Canadian Filmmaker Chandler Levack chats I LIKE MOVIES – Rachel West interviews

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First-time feature film director Chandler Levack delivers a nostalgia-driven look at the early 2000s with her love letter to video stores and cinephiles in I Like Movies. The crowd-pleasing comedy premiered at TIFF and was named one of Canada’s Top Ten films of 2022 and is set to open in cinemas on March 10.

At the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, Levack sat down to discuss everything from telling the story from a young male’s point of view, how her career as a film journalist has informed the stories she tells to which recent films by female filmmakers are must-sees.
 
 
Rachel West: How do you describe I Like Movies?

Chandler Levack: Somebody once described it as “Lady Bird for losers” and I felt like that was a really good description. It’s a coming-of-age movie about a young, pretentious cinephile. At his job at a video store he kind of forms a complicated relationship with his older female manager and then eventually learns he has to stop being such a pretentious asshole.

RW: The video store just brings back so many memories. How difficult was it to recreate that space?

CL: Very difficult. It was kind of the source of my obsessions and anxieties for three months because, you know, it’s such a particular landscape. I remember it so intimately that for me, it was all the little details that I really wanted to pay homage to, but obviously, none of that stuff exists anymore.

I had this idea of what if we called every place that used to be a Blockbuster and maybe one of those places will be empty. Weirdly, that insane plan worked like the sixth time we tried. It was like a benevolent sign from God, really, but I felt like I willed it into existence.

RW: I feel like that’s really how Canadian independent filmmaking works – you hope and pray. How did the budget and funding come together for this?

CL: It was mostly a Telefilm Talent To Watch grant, which was great. You don’t have to pay back weird investors and then we got a Canada Council for the Arts grant so that was an additional $100,000, and then six grand from the Toronto Arts Council.

I think I was having a lot of trouble because there was another feature I wanted to do but the budget was more like $1.5 million, and I couldn’t even get anybody to like read that script. Like, it was just really, really hard to have actors at a certain level take it seriously.

RW: Yeah, for sure. Hopefully, now the success of I Like Movies will make that easier.

CL: I read that the average gap for women directors between their first and second features is eight years. I think that that kind of goes to show the difficulties, I guess. I think a lot of amazing female directors in Canada who had this insanely wonderful, breakout features like Jasmin Mozaffari’s Firecrackers, and then they still haven’t made their second movies and they’re working in TV. I’m sure they’re learning a lot and getting paid handsomely, but I still want to see more movies from those women.

RW: You have a career as a film journalist and are now a feature filmmaker. Are you caught in the middle? Do you know which way you want to go – Is filmmaking the dream now?

CL: I think I’m having sort of an identity complex. You spend 15 years doing one job that’s so closely tied to your identity. Being a journalist was a great opportunity to learn about cinema, and I definitely took a lot in, and absorbed a lot of information from that. They’re two different things and ideally, they would both support each other. Making films makes you a better critic because you kind of more innately understand the process and what’s at stake, why maybe decisions happen, and I think gives you a lot more empathy.

Alternatively, being creative makes you a better filmmaker, too, because I think you develop your tastes really well, you kind of understand what the ethics of how you want to make movies, what you believe in, you have maybe a different understanding of sort of like how to unpack kind of tropes or ways of playing into genre or stereotypes that kind of subvert them, which I want to do. I hope I get to keep doing those. I think it’s just how do I do that and have a career?

RW: Let’s talk about casting and Isaiah Lehtinen, because he was also named one of the TIFF Rising Stars this year. What was it like working with him on set when he’s a little bit younger? Is there it was there a lot of explanation for some of the early 2000s pop culture references?

CL: I feel like we’re like soulmates and I never would have thought if you were going to cast someone to play like a version of yourself in high school, I would never go, oh, well, it’s Isaiah. But there’s something about… I think he was just the whole package in terms of his commitment to the part and the intense preparation he did as an actor because it’s so much dialogue and really brings a deep, intense range of emotions within sometimes a single scene, and he always just made it look really effortless, nuanced, and easy. It was his first time as a lead and in movies. I really felt very protective of him.

RW: It’s a personal story and I understand that you are telling us from a male point of view, but was there ever a time where you thought, I’m going to tell this from something that’s a female point of view closer to your own story?

CL: No, I always wanted it to be a boy. Yes, I just felt like that was really interesting. I think a lot of times, women are told they can only tell stories about other women and that’s kind of the expectation. I understand that, obviously, from just a disparity thing, the lack of kind of nuanced female characters in cinema, and how important it is for women to kind of make stories about their experience, and put more multifaceted female characters on screen, but I don’t I think it’s kind of also unfair that they’re like, Well, why? Why are you telling sort of a boy?

I remember someone saying to me we’d have enough of that, make it a girl. I think it’s actually really interesting to hold young men accountable in the culture and create something that initially feels kind of like a trope, sort of “film bro” but then also unpack that and treat him maybe with a level of empathy and consideration and more of an emotional journey than even a man who would make a story about himself would do.

RW: And to see men from this point of view. Yeah, you’ve given him a chance to really go on this journey and change his “film bro” perspectives and his relationships to women.

CL: Maybe there’s a way that women can actually see men in a different perspective than they can see themselves. That’s actually kind of fascinating, too. I think when men make stories about women, they’re always like, Oh, my God, you’re so amazing for thinking of even women, congratulations, what an incredible film. But then I think, I can’t really even name that many films by women that have an especially young male protagonist, I can’t think of nearly anything.

I actually do really like writing my male characters for some reason I find it an interesting challenge to get inside their heads and try to understand, but maybe it’s because I’ve been doing that my whole life.

RW: I really liked that there was a quote in the film – “I think you should make films about things that matter to you.” So what kind of stories and films matter to you? What stories do you want to tell?

CL: That’s a great question. I mean, I think everything that I’m working on right now is about my family and kind of experiences in the past. I’m really kind of questioning my relationship with men, and how much of my life has kind of been dominated by sort of trying to appease men or the relationships I’ve had with their mothers, with my father, or weird guys that they dated in Montreal in the early 2010s. And I guess, and how also that’s really shaped my journey is like an artist and someone who’s obsessed with popular culture, which was all created and constructed by men.

In the two scripts that I’m kind of working on right now, one’s about my experience, kind of being a music journalist, and like, the early 2010s, when I was unhealthy, I worked at this weekly when I was like, 21-years-old, and all of my bosses were like men in their 40s. At the time, I was like, this is totally normal. Now I’m like, wait, maybe that was actually really bad and informative in a way that I’m still unpacking now. And maybe that’s also being a journalist for so long and interviewing mostly men. I think that’s maybe that’s why I repressed this desire to like, tell my own stories for 35 years. So I think in the next films that I want to make, I just want to be even more nakedly personal and dig deeper about how I’m defined by that.
 
RW: Because you watch so many movies and you like movies, any recent movies directed by women or non-binary filmmakers that you’ve really kept thinking about, or deeply enjoyed?

CL: I Until Branches Bend that Sophie Jarvis made that played TIFF this year. Amazing performance by Grace Glowicki, really weird and risky and beautiful and surprising. I think she’s just a great, great filmmaker. Geographies of Solitude, the documentary by Jacqueline Mills completely blew my mind. I was like, wow, I mean, this is really filmmaking and made me want to learn how to shoot on 16 millimeter and go to an isolated island and film seals and expose film to horse manure. I just I was just totally in awe of the technical craftsmanship of her work.

Same with Cette Maison by Miryam Charles from Quebec and is this hybrid docu-fiction and it’s a beautiful kind of meditation on grief. Ashley Mackenzie’s Queens of the Qing Dynasty. I think Ashley just is such a fascinating filmmaker who is only getting wilder and audacious with the way that she tells stories.

I think there’s a lot of really interesting young filmmakers that are female, non-binary, that are kind of making work on their own terms like Something You Said Last Night by Luis De Filippis. It’s really great to see a trans character and trans-led film that’s not a victim story or narrative, but it’s actually just about a teen that’s with their parents on summer vacation.

I could go on to tell you like 70 more.

EDITORS NOTE: All images used are courtesy photographs. Do no reproduce.

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Rachel West

Based in Toronto, Rachel is a Senior Film Critic at ThatShelf.com. She has interviewed everyone from Michael Fassbender to Miss Piggy and has reported live from TIFF, the SAG Awards, Comic-Con, and the Golden Globes, among other events, and has contributed film writing and content to outlets including ET Canada, Telefilm, Global News, The National Post, Cineplex Magazine, and Letterboxd, among others. She is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter: @rachel_is_here