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VIFF2020: Director Loretta Todd on the Making of Her Debut Feature MONKEY BEACH [Interview]

By Marina Antunes [09.24.20]


Loretta Todd has been making documentaries for three decades but in 2020, she's opening another chapter in her filmmaking career: feature film director.


Monkey Beach is an adaptation of Eden Robinson's acclaimed book about a young woman named Lisa, the mesmerizing Grace Dove (The Revenant, How It Ends), who returns home to Kitamaat to save her brother who she believes is about to suffer a tragic fate.


A mix of magical realism and an exploration of Aboriginal traditions, Monkey Beach is the kind of film that captures a culture in a way only an insider can, bringing to life a beloved novel and introducing the material to an entire new audience.


Like so many independent productions, the movie's journey to the screen was long and arduous but Todd's perseverance has paid off: Monkey Beach is making its world premiere at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival.


We recently had an opportunity to speak with Todd about her feature debut. An abridged transcription of that conversation is below along with the full audio of our conversation.





Quiet Earth: You've had a long career as a documentary filmmaker. What prompted the shift to features?

Loretta Todd: I was asked to direct a feature back in the day based on a book that this producer was trying to option, but they weren't able to option it.

I was able to watch the process and I thought, gee, you know, I could probably do that. There's a lot of amazing indigenous books out there I would love to turn into film. And about that time I was out in Vancouver and a filmmaker came up to me and said I should option "Monkey Beach." And I said, why? And she said, because your filmmaking is like, Eden's writing.

I had always wanted to read the book, but I just hadn't had a chance. So I promptly went out and bought the book and before I even read it, I looked in the back and I was named in the acknowledgements because I guess as she had seen one of my films, which had helped with her research for her book.

I read the book and it just made sense that this book had to be on screen because it is so cinematic and it is so profound. I reached out to Eden to see if she would be interested in me optioning it and she said yes.



When did that process start for you?

Oh, I don't always like to say because it's been over 10 years.

Did you feel added pressure about making the film in light of the fact that it's so well loved and respected?

Pressure on myself, by myself, I mean, certainly I wanted to do the best I could for Eden because she stuck by me all these years never gave up on me. I wanted to make sure that I did something that she was going to feel respected her storytelling and honored her storytelling and honored the integrity of how she tells a story.

The other pressure was well, can you make it [the story] more three-act plot driven? That was always the struggle. It would be easier if I perhaps made it more conventional. It would be easier if I didn't insist on filming in Kitamaat because you could film in Vancouver and, you know, up, up, up how sound, you know, you could find another indigenous village to stand in for Kitamaat.

Why was it so important to you to shoot in Kitamaat ?

It's just a very powerful place. You can't help, but feel it, be moved by it, be inhabited and, be drawn into it. From the very beginning I talked with Sterling Bancroft who I loved working with, and I talked about how I wanted to have a particular look. There was a film that came out, Moonlight. If you notice it was filmed with particular type of lens, I don't think the whole film, but a lot of the film, where the background isn't blurry.

In Moonlight the background is electric, it feels alive. There's a quality to those lenses that kind of create a, almost swirl to what's behind and that felt like electricity to me, made it feel like the whole frame was alive. It wasn't just what's in the foreground, it felt like everything was kind of contained within that liveliness.

We weren't able to use [those lenses] as much as we would've liked just because of logistics but I tried to use them as much as I could. The light, a lot of it also came down to the color correcting and the post with the amazing color corrector.

Monkey Beach is playing as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival.



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