Zooey and Adam

Sean Garrity’s Zooey & Adam
Friday, January 29, 2010 at 7:00 & 9:00PM (Introduced by Sean Garrity)
Saturday, January 30 till Thursday, February 4 at 7:00PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

One of Canada’s most imaginative independent filmmakers, Sean Garrity (Lucid, Inertia) has created a controversial new feature which will split audiences everywhere.

Zooey and Adam have been trying to have a baby for several months, only to end up pregnant after a rape. Unsure of the patronage of their child, they decide to have the baby anyway. Haunting and emotionally devastating, some festivals have refused to screen the film on the grounds that it is too contentious, yet it has sparked an incredible debate everywhere it has played.

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From The Manitoban January 26, 2010:
Local filmmaker courts controversy with Zooey and Adam

When asked if he anticipated the controversy surrounding his new film, Zooey and Adam, filmmaker Sean Garrity’s answer was fairly clear: “I had no idea!”

Zooey and Adam is the local filmmaker’s third feature, and some film festivals have actually refused to screen it, citing it as too controversial. The film, focuses on the titular couple, who have been trying to have a baby for several months. After Zooey ends up pregnant following a shocking rape, they decide to have the child, even though they are unsure of paternity.

But next to the numerous sexual assaults and murders shown daily on primetime television, what makes Garrity’s film particularly controversial?

“The sexual assaults on television are, in my opinion, for entertainment value — they’re quick and done in a highly dramatic way and I have ethical issues with that,” Garrity explains. “The rape in Zooey and Adam is filmed in such a way that there is nothing even remotely entertaining about it; it’s harsh and difficult to endure, and I feel that’s the only responsible way to portray something like that.”

Fundamentally, Garrity believes that the film is about people dealing with smaller traumas.

“My main character [Adam] has trauma that seems secondary to the trauma that his wife goes through,” he says. “So it never gets looked at or addressed, and he’s expected to just swallow it. So it festers and eventually eats at him.”

And because most of the rape’s emotional debris belongs to a third-party male character, even more debates have been prompted. Garrity explains, “The film has now spurred divisive gender political debates — the kind of controversy a lot of people don’t like — because we focus on how Adam deals with his wife being assaulted and the fact that he was forced to watch.”

Looking at the film now, a year and a half after he wrote it, Garrity realizes that the idea stems from the trauma he dealt with surrounding the difficult birth of his child (thankfully, both Garrity’s wife and daughter are fine).

“With child birth, especially when things go wrong, as the husband, you’re forced to watch — my wife was cut open with blood everywhere,” he explains. “I wanted to protect her, but my job was to sit there and watch, totally emasculated and helpless.”

Once he came up with the initial concept, Garrity didn’t necessarily plan to make it into a film.

“I came up with a basic outline and asked the Manitoba Arts Council if they’d give me money to develop it into a screenplay,” he says. “I told them I was going to get actors, shoot improvised scenes and use the videotapes to write the screenplay.”

Tom Keenan and Daria Putteart were cast as the main characters and did a fair amount of brainstorming, working under the premise that they would develop ideas for what would later become a screenplay. Since the actors knew nothing about the story beforehand, Garrity had the opportunity to manipulate character creation.

“I was designing these characters so that, given a certain situation, they would be forced to make choices that I had already written in my story,” he explains.

Because the actors didn’t know what to expect while shooting, they were constantly surprised with on-camera events — the rape scene, in particular, was challenging.

“It was a difficult scene for the actors, but because of the approach we took, we used that sense of enormity of an event like that to push them.”

Garrity shot Zooey and Adam chronologically — with some scenes filmed immediately after one another — which allowed the actors to work off the emotion of the previous day’s scenes while it was still fresh in their mind. “There were a lot of authentic, emotional performances that I look at and say ‘I could have never written that,’” he said.

When compared to his first two features, Inertia and Lucid, Garrity feels much more confident this time around in his filmmaking skills.

“For my first movie, I storyboarded every shot and wrote tons of ideas — I had about 1,000 pages of notes on my 90-page script,” he explains. “With Zooey and Adam, I had the emotional through-line in terms of the rise and fall of the story, and I trusted the collaboration with the actors, plus I didn’t think it was a movie, so the pressure was off.”

Garrity also took on a lot of responsibility this time around — writing, shooting, producing and editing the film.

“I won’t do that again!” he says. “I wanted to explore the single artist art form, but I ended up spending too much time with sound, renting gear, organizing shoots, getting locations set up, that sort of thing.”

For his next feature, which he already has in the works, Garrity plans on keeping the same idea, but hopes to change the methodology slightly by bringing on a small crew.

“I’ll gladly do all the writing, directing and editing, but the coordinating was stressful; my brain doesn’t work like that.”

And don’t be surprised if you recognize some of the music in the film — Garrity used all local musicians for the soundtrack. Expect to hear songs from the likes of The Liptonians, The Details and Flying Fox and The Hunter Gatherers.

– Sabrina Carnevale

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From Uptown Magazine January 28, 2010:
Tackling the tough stuff
Zooey & Adam, the latest feature from local filmmaker Sean Garrity, is stirring up controversy

Zooey & Adam is Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity’s third feature and, at various festival screenings across North America – in particular, at the Atlantic Film Fest – it has courted controversy for a relentless opening that introduces us to a vacationing young couple just before a gang of violent offenders assault them in the woods.

But Garrity’s quick to dispel any notions that his film is just about rape.

“It’s a film about dealing with trauma, and about how that trauma affects relationships,” he says. “There’s a change that people undergo when they become a family, and I was interested in how that trauma would affect a new unit. The rape is just the trigger to the rest of the film.

“I mean, I swore I’d never shoot a scene featuring violence against women, but then I did one anyway,” he continues. “Going in, I felt that it shouldn’t be entertaining, and it must be hard to endure and difficult to sit through. It should make you uncomfortable and even a little bit sick. It’s something that’ll always be controversial – and rightfully so – but I don’t think our film is quite Irreversible (a 2002 French film by Gaspar Noé).”

Local actor Tom Keenan, who stars alongside onscreen love interest Daria Puttaert, feels the same way.

“It’s a sensitive issue. A lot of people, after they find out what the film is about, their backs go up – they’re already on edge without having seen it.”

The film’s three-page outline emerged out of an unlikely place in Garrity’s psyche, one in which he’s only come to realize after the film was completed.

“You never know what you’re writing until you’ve written it and, similarly, I didn’t understand where any of this was coming from,” he says. “Looking back, I would say that some of it dealt with personal issues surrounding the birth of my first daughter. She was born caesarian, and my wife was cut open, with blood everywhere. And you have a sense – not only as a male, as I think women have it, too – that as a partner, you have to protect them.

“If someone’s walking down the street, and a scary-looking guy comes in the other direction, you have to prepare yourself. If this goes wrong, I’m ready to protect my mate. So, I was kind of emasculated during that birth, watching my wife go through this pain, and my job was to just sit there and not do anything. And I think that event was unconsciously behind this whole film.”

Though the director’s first project – 2001’s Inertia – was largely improvised with the actors, Garrity took Zooey & Adam one step further: he took advantage of discreet digital camera equipment to allow the performers into their character’s headspace, shooting numerous scenes that took place prior to the events seen in the film.

“Tom, Daria and I started with the background, planning for the stuff that would eventually pay off,” Garrity says. “It was like trying on a pair of shoes and getting comfortable with the characters and this style of handheld shooting. I was getting them accustomed to having me in their face, and get rid of that nervousness.”

For Keenan, working this way was instrumental.

“I think Daria and I were both kind of awkward for a lot of the background stuff. Especially at first, as we had to pretend to not know each other. And then pretend that we were in love. As we were already close friends, we had to get over it.

“I think with any character, there’s a huge amount of overlap. Even in the final scene, you have to find it in yourself to make those decisions. That’s the great thing about acting: It enables you to see how close to failing you really are, and how close to awful decisions we really can be.”

Asked if he anticipates any walk-outs, Garrity expresses some concern, even though the reception to the subject matter has been different city to city.

“Who knows? Maybe,” he says. “If there are enough people. There were already several in Halifax, but I’ve found – in the festival experience – for whatever reason, the further west we went, the more laidback the people were. At Vancouver, people told me they had no problems, even after I asked.

“They were asking me why I thought there would be any problems!”

– Aaron Graham

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From Uptown Magazine January 28, 2010:
A gripping and moral tale
Winnipeg’s Sean Garrity examines violence, fear and mental deterioration

Armed with a truly minuscule budget and a one-man crew that consisted of himself, Winnipeg director Sean Garrity (Inertia, Lucid) presents a thoughtful look, with no easy moralizations, at a young couple struggling in the aftermath of a rape.

Middle-class twenty-somethings Adam (Tom Keenan) and Zooey (Daria Puttaert) are desperate to make a baby. On a romantic country drive, the two make pit-stops and park at rest areas in attempts to conceive.

But one such moonlit nature walk turns into a waking nightmare when some violent, reckless types confront the two, restraining Adam as Zooey is aggressively sexually assaulted.

A few days later, after filing a police report and an unsuccessful lineup in which the assailants aren’t identified, the devastated Zooey announces to Adam that she’s pregnant and she plans on keeping the baby.

Adam is unable to suppress his worst fears, and his mental health soon deteriorates. He fears the child is not his and he can’t escape the helplessness he’s felt since the incident.

It’s at this point that Garrity begins to focus on Adam’s issues, allowing Zooey an unspoken rationalization that she must move on with her life as best she can. If Adam’s not there for support, she’ll look elsewhere.

By favouring Adam’s perspective – showing that it is also excruciating to deal with the rape from his point of view, Garrity is not naively downplaying Zooey’s personal horrors. He’s suggesting that a study of the emotional harm visited on Adam is worthy of investigation.

As Adam, Keenan delivers a mournful yet agitated performance. He’s a sympathetic character, at least, he is until he begins to act out wrong-headed – and dangerous – plans and decisions.

While the opening 10 minutes of this film are a harrowing brush with evil, the rest of the feature is an incisive exploration of the breakdown of a relationship – and a person – due to a wrenching encounter with violence that was wholly out of the couple’s control.

– Aaron Graham

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~ by cineflyer on January 25, 2010.

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