“Don't the hours go shorter as the days go by / We never get to stop and open our eyes/ One minute you’re waiting for the sky to fall / The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all.”
Is it about the emergence of AIDS? The threat of nuclear war? The romantic struggles of Latin American Marxists? Theories on Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time are a dime a dozen. But upon reading the rocker’s own explanation for his 1984 hit, Canadian filmmakers May Charters and Mark Hug found it perfectly captured the spirit of their film of the same name.
“He describes how he had written it for his daughter in that sort of very precious, dangerous time of being a child where you have a friend of the opposite sex, and that delicate balance between friendship and as you got older, becoming more of a love friendship and what that’s like,” says Charters. “We read that and thought: ‘My God, it’s so indicative of our story.’”
The film centres on Allison and Todd, one-time friends who played together as children, fooled around as teenagers and have now come together at a 10-year high school reunion, happy to see each other again but uncertain of their feelings. Shooting on location in Hug’s hometown of Creston, B.C., the duo, who co-wrote and co-directed the film, relied on frequent improvisation and a mostly amateur cast, choices they agree were crucial to creating a realistic feeling.
“It really feels like you’re there in that town with each of the characters, and that you’re watching them,” says Hug. “It was something I don’t know if we would have been able to do if we would’ve brought in a director or had other actors that maybe had bigger needs to try and sell the film. It needed to be the film that it was.”
But he and Charters pause when asked how to classify the film. It’s an understandable challenge, given the alternation between whimsical scenes of a younger Allison and Todd frolicking in an orchard, and some grittier ones such as a campfire game of Truth or Dare gone wrong when Todd and younger brother Bobby (Mark Wiebe) “brand” each other’s behinds with (hopefully fake) hot metal rods.
“It’s a romantic comedy with drama and realism and... I don’t know,” says Charters, pausing briefly to ponder. “It’s got a mix of our genres, our film.”
There’s no doubt it’s very much their film. They self-financed it, forgoing outside producers and government grants. It was a challenge, the directors acknowledge, but a source of freedom as well.
“Because we put our own money into it, we never had to really hear from anyone else that we had to do something a certain way,” says Hug. “We could do it the way we wanted, because we were loving it. We’ve sacrificed probably a hell of a lot. I feel that it cost us a fair penny to make this film, and we probably won’t see it back. But that’s OK, you only live once.”
It may be this very spirit of carpe diem that lies at the heart of Lovers in a Dangerous Time. Hug doesn’t believe the film has a single overriding message, but he’s happy some audience members have embraced the idea that recapturing childhood’s carefree innocence makes for the best of times — like Todd and Allison ultimately do.
“People have come to me and said ‘It’s a portrait of what it means to be a kid at heart,’” says Hug, adding: “I struggled with that a lot in my late 20s, with ‘Why am I so jaded now, why is everything so complicated now?’ I didn’t want to just be a kid again, but I wanted to feel that feeling more in my life.”