Best of the Fest: Toad Road

As I was volunteering and taking tickets for a film screening, I saw a man with a red badge. My mind began racing: “What’s a RED badge mean?” So I ask the young man: “Filmmaker”, he answers.

“Oh, awesome, which film?” I ask with a cheshire grin.

Toad Road”, he answers.

“Oh man! That’s the film I’m looking forward to the most this year!” I say without thinking and with extreme enthusiasm. He gives me a smile and a sort of perplexed look. I may have scared him a little. That’s ok, I tell myself, because at Fantasia it’s allowed to be an awkward film geek.

Turns out my film instincts were right on about this one. It’s a little early to be calling the bests of the fest, but I’ll be daring and do it anyways! Toad Road tells the tale of a group of friends who live in a small town near York and who party a lot and do a lot of drugs. James, one of the comrades, falls for the “goody” city girl Sara who becomes increasingly interested in the drug culture of James and his friends. It just so happens that there is a place in the town called Toad Road where reside the seven gates of hell. Feeling a strange pull to this place, Sara wants to take James there.

Toad Road is a film that speaks directly to a generation of youth exploring the limits of reality, of what it all means, of themselves. It isn’t a film that sits comfortably in one genre or another: is it an arthouse film or a genre film? I dunno and I don’t care. What it is is intriguing as hell (hell, get it?). The editing is superb and the imagery is insidious (like seriously, I had nightmares). Watching the film, the idea of rites of passage and ritual use of drugs began floating around in my head. Liminality and the breakdown of categories of self, time, place also resonated in the images on screen.

In the Q&A session, director Jason Banker explained that the film was shot like a documentary. He found the actors via Myspace where he contacted a group of friends and asked them if they would be interested in his project.

The film was shot organically where Banker chose his leads after spending time with the group and found the themes through his interactions with and observations of them. Banker explained that this method can lead to making a totally different film than one sets out to make. I find this fascinating.

In this sort of film, editing becomes a crucial part of creating a story. Editor of the film Jorge Torres-Torres  agreed with a comparison to songwriting when it comes to editing a film of this nature. Toad Road thus blends reality and fantasy in the same way that taking drugs does. Its conceptual nature is artwork in and of itself.

I had the opportunity to quickly interview Banker and Torres-Torres about their chef d’oeuvre. I crossed my fingers Banker didn’t remember our previous awkward encounter.


Aside from Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark, what are some of your other cinematic influences?

Banker: David Lynch definitely.

Torres-Torres: Ulrich Seidl director of Animal Love. The filmmaker captures real life and somehow turns it into a classic cinematic piece.

What past projects have led you to make Toad Road, to focus on these topics?

Banker: In a way, I think All Tomorrow’s Parties (2009). It is working with kids. It was a documentary on a music festival in England called All Tomorrow’s Parties, and I shot that and spent time with the people attending the festival. Part of my job was to spend late nights with these kids while they partied and did drugs. It’s very relevant to the similar aspects of Toad Road. When I was shooting All Tomorrow’s Parties and thinking this is such great footage but it’s kind of pointless because there’s no story. Just kids getting messed up isn’t something knew. To spin that, to give it some perspective, that turns it into something scary.

Toad Road is an actual place and a real urban legend from where you grew up. Did you always have it in the back of your mind to use this legend in a film?

Banker: Yeah it was something that I was aware of. It wasn’t until I was working on All Tomorrow’s Parties that I realized I wanted to explore something with this. I knew that the parallels were very clear. A road that leads to hell and drug use and the idea of how far you will go before you turn back.

With Sara’s character it seems like she is looking to learn something from the drugs, to gain enlightenment from them. Is that an idea you are interested in?

Banker:  I definitely wanted to show the flip side as well. This is not just a tale of drugs are bad.

Torres-Torres: It’s not a cautionary tale.

Banker: It can go both ways. I think that’s the whole myth of Toad Road. The last gate is supposed to lead to hell, supposedly. There are other versions of the myth that the 7th gate is actually heaven but people say it is hell to stop you from going to heaven.

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