10271174_454067671397528_3754671409548683380_o“There’s always been a link for me, maybe not exclusively, but something that I’m drawn to about water and female power. The way in which when women come together can almost have a supernatural force. More so than when they are alone,” explains director Sarah Adina Smith, ‘When I say that now, it sounds like the movie is about witchcraft or something like that which it’s not really. Not at all. It’s about connections.”

I simply can’t get Sarah Adina Smith’s The Midnight Swim out of my head. This mesmerizing film had its world premiere at Fantasia this past July yet continues to cyclically ripple across my thoughts.

The Midnight Swim is an inspired, meditative, and compelling narrative of relationships, sisterhood, and grief told through transfixing and poetic cinematography. Amidst the chaos that was July, I had the pleasure of sitting down for tea with Adina Smith to speak candidly about writing verus directing, liminality and the road to directing her first feature.

The road to making The Midnight Swim was nothing short of a winding mountain road. Adina Smith who studied philosophy, is an painter, and spent some time acting, knew after college that she wanted to make films. Along this winding road, Adina Smith began writing for the big screen almost out of necessity: “I liked the idea of being a director and started reading scripts and couldn’t find anything that I liked enough.”

“Really,” she added, “it’s only in the past couple of years that I started finding my voice as a writer and realizing that I like that too actually. I feel like screenwriting is my way of getting to think philosophically. The life of the writer is a lot like the life of the mind: it is asking questions and doing it through storytelling in character. So, that’s been actually really wonderful and it’s also really torturous.”

For several years she ran through the motions of having projects almost off the ground, even running a successful kickstarter campaign for seed money, and still having last minute financial backing fall through. During this cycle of ups and downs, Adina Smith shot some shorts as well as cowrote and produced a feature entitled Goodbye World.

Writing a feature, she remarked, is a very different affair than directing one. Comparing writing a script to being akin to a sperm donor, Adina Smith elucidates the differences she has experienced, “in a way, it can’t be my baby. The director of the film is going to be the person to raise it from start to finish. I am very proud of Goodbye World. I feel like there was a lot of my DNA in it that I still see and recognize.”

Adina Smith remarks that she uses different parts of her herself and her mind when writing for films she also directs. For the material she directs, inspiration comes from a darker and stranger part of herself such as The Midnight Swim. Still on the winding road towards making this novel feature, Adina Smith looked back at the kickstarter seed fund and knew it was shoot or die so to speak.

With a twenty five page treatment in hand, Adina Smith approached actors whom she was thankful responded and joined her in taking a risk on a low budget film with a two week shooting schedule. The circumstances required Adina Smith to take a completely different approach to what she was used to, forcing her to think spontaneously:

“I was still discovering the story as we were shooting. What was great was there was only so much planning I could do in advance. I really had to stay on the pulse of the story. Actors talk a lot about being in the moment but I feel that as a director I had to be completely in the moment: just listen as much as I could and just feel our where the story wanted to go. This process changed me.”

In terms of inspiration for The Midnight Swim,  Adina Smith pointed towards in between spaces, liminal spaces, as being a focus of her interest. In the film, Adina Smith points to this by making the sisters explicitly half sisters, and leaving their mother’s body unfound, creating breaks in connection. Moreover, she speaks of her love of lakes and their surfaces, mirror-like but filled in their depths: “That to me is the thing I keep coming back to in my work. There’s a feeling of magic there in these liminal spaces.”

One of the strengths of the film is the performance of the cast who at times are breathtaking. In terms of directing them, Adina Smith cites this part of the process as being most natural to her and the highlight of directing.1470267_366133533524276_308633280_n

“A lot of the actors that I work with or cast are people who also think from the inside out. We almost develop an language that no one else would understand.”

“I like to tap in and tell the story with them from the inside out,” she reflected, “I feel like the director’s job is to create the working environment where everyone can try and do their best work: make it a really safe environment for them to take risks in. When I’m on set my relationship with my actors is just my first priority and my most important job.”

The major highlight of the film is the stunning visuals which make the most of the rich locations: both the lake and lakehouse. A central dimension to the visuals is that they are diegetic. Whether one tries to classify this as neo-found footage or contemporary epistolary, the camera is a character in the film, a technological extension of the youngest sister who is a documentary filmmaker.

The visual beauty of The Midnight Swim, Adina Smith explains, was the result of deliberate artistic choices and the collaboration of herself and director of photography, Shaheen Seth, who she finds a “very sensitive cinematographer and intuitive  camera operator.”

Fantasia is upon us. If you are anything like me and the fans that flock to theatres for this one of a kind experience, your summer can finally begin. The lineup this year is stellar which makes choosing which films to see that much more difficult. Screening decision anxiety and panic is amongst us. Never fear! Take out your colour-coded pens, rulers and notebooks; here are the must-sees of the 2014 lineup!

15.  Metalhead


Director: Ragnar Bragson

Writer: Ragnar Bragson

Iceland, 2013

Metalhead touches on themes of tragedy, grief, youth, faith and fate. Hera lives in a small town with little to offer her and is haunted by the death of her brother. She rebels against the bourgeois world of her parents and creates a safe haven for herself in the world of heavy metal: a world that she slips further into body and soul.

Screenings: Monday, August 4 at 7:10 p.m. and Tuesday, August 5 at 7:35 p.m at Salle J.A. De Sève (1400 de Maisonneuve w.).


14. The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos)


Director: Alejandro Hidalgo

Writer: Alejandro Hidalgo

Venezuela, 2013

Dulce receives ghostlike messages warning her of her husband murdering his own children. Panic ensues as do tragic events and Dulce is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit. Thirteen years later, on parole, Dulce must stay within the house where all these tragic events happened. Fantasia programmer Mitch Davis hails this tale as both scary and touching: not your typical haunted house story.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke and Wednesday, July 30 at 5:20 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


13. Feed the Devil


Director: Max Perrier

Writer: Matthew Altman

Canada, 2014

The world premiere of Feed the Devil is co-presented by the Montreal First Peoples Festival. This film follows Marcus, who is in dire need of some fast cash, as he, his sister and his girlfriend search for a marijuana plantation rumoured to be near a First Nations reserve. According to legend, this plantation is smack in the middle of a hunting ground for the gods, where no human is to enter and no human who has dared to enter has ever returned.

Screening: Monday, August 4 at 8:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve e.).
* Tickets for this film will not be available through Fantasia’s ticket outlets and Fantasia passes are not valid for this film. Visit Montreal First Peoples Festival for more info.


12. The Snow White Murder Case


Director Yoshihhiro Nakamura

Writers: Tamio Hayashi, Kamae Minato

Japan, 2014

When a young office worker’s body is found, social media is quick to make the news viral. A television director soon comes into some juicy intel and realizes that this sensational case might be the perfect way to break through in the industry. He begins to to investigate the case, accounts multiply and cloud the waters: who killed Noriko?

Screening: Tuesday, July 29 at 10 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


11. Cybernatural


Director: Leo Gabriadze

Writer: Nelson Greaves

USA, 2014

After a humiliating video is posted online by her friends, a young girl kills herself. On the anniversary of her death, the six cyberbullies meet up on Skype. However, an uninvited seventh user joins the conversation and seems to know everything about the crime. As events unfold in real time, the six cyberbullies get a taste of their own medicine and the body count soon begins to rise.

Screening: Sunday, July 20 at 9:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


10. The Creeping Garden


Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp

United Kingdom, 2014

This documentary centres on something all around us but almost everyone is unaware of it: plasmodial slime mold. Slime mold is not plant, not fungus, nor animal but a strange hodge-podge of all three. It even exhibits forms of intelligence. The Creeping Garden explores this uncanny organism through interviews and microscopic photography and boasts a score by Jim O’Rourke.

Screenings: Sunday, July 27 at 9:45 p.m. & Monday, July 28 at 3 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


9. Life After Beth


Director: Jeff Baena

Writer: Jeff Baena

USA, 2014

This comedy follows Zack who falls to pieces after the death of Beth, his longtime sweetheart. Zack grows closer to Beth’s parents in the wake of her death until they suddenly shut him out. For, you see, Beth has come back from the grave and doesn’t realize she’s died. Zack is overjoyed… but for how long?

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 7:15 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


8. At The Devil’s Door 

Director: Nick McCarthy

Screenplay: Nick McCarthy

USA, 2014

From the writer of The Pact, a film that left audiences with an unshakeable chill, comes this tale of a real estate agent (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who faces the task of trying to sell a house with a sordid past. The film stars names you will recognize such as Naya Ricera (Glee) and Ashley Rockwards (Awkward). I can’t wait to see them in something out of high school and into a more dark and dangerous setting.

Screenings: Saturday, July 26 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre & Tuesday, July 29 at 5:10 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


7. Honeymoon


Director:  Leigh Janiak

Screenplay: Leigh Janiak , Phil Graziadei

USA, 2014

Honeymoon is a cabin-set flick that refuses to rely on traditional scares. Paul and Bea are on their honeymoon but things aren’t quite the bliss that you’d expect. The central questions in this film are “who did I marry?” and “am I enough?”

Screenings: Tuesday, July 22 at 7 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


6. Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kurage)


Director: Takashi Murakami

Screenplay: Takashi Murakami, Jun Tsugita

Japan, 2013

There is a lot of excitement brewing around the sci-fi/fantasy epic Jellyfish Eyes sponsored by The Japanese Foundation at this year’s Fantasia. Masashi’s father was lost in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 resulting in his mother relocating them to a small town, near a university research center. Masashi finds a little flying creature and soon discovers that all the others kids at school have secret creature buddies who — unlike his pink bud, Jellyfish Boy — are controlled by their smartphones. But all isn’t honky dory in this town and something dark is brewing…

Screenings: Sunday, July 20 at 12 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


5. Housebound


Director: Gerard Johnstone

Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone

New Zealand, 2014

Kylie is on house arrest in the home where she grew up where she is forced to live with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Like Kylie, an angry spirit is also displeased with the new living arrangement. But like it or not, Kylie is gonna have to do the time — even if it’s in a haunted house.

Screening: Sunday, August 3 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.


4. The Harvest


Director: John McNaughton

Screenplay: Stephen Lancelloti

USA, 2013

When Andy gets sick, his pediatric heart surgeon mother, Katherine, has to start working from home. When a neighbourhood girl begins to befriend Andy, his parents — whose universes have centred around him and his illness — react in a strange way. According to Mitch Davis, “The Harvest exists in a disquieting median space between sinister fairy tale and shattering human horror.” And if that’s not enough, The Harvest promises what looks like a kick-ass performance by Samantha Morton.

Screening: Monday, July 21 at 9:30 p.m. at Theatre DB Clarke.


3. The Midnight Swim


Director: Sarah Adina Smith

Screenplay: Sarah Adina Smith

USA, 2014

The Midnight Swim is one of the most intriguing films of this year’s program. Dr. Amelia Brooks studied the mysteries of bottomless Spirit Lake, which became the site of her death when she didn’t resurface after a dive. Her three daughters head to Spirit Lake to reflect on their relationships with their mother and return to their family home. The sisters begin to believe that something supernatural is at hand after they jokingly summon the spirits of women who have drowned in the lake.

Screening: Sunday, July 27 at 7:30 p.m. at DB Clarke Theatre.


2. Suburban Gothic


Director: Richard Bates, Jr.

Screenplay: Mark Linehan Bruner, Richard Bates Jr.

USA, 2014

Suburban Gothic is the second feature by Richard Bates Jr., director of the bloody and breathtaking Excision. The film follows Raymond (Matthew Gray Grubler) who, like many of us in Montreal, can’t find a job with his college degree and has to move back in with his parents. Raymond has had visions for most of his life and joining with local bartender Becca (played by the amazing Kat Dennings) things go in unexpected ways. According to Ted Geoghegan, “Suburban Gothic is popcorn cinema at its most endearing — a saccharine ghost story featuring a faultless mix of honest scares and well-played humour.”

Screening: Saturday, July 19 at 9:45 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre.

1. Frank 


Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Screenplay: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

United Kingdom, 2014

Official selection at Sundance 2014, Frank stars Michael Fassbender as Frank, the frontman of a band who swears by a giant plaster cartoon head that he never takes off. The film follows Jon who meets Frank and his strange lineup of bandmates and follows them down a strange musical odyssey to the SXSW festival in Texas.

Screenings: Sunday, August 3 at 4:20 p.m. at Concordia Hall Theatre & Monday, August 4 at 5:15 p.m. at Salle J.A. De Sève.


Honourable mentions:

Man in the Orange Jacket, Aux Yeux Des Vivants, Prom Night, Dys-, Wetlands, When Animals Dream, To Be Takei, and Summer of Blood


The 2014 edition of Fantasia runs from July 17 to August 6.