By Jessica Brousseau, The Mid-North Monitor
Wednesday, September 21, 2016 9:35:40 EDT AM
Locally filmed, directed and written, REZilence is about to make its debut on the big screen.
It’s been more than a year since Jayson Stewart directed his first film, and it is ready for the public.
The teaser, which is just under 10 minutes, will have its debut at the 2016 Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival on Sept. 24. The preview, which Stewart described as having a beginning, middle and a cliff hanger (as opposed to an end) was short listed as a finalist for the CTV Best in Shorts (short film) Competition.
In August of 2015, Stewart wrapped up filming REZilence, and in the past year he has been spent time editing what was shot at the Espanola air field.
“Now that we are in the festival circuit, once we start hitting a number of festivals, we are going to be doing public showings.”
When shooting, Stewart thought the short film was going to be “very tiny” production wise.
But with sponsors, grants and donations, he was able to collect roughly $17,000, which Stewart said the film was “much more sophisticated than what we intended it to be.”
A 1:22 trailer of REZilience was uploaded online to give a sneak peek at what Stewart and 120 others were creating.
“Originally, it was 22 minutes,” Stewart said, adding he found it too wordy with not enough action. “I broke the big rule. You show it, don’t say it. A lot was edited out.”
Stewart said it was hard to edit out scenes, not because of the script, but because of the time.
“To think that filming with a large crew, invading someone’s house and it ends up on the cutting-room floor.”
However, Stewart said the homeowner is familiar with the filming process. She was understanding that the scene shot at her home was cut out.
With the public showing of REZilence finally coming, it is time to start working on the full film. However, the script has yet to be finished. A regret of Stewart’s.
“The next step is to get the script done to work with Sagamok to see what their level or partnership is and what government grants are available,” explained Stewart. “Then (we) fill in the gaps to look at sponsorship and crowd funding.”
He is hoping the REZilence clip will help boost sponsorship and donations. The project is expected to take Stewart, cast and crew four weeks to film with a ballpark budget of $250,000 to $500,000. That covers payment of equipment, cast, food, editing and insurance.
“It’s a lot more expensive than people think. We didn’t have to pay for any of the locations.”
He laughs and adds the project will still “rely on the generosity of Northern Ontario.”
If he could get big-name actors, Stewart thinks they would be able to draw more attention to the film.
Remington Louie, who played one of the male leads in the short film, will be back to finish off his role Dwayne Peltier.
“I am super excited about working with jayson again,” said Louie. “It was a great experience and its great to be around people like him who are just unbelievable in everything they do, his work ethic and personality are unparallel and I just cant wait!”
Louie added working on REZilience, Stewart and everyone involved is something he wants to be a part of again.
“Everybody that worked on the film just blew my mind how they came together and worked well together, I cant even begin to explain an experience like it.”
As to who will play the lead female, Waneeka Sainte-Marie, is unknown, but Stewart does have an idea of who he would like to cast, hoping for the current Miss Universe, Ashley Callingbull.
“She would be fantastic,” Stewart gushed, “as someone who used her crown to call out Stephen Harper and demand change for Indigenous people is incredible.”
But for now, Stewart said they will be working on the script in hopes they can start filming for August of 2017.
The Mid-North Monitor asked Stewart, as a father, whether this is a movie that parents should bring their children to see. While he is unsure what the exact rating of the film would be, he wouldn’t recommend bringing any little ones to the screening.
“There are some f-bombs and some blood and gore. The feature would be higher rated. It would be darker and nasty while telling a compelling story.”
He added it is “less gruesome than what you see in the Walking Dead.”
After Sudbury, the short film will be viewed in North Bay during the Northern Freights Festival. Come 2017, Stewart is looking at holding public viewings.
REZilience is about a man named Victor “Doc” Murdoch who is training a young pilot, Peltier, to fly an illicit plane route to haul contraband materials out of Serpent Lake Reserve. But, a military experiment gone wrong has the pilots in a land overrun by the undead.
At the cold, undead heart of REZilience is a social conscience.
Jayson Stewart is director of what's billed as the first ever First Nations zombie movie, a feature about a handful of survivors trying to escape an outbreak, caused by an evil corporation, at a fly-in reserve up north.
REZilience will deliver more than enough guts and gore to satisfy fans of the genre, Stewart said, as well as a strong socio-political message.
"For those who like action, there's going to be a lot of action, for those who like zombie movies, yes, there will be gore, and for those who like character-driven films, you get very invested in these four characters and in wanting them to survive and to pass on this knowledge as they uncover it, so there's also the thriller side of it, too," said Stewart, a schoolteacher and head of Laps in Judgement Films, which begins shooting a proof-of-concept in the Massey area next month.
"But the big thing is it's also a political story, too. There are many layers to the story, even something as simple as the villain's name, Duncan Scott, who is the CEO of the DCS Group."
That's a reference to Duncan Campbell Scott, Canada's first Indian Affairs minister, who in his day advocated for the assimilation of First Nations peoples.
"The was one of the main authors of the Indian Act, which is seen worldwide as a racist piece of legislation that needs major, major work, if not dismantling entirely," Stewart said. "So we're hitting on those issues of colonization, of poverty, of loss of identity, but also the beauty and power of indigenous culture to be resilient, for language to come back and for culture to be something that shouldn't be shunned or hidden, but should be celebrated, and in this case, there's a twist where that culture actually saves their lives."
Stewart came up with the idea a few years ago, "when a writer friend and I were just bantering back and forth, throwing out as many crazy story ideas as possible.
"We never thought we'd pick up on one that could actually be worked on."
But he eventually got serious about the story and on Aug. 4, he'll join the cast and crew to film the proof-of-concept – roughly, the first 20 minutes of the film – at the Massey airfield and other locations in the area.
"We hope to market this to producers who would pay big bucks for the whole feature," Stewart said.
"Our thought on that, too, was even if we didn't get a producer interested in the whole piece, maybe we could do it as an online serial, which is becoming more and more popular, or like a miniseries-type of idea, but I think there's going to be enough interest here that we will be able to do a full feature."
Much of the film will take place in the fictional community of Serpent Lake, home to about 350 people and unfortunately, chosen by DCS as an ideal test location for a biological weapon meant to neutralize a large population by paralysing and knocking them unconscious for a period of time.
While the corporation has tested the weapon at other out-of-the-way locales, such as villages in the Congo or Latin America, its effectiveness in colder climates is unproven – hence the focus on Serpent Lake.
"What they don't realize is there's something about First Nations DNA that is susceptible to this pathogen and it paralyses them and knocks them unconscious, but the paralysis goes deeper and it paralyzes the heart and lungs, which they had never seen anywhere else," Stewart said. "And beyond that, it actually brings them back from the dead.
"Now, you have a population that's almost entirely zombified in a contained area, a far Northern reserve, surrounded by hundreds of miles of rugged bushland to get to the nearest community. There's no communication in and out, because they had paid someone internally to sabotage the only communication system they had."
It's in that situation that the lead character, Dwayne Peltier, played by 27-year-old Winnipeger Remington Louie, and aging bush pilot Victor (Doc) Murdoch, portrayed by Sudburian Douglas Davidson, find themselves at the start of the story.
Yet to be cast as major characters are a strong, young First Nations woman who has been away for medical training, a police officer steeped in traditional culture, and his brother, a local thug and drug dealer who "is an antagonist, a villain at first, but you'll grow to love him."
Most actors in the film, including the zombies themselves, are Aboriginal.
Stewart is not of First Nations heritage himself and admitted to initial fears he would be charged with cultural appropriation.
"I'm very cognizant and aware and respectful of that," he said. "Fortunately, I have brought on so many people who are Chippewa and Mohawk and Ojibwe and Cree and Kootenay, so I could rely on them and if ever it seemed like I was going astray or had a lens that wasn't respectful, that they would rein me in. And fortunately, they haven't had to do that, because maybe it's just in my DNA to be respectful and celebratory of all the people involved."
In fact, the biggest donor to the project so far has been the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation, located near Massey.
"They came forward with a $10,000 contribution, so that makes them one of our producers," Stewart said. "Not only did they love the concept and the story and they loved the number of their own community members who are part of it enough to give 10 grand, but just their support of it, legitimizes it. Any worries I had about cultural appropriation were kind of erased when they gave their stamp of approval."
For more information, visit www.judgementfilms.com.
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