As Connor Gaston’s classmates watched a sneak peek of his latest film, Bardo Light, the University of Victoria writing student kept his eyes glued on one friend who was visibly swept away during the 10-minute short.
“It seemed like he was actually invested in the story,” said 23-year-old Gaston. “And whenever it’s a sci-fi story, or something you might not actually believe, it’s nice to get that reaction – even if it’s just for that moment.”
This summer, the list of those invested in the drama inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Gaston having seen pug dogs watch television, expanded beyond Gaston’s supporters at UVic to include the programmers at the Toronto International Film Festival. Bardo Light, a reference to the light we cannot resist and would rather watch than breathe, now makes its big screen premier this weekend alongside the world’s top films at TIFF 2012.
“There’s a maturity to his voice as a film director that’s quite startling, considering how long he’s been making films,” said Maureen Bradley, filmmaker and professor of screenwriting at UVic. “I see these kind of heavy endings in Connor’s work that quite frankly, kind of terrify people. (Bardo Light’s ending) is terrifying in one way if your relationship with mortality isn’t settled and if it is, it’s quite a beautiful, calming moment.”
Once Bradley gave Gaston access to filmmaking resources available through UVic’s writing department, including the school’s RED digital camera, Gaston fully committed to the project.
“That really inspired me, thinking that I have this camera that they use in Hollywood and if the story’s half-decent, what’s stopping me?”
Gaston shot the film between Gabriola Island and Victoria, with a small volunteer crew and cast that includes local actors Chris Mackie, Donna Barnfield and Shaan Rahman with cameos from Gaston’s family dog Sally and his father, fiction author Bill Gaston.
Bradley describes the film as chilling, almost horrifying and ultimately moving through its use of metaphor similar to Gaston’s previous work. Gaston is reluctant to make any statements on the recurring theme of his films.
“That’s for other people to decide. I’m just thinking about story. A good story: that’s all I care about,” he said. “If you want to make a movie, go do it. … You can shoot a movie on your phone. It shouldn’t be about the production value at all. Start off with a good story, a good character, whatever it may be and go out and shoot. You’ll learn a lot and you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Though attending TIFF equipped with a feature film pitch and a freshly-printed set of business cards, Gaston plans to return to Victoria after the event and study screenwriting as a graduate student under Bradley’s guidance.
“I think it’s really good for Victoria that he’s sticking close and I hope we don’t lose him to L.A.” Bradley said. “He’s going to miss the first week of class, but I figured that was alright. I’m not going to dock him any marks for going to the Toronto International Film Festival. I figured it was a pretty good excuse.”
Also on the TIFF program this year: Frost, a sci-fi adventure short, written and directed by Jeremy Ball and starring Emily Piggford, both fellow UVic alumni.