As its title suggests, Hot Docs’ Canadian Spectrum program focuses entirely on homegrown filmmakers, and most of the entries deal with Canadian subjects, from John Kastner’s haunting Life With Murder (about the fallout of a shocking murder in Chatham, Ont.) to Claude Demers’ Ladies in Blue, about the robust autumn years of Quebecois crooner Michel Louvain.
But there are also several entries that look beyond Canada’s borders, including Calgary-based director David Christensen’s The Mirror, a wry, weirder-than-fiction portrait of an isolated, sun-deprived village in the Italian alps.
“(My previous films) War Hospital and Six Figures had both been heavy, dark films that had taken a lot out of me,” says Christensen, who also works as a producer for the National Film Board of Canada.
“I just wanted to take a break, but my wife left a short newspaper article on my desk one day that talked about this small town in northern Italy called Viganella that didn’t get any sunlight for almost three months of the year. As a result, the villagers had this crazy idea to build a giant mirror to reflect sunlight onto the town. She left a note alongside the article, which said, ‘Please make your next film a happy one.’”
There is surely a sweetness to The Mirror, which documents the creation — and deeply suspenseful installation — of the massive, eponymous reflector, as well as the reactions of Viganella’s inhabitants to the attendant media circus.
“(They) all thought that we were just journalists,” says Christensen. “At one point, somebody started up a rumour that we were with National Geographic, and boy did that falsehood open up some doors and get us some drinks!”