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Locally-shot film a hit with Cinefest crowd

The director of The Riverbank said he's probably seen the film 1,000 times already, but it was an emotional experience to watch it along with a theatre full of people for the first time.
John L'Ecuyer, director of The Riverbank, poses with Kari Matchett, who plays the movie's main character, at a reception at Laurentian University after the film's world premiere Sept. 15. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.
The director of The Riverbank said he's probably seen the film 1,000 times already, but it was an emotional experience to watch it along with a theatre full of people for the first time.

“When you watch it with an audience, that's what filmmaking is all about,” John L'Ecuyer told Northern Life after the world premiere of the film at Cinefest's opening night gala Sept. 15.

“That's why we all love film more than TV, because you get to share that experience in a dark room with a bunch of strangers. I think on that level, this was an incredible experience.”

Hundreds of people lined up to watch the movie, which was filmed in the Greater Sudbury area last fall. Audience members were able to spot local landmarks such as Gus' Restaurant, the superstack, several downtown streets and even the Pine Street water tower, which was dismantled last year.

L'Ecuyer said he really enjoyed working in the city “mostly because of the people and because it's so beautiful.”

He said a lot more filmmakers are choosing northern Ontario as a place to film. While most bring their own crew with them, The Riverbank hired the majority of its crew here, L'Ecuyer said.

Based on the novel Tracing Iris by Genni Gunn, The Riverbank is a psychological thriller about a woman who returns home after her stepmother is found dead.

Despite resistance from her police officer father, the character begins looking into not only her stepmother's death, but the truth behind her mother's long-ago disappearance.

Kari Matchett, who played the main character, said the role was a timely one for

Just a week before L'Ecuyer offered her the role, her father had passed away.

Given that The Riverbank is largely a father-daughter story, working on the film was the “perfect thing to be doing,” she said.

“It gave me a place to put all of the stuff that I was feeling that sometimes you don't have anywhere to put,” Matchett said.

She said L'Ecuyer gave her and the other principal actors the chance to rework the script as they were filming.

“That was a great experience, and I'd like to work with him again anytime,” Matchett said. “It's a rare experience. Usually people are much more fixed in their ideas of how things should be. He was very loose and very open. I think it created a better film than was ever on the page.”

Working in Greater Sudbury in the fall was a treat for the actress, who is originally from Saskatchewan, but has been spending a lot of her time in Los Angeles, California for the last eight years.

“I haven't experienced fall or gotten to have that chill for a long time,” Matchett said. “To be here when that time of year happened was very special for me.”

Sisters Pierrette Martin and Lise Renaud were thrilled to see their niece Yolande Cronier's Val Caron home featured in the movie.

The hand-built stone house, located on Valley View Road, was the set for the main characters' family home. Several of the sisters' family members also served as extras in the movie.

Martin said she loved the film. “It was so, so good,” she said. “I enjoyed it. I want to see it more times.”

Chris Dixon also gave The Riverbank a thumbs-up.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said. “I thought it was very well acted, and it was interesting to see how it all came down in the end. You had to keep a close watch. I enjoyed seeing the different parts of Sudbury.”

Patrick O'Hearn, managing director of Cinefest, said there's always strong support for movies filmed in Greater Sudbury. The Riverbank, however, isn't the only locally-shot movie being shown at Cinefest this year.

The Truth, starring Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria and Forest Whittaker, is the Sept. 17 gala. The film focuses on a retired CIA spy turned political talk radio host hired by a whistle-blower to investigate her company's involvement in the massacre of a village in South America.

The Truth has already sold out, although there are rush tickets available at the door, O'Hearn said. “Everybody in town is looking forward to The Truth,” he said. “There's great star power, and it's a wonderful thriller.”

Cinefest, which was launched in 1989, has grown steadily over the years, and is showing more than 130 movies this year. The festival is now considered one of the city's social highlights of the year, O'Hearn.

“I think people have always been surprised that a mining-oriented community like ours embraced it from the get-go.”

Chris and Roger Nash, interviewed from their vantage point at the head of the line for The Riverbank, said they've been coming to Cinefest for many years. They expect to take in about 20 movies this year.

“You can get indigestion from seeing movies,” Roger said. “You've got to keep remembering in your head the different plots and what you saw.”

But the city's former poet laureate said he's willing to risk movie overload for the creative stimulation Cinefest provides.

“There are plots in all these movies that are usually true to life, and you can see the same plots unfolding in your neighbours' lives maybe, and maybe even plots you could write about if you're a writer in a different genre than film,” Roger said.

Chris said she loves taking in the “amazing array of movies” at Cinefest. “I like movies and I like good television, but this is a feast,” she said.

While the couple said they were looking forward to the two locally-shot movies, they always approach Cinefest with an open mind. Very often, their favourite movies end up being ones they didn't expect to be so memorable.

“Last year the ones we actually remember were the ones very few people actually went to,” Chris said. “We really liked the First Nations animation. That was fantastic, but there were like 20 people there. Some were so beautiful.”


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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