Copyright © 1998 All Rights Reserved.
by FFWD Staff
Starring Scott Speedman, Tygh Runyan and Sarah Strange
Directed by Gary Burns
Opens Friday, September 25
This week marks the theatrical opening of Kitchen Party, the second feature film from Calgary-based director Gary Burns. Written and directed by Burns, the film explores a day in the life of a group of teenagers taking advantage of the absence of parents by having a party.
"I wanted the film to take place in a confined space, like just the kitchen," states Burns. "So I had to come up with reasons why they couldn't go into the rest of the house or into the basement. The idea was to impose restrictions on them and thereby explore their reactions to those restrictions."
Burns studied fine arts and drama before attending Concordia, where he graduated with a BFA in film production in 1992. Upon returning to Calgary, Telefilm helped kickstart Beerland, a 37-minute 16-mm effort completed with the help of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers.
"Essentially Beerland was shown only once," comments Burns. "I did it more as a practice film. When I got the money from Canada Council to do Suburbanators, I quickly lost interest in it."
It was Suburbanators, with a budget of only $60,000, that first turned the eyes of the nation on Burns's work. The film, which follows different groups of suburban teenagers over the course of a weekend afternoon, was a critical success at the 1995 Toronto Film Festival and was invited to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The end result was interest from Cineplex Odeon and a Vancouver producer to get Burns's next script off the ground. That script was for Kitchen Party, which follows, to a certain degree, the same formula of its predecessor. "I was thinking that I should stick to the subject of youth, considering the success of Suburbanators."
Along with working with a budget more than 20 times higher ($1.5 million), Burns worked with a new crew in a new city (Vancouver). No funding was available in Alberta to support the film industry and the move for this particular film seemed written in stone. And while the jump to a seven-figure budget would appear foreboding to an indie director, Burns apparently took it all in stride. "It wasn't really intimidating working with a million bucks," he reflects, "the camera is bigger and that's about it. You never really see the money."
Burns auditioned over a thousand teenagers for the ensemble cast that constituted the main group in the film. "Working with young, relatively inexperienced actors was not so difficult because I essentially cast them to play themselves. The adults, who were regulars on shows like X-Files, were so big that I had to step in and tell them to tone it down - to just be themselves."
Burns likes dealing with youth-oriented subject matter, and the peer group dynamics in Kitchen Party was a natural thing for him to satirize. "I mean, kids can be so cruel to each other. Even if they're a good person, they can say horrible things to someone and not really mean it. It's such an awkward age.
"The film is quite cynical," he admits. "It does paint people in a sort of bad light. But I don't believe that most people are mean-spirited - they all have their reasons for being the way they are"
Burns admits that in addition to depicting teenage life, he also enjoys writing about dysfunctional characters. "If someone's got a problem, it's easy to illustrate it. Getting them through their problems is a standard way of exploring conflict."
While Kitchen Party has received glowing reviews from almost all who have seen it, it has yet to make a dent in the United States and earn a wide release there. "Our distributor can't understand why," admits Burns. "It's like they don't understand what type of film it is - a youth comedy, an adult comedy, a sophisticated comedy. They don't know."
Burns is currently writing his next script which he insists is a little more mainstream. The script, with the working title Holiday, is about a dysfunctional person who hires a female student to accompany him on a trip to Banff. Burns is hoping to make the movie next summer. "It turns out the person the guy hires is not the person she's supposed to be. They have a run-in with her boyfriend, who is wanted by the law, and things get crazy from then on."
And while success for the filmmaker seems inevitable, don't expect him to pursue the Hollywood dream. Burns, who was born and raised in Westgate, would like to stay in Calgary. "If I were living in Vancouver and Toronto, I could easily be doing episodic television right now, but my wife and I like Calgary's setting and the mountains. I like the idea of being away from the film industry," he chuckles.
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