Joe Novak’s Snake River

Friday, February 19 at 7:00PM
Saturday, February 20 at 7:00PM
Sunday, February 21 at 7:00PM
Wednesday, February 24 at 7:00PM
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 8:30PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Set in 1867, Jacob (Milton Bruchanski) is haunted by the atrocities of the Civil War and loses himself in the wild country known as Snake River. It is there that he stumbles into the life of Mya ( Kimberley Raqmpersad), a widowed freed slave, who is also trying to make a new life for herself and young son in this harsh and demanding countryside.

Mya reluctantly tends to Jacobs wounds, as she deals with her own past. As Jacob heals, Mya opens up to him and they find that their pasts are intertwined. Together they find peace, if only for a short time.

As Snake River is at the end of the trail, their haunting memories do catch up with them and change their lives forever.

Snake River is a made in Manitoba project with an all Manitoba cast and crew and was filmed in and around Bird’s Hill Park, Old Pinawa Dam, the Manitoba Museum, and Fort Gibraltar.


Snake River

The Short Story

Winnipeg Cinematheque is premiering the independent feature film Snake River, shot locally for a mini-budget of $5000. This film is directed by Joe Novak and based on a screenplay by Jonathan Ball and David Navratil called Way of the Samurai.

Click here for an article about some guy who is apparently the film’s star.

Also, you can read….

The Long Story

Way, way back in “the day” (as it’s called by the hip young kids), I co-wrote, along with my friend David Navratil, a series of four feature film scripts for independent producer/director Joe Novak. Joe came to us with stories and we reworked the stories with him (often changing them almost completely) and then ducked away and developed the script. When we finished, Joe took the script away, and did whatever Joes do with scripts. We were never sure exactly what he was up to, but he was always up to something productive, which is why he was fun to write for—even if nothing was happening, it didn’t seem like the effort was wasted.

First, we wrote a screenplay called Son of the Storm, about an orphan and immigrant to Japan (at a point in history when immigrants were outlawed) who became a samurai. Joe managed somehow to interest the actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, Memoirs of a Geisha, etc.) in the script, but there wasn’t a suitable role for Cary.

So, Joe went back to the drawing board. We developed a second story/script with him: Way of the Samurai. Cary signed up, in theory, and things started falling into place, but in the end Joe couldn’t raise the financing. Part of the problem was the fact that it’s expensive to shoot a historical film, due to the costumes, sets, etc. involved.

Again, Joe went back to the drawing board. We developed a third story/script with him: Yakuza. A star vehicle for Cary, set in the modern day, with a parallel storyline set in the past, which would probably be more expensive to shoot in the long run but less difficult to finance for esoteric reasons. Of course, it turned out to be too difficult to finance and (you guessed it)….

We wrote a fourth story/script with Joe: Samurai on 47th. This was set wholly in the present day and, without Cary on board anymore, we cranked up the darkness and grittiness and made it a very brutal, vicious script compared to the others.

At this point we’d pretty much had our fill of writing about samurai, at least for the immediate future. We didn’t hear from Joe for a while—apparently because he was busy rewriting/reworking Way of the Samurai as a western, retitled Snake River, and shooting said film.

So we were and weren’t involved in the making of this film. We didn’t really know it was happening, but it was based on our script, although it’s not entirely accurate to say we wrote it (we did, and we didn’t, since we didn’t write the script, but wrote the script that the script is based on, if you follow).

So I have no idea what to expect. I haven’t seen the film and although Dave saw an earlier version Joe’s been reworking it for about a year now, so who knows what it’s like? It was shot for $5000 apparently, which is amazing since judging by that article I linked to above, there is at least one horse on screen, and horses ain’t cheap. I’ve got a lot of respect for anyone who manages to make a feature film under any circumstances, especially with a micro-budget, and Joe is a good guy, so I’m looking forward to checking it out. At the very least, it will be cool to see a feature film kind-of based on something I wrote.

Because I haven’t seen the film, I can’t really say anything to recommend or condemn it, but the script that the script is based on turned out pretty good, if I remember right. You should go see it, more than once! If enough people see it, maybe I’ll get paid!

– Jonathon Ball jonathan ball dot com


From Uptown Magazine February 18, 2010:

No budget? No crew? No problem!
With $5,000 and the help of a few good friends, local filmmaker Joesph Novak brought his Western, Snake River, to fruition

Local filmmaker Joseph Novak may give new meaning to the concept of DIY.

On a mere $5,000 budget and with a bare-bones crew, Novak has completed production of Snake River, a period Western filmed in and around Winnipeg over a staggered seven-month period.

The film follows a drifting Union soldier who comes into the care of a freed slave woman during the Civil War.

Novak acted as his own cinematographer and soundman, sometimes dabbling in props and make-up. Some scenes were shot with no one but Novak and his leading man, with a mic propped up in a tree branch.

Still, he couldn’t have done it without a little help from his friends. Co-producing the film are Alf Kollinger and Danny Schur, the Winnipeg songwriter behind Strike! The Musical, who also composed the score for Snake River.

While Snake River is, as Schur characterizes it, a “micro-budget film,” it nonetheless also remains a “big film, with big ideas.

“I’ve always been impressed by Joe’s ability to get a big-budget feel in his short films,” Schur says. “You’d never know this was a first feature script.”

The screenplay that would eventually become Snake River originally assumed a very different form.

“I’d been sitting on this script for a while – a samurai movie script,” Novak says. The impracticalities of shooting such a film in Manitoba were obvious.

However, when he passed the script around to friends, many said it would make a pretty good Western.

That feedback, Novak says, is what planted the seed for the resulting production.

The challenge, however, would be to see how far Novak and his collaborators could stretch their meagre budget.

This meant that, to begin with, work on the film would have to be done on a strictly volunteer basis, shooting on evenings, weekends, and holidays. Yet Novak had little trouble attracting capable people to his little-Western-that-could.

“I knew it would be a good time,” Kollinger laughs. “I’d worked on many of Joe’s shorts in a similar jack-of-all-trades vein.”

“I’m a fan of Joe’s writing,” says Milton Bruchanski, who plays Jacob in the film. “And I thought it would a great experience – I’d never ridden horses before.”

One element that has lent considerable dimension to the film is the use of historic locations such as Fort Gibraltar, as well as interior sets inside the Manitoba Museum. Exterior shooting was also done at Birds Hill Park.

Also helping the film punch above its budgetary weight is Schur’s full-blooded orchestral score – his first. Schur dedicated about three solid weeks to it this past fall, working about 20 hours a day.

He’s particularly proud of the original song Deliver Me, sung by the film’s female lead, Kimberly Rampersad.

Having also taken the film editor’s reins, Novak says he’ll be tinkering with the final edit right up until the movie’s Feb. 19 premiere at Cinematheque.

“It’s a testament to Joe’s strength of character and fortitude,” Schur says. “It’s a major achievement.”

– Kenton Smith


~ by cineflyer on February 15, 2010.

2 Responses to “Joe Novak’s Snake River”

  1. I saw it a couple of hours ago and liked it. I might’ve seen you there.

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