 2010). 2010: Green Crayons (10 min., Shorts 2011). 2012: Tower (78 min.). 2013: Cutaway (7 min.). 2015: How Heavy This Hammer (75 min., Forum 2016). 2017: Scaffold (15 min.).