Canadian contentment : Director Anais Granofsky returns home and thrives

Canadian contentment
Director Anais Granofsky returns home and thrives

As a general rule, the more movie trucks, klieg lights, rent-a-cops and Winnebagos there are parked along a Toronto street, the more likely the movie’s producers are trying to pass Toronto off as a gritty, crime-ridden American city.

Not that there’s anything wrong with adults spray-painting gang graffiti on the telephone booths at Adelaide and Brant so that Wesley Snipes will look like he’s deep in the ‘hood rather than on an empty stretch of concrete somewhere between the Limelight and the garment district.

Still, it was refreshing recently to see a small, independent shoot at Queen and Parliament that was actually using Toronto to represent Toronto.

The film, called On Their Knees, is directed by Degrassi Junior High alumna Anais Granofsky, who also wrote it, stars in it and co-founded the company producing it. During a break in shooting, Granofsky explains that it’s a road movie about two sisters who travel across Canada with the body of their dead grandmother in an ice-cream truck on their way to the funeral in the Maritimes.

“We don’t go all across Canada,” admits Granofsky, “because we don’t have the money to shoot across Canada.”

Like Hard Core Logo, though, the film fudges locations, using similar Canadian cities and landscapes to represent each other rather than trying to make, say, the corner of Bathurst and Harbord look like the crack-and-murder-infested underbelly of the Bronx.

“We’re shooting across Northern Ontario, to be honest,” says Granofsky, explaining that the drive to Parry Sound would have to suffice for the spiritual odyssey across the Dominion.

Reversing the “brain drain” that The National Post keeps squawking about, Granofsky studied film at NYU after the Degrassi TV series finished, and then moved back up to Toronto to work.

“This is the place I felt I wanted to tell my stories, here in Canada,” she says.

“That’s why I came back up here four years ago. Because I’ve been around so long, I sort of knew all these people. So I’d go to people I respected and wanted to work with, and basically tell them that. And usually people came around. It’s been fantastic. Almost our entire crew’s under 30. They’re all friends. We all hang out and party together and work together, and that’s sort of the whole point — to work with our friends. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of stress. I wouldn’t say that Canadian independent filmmaking is stress-free, but this is my passion.”

“Independent” in this case actually means independent. The production company Granofsky formed with producer Vicky Gryspeerdt, Have Mercy Productions, receives no government funding or pre-production advances from distributors.

“We had to get private investors, private companies, because I saw that it was going to take me years and years to even begin to practise my craft. At this point in my life, I’m 26, I just want to learn. This is about learning. I don’t need a million dollars. I just want to be able to practise. I don’t really need anyone to even watch it. I just want to try it out a couple of times. So that was definitely where I began. I said I needed to get out there and start making films, and this is the way to do it. What we’re doing now is low-budget [$250,000] — scraping together as much money as we could.”

In addition to allowing them to shoot when they want, the lack of advance funding from distributors and government agencies also lets Have Mercy Productions shoot exactly what they want, says Granofsky.

“You can’t really practise a craft with people hanging over your shoulder and telling you what to do. I mean, certainly the crew tell me what to do. But I respect them, and I know them and I love them.

“But you know, you get what you want. And if you want $10 million, it’s going to come with $10 million headaches. You shoot it for $100,000, it’s going to come with $100,000 headaches. So you get what you want, pretty much.”

Granofsky and Gryspeerdt already have one completed film to their credit, entitled Have Mercy, which will be broadcast on TV this fall. They intend to shop the rough cut of On Your Knees to distributors to secure a theatrical release.

“We plan on doing one film a year,” says Granofsky. “I have a couple of stories in reserve, and we’re just going to keep going for it.”


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