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The first film in Andrew De Zen’s Of Walls & Mountains trilogy of visual shorts, We Aren’t Strangers eschews traditional narrative structure in favour of poetic juxtapositions which express the insecurity, loneliness, and anxieties of life in our modern technological age. To mark the online premiere of this inaugural chapter, Directors Notes invited Andrew to provide some insight into the thought and production process which led to this contemplative meditation of our connection with the natural world and one another.

Concept

The concept of the film came out of the initial idea of wanting to create narrative pieces that are more focused on artistic self-expression than a traditional narrative plot. I didn’t write a script for We Aren’t Strangers. Instead I created a beat sheet and started writing down poem verses that were emotionally touching on the certain themes I wanted to explore – technology, relationships, and anxiety. It’s closer to a visual poem than anything and I didn’t want an audience to finish the film and come out of it with an “Oh okay I get it now” mentality. Instead I wanted to capture the frustrated, emotional anxiety I was going through at the moment that seems to just build up in each of us at key points of our lives. That chaos and turmoil we have within ourselves. So that’s where the dancer came out of. All the little character vignettes that pepper the story all symbolize the different things I wanted to touch on. And I wanted viewers to get a basic, vague notion of what it’s exploring, but more importantly I wanted them to be emotionally moved in some sort of way.

Production

Production and shooting consisted of multiple locations in Toronto, Canada and in areas outside of the city like Niagara. We had an amazing skeleton crew that consisted of some of my closest collaborators. My DP, Kris Bonnell, is the person who has pretty much shot all of my work and we have a pretty interesting collaborative process. We shot for about 5 days and did a lot of driving. The cast was really great about all of this. Driving to one location for five hours in Niagara, just to shoot for twenty minutes because of the desired natural light we needed. Most of production went about in that sort of way. We shot our first three days at the end of May, then we had to wait about two-three months so we could shoot some of our exterior locations like the vineyard. At the time we started production, all the vegetation was still dead. So this project has really been kicking around for some time this year. We shot on the Red Epic Dragon and used Kowa anamorphic lenses.

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Series

We Aren’t Strangers is being released as part one in this series of visual short films that I’ve been creating and producing this year called Of Walls & Mountains. The whole goal and idea is to treat the filmmaking process a bit more personally and abstractly, like a painter. For some time I’ve been meaning to explore themes in ways that aren’t conventional and that are very personal to myself – all about self-expression. Film is all about collaboration, resources and people. It’s tough to go about developing a project in a way that’s exploring all the emotional turmoil you may feel as an artist. All these films deal with the internal anxieties I’ve been going through at the time of development. We Aren’t Strangers is about the anxieties of youth in today’s day – social media, technology, loneliness and how that’s all connected emotionally.

For some time I’ve been meaning to explore themes in ways that aren’t conventional and that are very personal to myself.

The Wall is part two and we’re just about done post-production on the film. That will be releasing at the end of the month or in December and we’re all very excited about it. The film is another visually abstract short film, but focuses on exploring perseverance and will power through sports and athletes. The many walls we all face in our lives and how we choose to face them. We shot on 35mm film and that was the first time I worked with the format of film and that was very exciting. The final film in the series is called Stories We Tell Ourselves and deals with heartbreak and the strangeness of memories and time. It is currently in pre-production and we’re in the middle of casting. We’re going for government funding and pushing for a pretty decent budget that would be great to have on the film. Stories will be the most narrative of the three.

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