On October 11, 1916 in downtown Calgary, violence erupted in the basement boudoir of the Riverside Hotel. Speakeasy patrons, just back from war, heard rumours that the hotel was German-owned. Then, 1,500 soldiers smashed windows, set fire to the building and incited riots that prompted city-wide warnings for citizens to stay in their homes.
Benjamin Ross Hayden plays homage to that event with his short experimental film, Pick, which will screen as part of the Calgary International Film Festival's Alberta Spirit series. “I wanted my first film to be about the past of this city, and I wanted to contour the city in a devoted and abstract manner,” says the 21-year-old Calgary filmmaker. “Much (in the same) way that Guy Maddin mythologizes his own hometown in My Winnipeg, Calgary's history can, too, be re-created through the twisted, referential techniques of an experimental tradition.”
Shot in the decrepit basement that was once the Riverside's actual boudoir, Pick features a Damsel (Vegas performer and Calgary artist Carisa Hendrix) and a Voyeur (local artist and pyro-chemist Nick Ward) trapped in purgatory. With grainy 8 mm film, sinister sexual tension and some downright freaky sideshow tricks, Pick reaches into the dark corners of the human psyche to capture the violence of that night.
Location isn't the only bona fide element. That's right, folks — the Damsel is performing all those masochistic sideshow feats the old-fashioned way. “Originally that's why I wanted to shoot on film: To prove to audiences that she's actually walking on glass, she's actually breathing fire, she's actually shoving an ice pick up her nose,” says Hayden.
Pick may also be your last chance to see inside the former speakeasy. “Bud's Office Furniture [the Riverside Hotel's most recent incarnation] has now closed down,” explains Hayden. “So the opportunity to do anything in that building is not there anymore. It’s now a historical site.”
While the film was inspired by local events, you wouldn't know by watching it; it deliberately makes no reference to place. While the characters' one brief conversation hints at the violent events around them, Hayden consciously keeps the dialogue cryptic. “I wanted to show that there doesn't have to be any obviously 'Canadian' aspects to a film to make it a film from Canada,” he says. “That stops any sort of naysayers about Calgary film, whether from within Calgary or abroad, from saying 'Oh, that's just a Calgary film.' ”
The short film received great reviews at the Sydney Underground Film Festival earlier this month in Sydney, Australia. It has also been selected for screening at the Fragments Multi Arts Gala at the Plaza on October 7, the ROSS and Dalmatian Coast Productions Screening at the Plaza on October 10 and Storefront Cinema Nights in Edmonton on October 15. Pick will also screen 15 times on Shaw Access this October.