It started with an email from Tom Charity, Film Centre Programmer & Rentals Manager Vancity Theatre
“Hi Zale, meet Sue Biely, who is coordinating National Canadian Film Day for Reel Canada in BC. The Directors Guild is one of our sponsors, and they have agreed a budget to bring you over for our show on the 19th. I’m going to leave you and Sue to work out the details, but please keep me looped in and I’ll facilitate in any way I can.”
What? Why? How could this happen? Here I am, living in obscurity and thinking myself forgotten, yet somebody wants to fly me to Big Smoke for some reason. Well, that certainly breaks up the tedium of my not at all tedious life.
And the reason, as it unfolded, was beyond flattering. The focus of the evening was to be a retrospective of the films of Atom Egoyan, one of Canada’s best known and successful “not populist” film makers. Two of his films were to be shown, The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica, as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival.
The organizers had decided they wanted to show another Canadian film before the main features, and asked Atom to name his favourite Canadian movie. And he named “Skip Tracer”, my first feature, shot in Vancouver in 1976. I was gob smacked, as the British would say. Blown away.
A flurry of emails and arrangements followed and on April 20 I found myself boarding a Harbour Air seaplane in Nanaimo Harbour for the beautiful twenty minute flight to Vancouver. Before leaving I went through the stack of boxes and junk in our basement and found what I believe to be the last two remaining original silk screened posters for Skip Tracer – one for Atom as a thank you for remembering my movie, and the other for Sue Biely, the organizer of the event as a thank you for being so…uh…organized. I also packed a framed ‘certificate of appreciation as a patron of the arts’, something I owed to my old friend Brian James Clayden for his support of my GoFundMe campaign to get back my violin.
The screening of Skip Tracer was another surprise. It was well attended. More than that, Skip Tracer was treated as an important film, a film of historical significance, a relic of a lost era in Canadian film making. I sat in front of the screen after the credits and did a question and answer session with the audience, slipping back into my old role as self important enfant terrible and promoter with nary a stumble, as if forty years hadn’t passed since the New York Film Festival of 1978. It was like visiting a past life. My only regret was that my first wife, Laara Dalen, who produced Skip Tracer, couldn’t be there with me to share the spotlight. She was every bit as much responsible for the birth of the movie as I was. It wouldn’t have happened without her.
After the Q and A session, I was approached by a man who looked very familiar. It took me a minute to recognize Roger Huyghe, the grip on the Skip Tracer production team. Death by nostalgia.
I found Atom Egoyan and the actor, Bruce Greenwood (from both The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica) in the bar of the Sutton Place. Bruce excused himself soon after I arrived, and I had the pleasure of chatting with Atom about China and his new film project, another difficult movie about the exploitation of Chinese sex workers during the San Francisco gold rush.
That, for me, was the high point of the whole adventure. I admire Atom immensely, and not just because he is so kind to me and my movie. He’s a survivor. He makes difficult films that are not populist movies. Films with integrity. I frankly don’t know how he has managed to do it, since I couldn’t. But I think the answer is that he has a single-minded passion for his art that I lacked, being too interested in sailboats and other life adventures.
The next morning, BJ joined me for breakfast, as did Roger Huyghe. We enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives. All three of us have ridden the dragon of boom and bust housing prices, separations and divorces, wealth and poverty, good times and bad. We endure. I felt loved.
Then I was off to catch the seaplane home.
I got back on Thursday afternoon, in time to make it to my regular fiddle session with the Oceanside Jammers in Qualicum Beach. Another reality. Already my day of fame and celebrity seemed like another world, another life.