Amongst a grand display of fascinating train paintings, a curious audience began to find their seats as 7:30 drew near, clearly anticipating the premiere showing of the independent, award-winning and British Columbia-made Play with Fire. The film began dark and dreary: “The hum from the smelter… The shift change… This is the heartbeat of a town.” The soggy Friday night outside The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford set the mood perfectly.
Inspired by and shot in Trail, B.C., the film takes a gritty, visceral look at small town crime. It tells the story of 28-year-old Christian, who gets caught in a web of trouble and mental distress after a money-making scheme crafted by Joel, his longtime friend, ends badly. The audience is allowed to ponder the way Christian’s life would have changed had he chosen to follow his heart, leaving behind his drug-dealing and moving to the city with his girlfriend, instead of separating with her to maintain the small town lifestyle he had grown accustomed to.
Because it could not find funding, Play with Fire does not feature any paid actors. Their lack of training does make the film less accessible, as it requires a few minutes and an open mind to come to terms with the style. In parts it is very easy to tell that the words coming out of the character’s mouths are lines from the screenplay, making it more difficult to become engrossed in the experience. However, after realizing how much work went into getting this project off the ground, and how passionately those involved are with it, it was impossible not to give it a chance, rather than being turned off by the lack of Hollywood high definition cameras, professional actors and special effects. That chance is rewarded with a story that, in parts, feels more real than a mainstream, big budget film. This speaks to the film’s incredible direction as well as its basis in reality. Out of the darkness of the film, the unusual beauty of Trail shone as a unifying force, giving the film a distinct personality.
The writer and director of the 84-minute film, Soren Johnstone, was in attendance for the November 5 Abbotsford premiere, along with fellow-producer Michael Babiarz. An actor and an actress from the film were also there, and the four of them participated in a question and answer period after the screening came to a close. Johnstone, from Vancouver, and Babiarz, from Mission, explained that they both draw great inspiration from small towns in B.C. and the stories they’ve heard and experienced growing up. Neither of them expected to be working on the film’s production for an excruciating 16 months, but it wound up happening when actors for the film dropped out and entire sections of the film needed to be recast and reshot. However, when the film was finished in June 2009, it won the Best Cinematography award in an international film festival held in Toronto. Since that time, Johnstone has worked hard to re-score the film with new, more relevant music. The final cut of the film now features local music, including a track from Abbotsford’s own Harma White.
Play with Fire is currently on tour, with numerous stops across BC and Alberta. The film will play at Chief Sepass Theatre in Langley on Saturday, November 20, as well as at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver on Sunday, December 5. Starting time at both venues is 8 p.m., and the cost of admission is 10 dollars.