Son of the Sunshine

Ryan Ward’s Sun of the Sunshine
Friday, August 12, 2011 at 7:00PM
Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 7:00PM
Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 7:00PM
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 7:00PM
Winnipeg Cinematheque

Former Winnipeg actor Ryan Ward gives a tour de force performance in his powerful feature debut about a young man named Sonny who is struggling with Tourettes syndrome and family conflicts with his mother and sister. Sonny spends his savings to undergo an experimental procedure that promises to eradicate his symptoms but it also steals a former gift for healing. He meets Arielle, a lost soul like himself, and experiences love for the first time. But as his “normal” life begins to unravel, Sonny realizes that perhaps his journey was less about becoming normal than voyaging back to himself, uncovering dark family secrets and discovering who he is and where he came from.

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From Uptown Magazine August 11, 2011

Write what you know
Former Winnipegger Ryan Ward let his personal worldview — and hometown — be his muse for his directorial debut, Son of the Sunshine

After toiling for years at the script for what was meant to be his feature directorial debut, former Winnipegger Ryan Ward had an epiphany: “If I don’t finally make this thing next year…”

Luckily, he did. On a budget of a mere $100,000, Son of the Sunshine was shot in spring 2008. A rough cut was then accepted into the 2009 Slamdance Film Festival, at which the finished film had its world premiere.

“I was thrilled to debut there,” enthuses the 32-year-old Ward, who will be present at tomorrow night’s screening of his film at Cinematheque. The overall critical reception to the Elmwood-raised Ward’s film — including raves from the National Post and Toronto Star — has, unsurprisingly, given the first-time director a massive vote of confidence.

Not a shabby end to a process originally borne from Ward’s dissatisfaction with life.

“It started as a very personal screenplay around 2004,” he recalls.

After taking theatre and film courses at the University of Manitoba, Ward left Winnipeg at 21 to study acting at Ryerson University in Toronto, then start a career as a thespian.

At least, that was the plan.

“Life was not going the direction I wanted,” Ward says. He then saw a man with Tourette’s Syndrome on the subway and was struck with a new inspiration.

“I realized the condition was a great metaphor for an angry, alienated young man,” Ward says.

Thus his afflicted character, Sonny Johnns, a troubled twentysomething who undergoes surgery to try to get rid of his symptom. The character essentially became Ward; who better to express his own particular worldview?

“Woody Allen’s personal, idiosyncratic films wouldn’t be the same without him in them,” Ward says.

Still, juggling responsibilities wasn’t easy. “The first day on set was a maelstrom of questions and concerns,” Ward says. Fortunately, he’d worked with an acting coach leading up to production, so that he “had someone directing me.” His years spent on the fringe-festival circuit as performer, director and designer also paid off.

As did his Winnipeg upbringing. “People who’ve seen the film have said, ‘Yeah, that’s very Winnipeg,’” he laughs.

Local filmmakers such as Guy Maddin and Deco Dawson tend to produce darker material, he explains. For that matter, “Winnipeg’s kind of a dark, depressing, dangerous place. I got jumped several times in Elmwood.”

Yet it’s also a city surrounded by natural beauty; by “endless plain and sky.” And Ward agrees that could also be a metaphor for the character of Sonny, who may possess powers of compassion and healing beyond those of regular people.

Certainly Ward himself boasts a diversity of talent beyond most. “I’ve always written my own stuff — I didn’t want to just act,” he says. He’s now focusing his energy on future films, two of which he’s presently developing.

Hopefully they’ll turn out as well as his first stab. “It’s the thing I’ve done that I’m most proud of,” Ward says.

And as for its continued positive reception?

“People can smell when you’re telling the truth.”

Following the Aug. 12 screening of Ryan Ward’s Son of the Sunshine, Ward and Winnipeg actors Sarah Constible, Ernesto Griffith and Stephen Eric McIntyre will participate in a panel discussion on the independent actor.

– Kenton Smith

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From Uptown Magazine August 11, 2011

Quintessential Canadian gloom
Former Winnipegger Ryan Ward’s Son of the Sunshine is an imperfect but promising debut

If writer and movie critic Katherine Monk ever produces a second volume of her Canadian film study, Weird Sex and Snowshoes, writer/director/actor Ryan Ward’s Son of the Sunshine warrants a chapter.

Monk’s thesis was there in the title: Canadian cinema has long been characterized by material that’s cold, dark and not a little strange. Take, for just one example, Lynne Stopkewich’s 1996 drama Kissed, starring Molly Parker as a necrophiliac who tries bringing peace to the dead through physical affection.

In Son of the Sunshine, former Winnipegger Ward stars and directs himself as Sonny Johnns, a young man with Tourette’s Syndrome who may likewise possess unusual powers of healing; the film contains hints throughout, although what’s real and what may be imagined isn’t cleanly separated until later on.

Also like Kissed — not to mention countless other Canadian dramas, such as The Five Senses, Lucid, The High Cost of Living and Small Town Murder Songs — Ward’s film features a pervasive sense of sadness and pain. Apparently it’s hard for Great White Northern auteurs to forsake the gloom.

None of this makes Son of the Sunshine a bad film. Nor is it what makes it a good film — after all, quality is about what filmmakers do with subject and tone. And Ward has made a mostly assured, adept first feature — one that trusts viewers will be intrigued by pauses between words and want to read meanings into moments of silence.

Take the film’s key scene, a wordless exchange of looks between Sonny and his Uncle Leonard (Steven L. Bird). As it unfolds, we think that perhaps Sonny, whose symptoms may or may not have been permanently alleviated through surgery, fears he may end up like his near-vegetative uncle. Turns out there’s an even more elemental similarity between them.

Sonny’s condition may be improved, but he still struggles with human relations. It doesn’t make it easy that his mother (JoAnn Nordstrom) is a junkie. Or that the girl he’s got a crush on, Arielle (Rebecca McMahon), is a troubled, angry soul. Perhaps the equally angry Sonny is drawn to such kindred spirits; maybe he thinks they can soothe each other’s hurts.

Unfortunately, as Sonny pursues his relationship with Arielle, we’re treated to scene after scene of shrill yelling and hitting, and that’s not even counting the similar encounters Sonny has with his mother and sister Meryl (Shantelle Canzanese). It all gets a bit one-note and irritating.

Related to all this, however, are some nice wry moments of humour, as when Arielle storms out of a movie screaming: “Nobody acts like that in a relationship!” And the moments of magical realism are played more subtly, until a perhaps too self-conscious conclusion.

It seems Ward is trying to say that our pains define us as much as anything else does, and that the key to healing is accepting and facing them. On that note, Son of the Sunshine is a wise, sensitive film that heralds promise for its oh-so-Canadian star, director and co-writer.

– Kenton Smith

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~ by cineflyer on July 28, 2011.

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