Windsor Film Society’s Q&A with U of W Alumni Filmmakers Braunte Petric and Matt Gallagher

The Rise and Fall of the Grumpy Burger is a documentary by Matt Gallagher about local moviemaking legend Marshall Sfalcin as he tries to make the leap from self-produced b-monster movies into serious storyteller. By making a movie about his family’s Hi-Ho fast food restaurant chain that operated famously here in Windsor for several decades from the 1930’s, Marshall hopes to expose the truth, that it was his family that invented fast food. It is an exciting glimpse into the passion of a man that is a driven moviemaker and a proud Windsorite. 

Image of a picture: “Cruisin’ 65′” by artist Ronald Suchiu depicting Hi-Ho Restaurant.

The Q&A following the presentation featured filmmakers Braunte Petric and Matt Gallagher. Braunte started things off answering questions about how the idea for her documentary Defender came to her. 

“I’ve worked [with the subject of the documentary] maybe just over two years now, the idea came to me last year, and it was actually for TVO, and that’s what started that. 

Julia is this amazing woman that’s been through so many challenges, like in that video she was actually going through chemo. She’s done so much and she’s done so much for other people, fighting for people.” Braunte remarks.

What was the most difficult part of producing the movie?

“By the time I found out this contest was out I had two months to make it, and then in the middle of that my grandmother actually ended up in the hospital. So, I ended up having to throw that together. I had less time than I wanted to be able to direct it, produce it, and get a proper story created. I had to use what I got, and the most difficult part was trying to put something together in less time than I expected, but trying to still to find a powerful story that would come across in -I only had 4 minutes and 55 seconds for the contest.” 

When did you make the movie?

“It was right after I graduated. I ended up entering the contest a week after I got my diploma.” 

The focus shifts to Matt Gallagher. 

Why that film at that point in your life?

“I graduated the University of Windsor, I’d done a little half hour short, much in the spirit of pulling it together at the last minute, but this was the first film that TVO gave me a chunk of money. I sold them on the idea of this character from Windsor, Ontario named Marshall who was this filmmaker that wanted to make a real movie about his grandfather who he claimed invented fast food in North America so whether that was true or not it was irrelevant to my film. I thought to myself I can probably spend some time with them, between the two brothers I had filmed a lot with them … probably at least 70 hours of footage at some point. We had already struggled with the edit … I hadn’t worked with Nick Hector before, and Nick had a great reputation of doing documentaries, he met with me and he watched the footage and said, ‘I think we got something here’. 

“Nick and I have done another 6 or 7 films now.” Matt Gallagher adds. 

The relationship with Marshall’s grandmother really humanizes him, was that a decision during filming?

 “My camera was a moth to the light when I saw his grandmother for the first time, I was like, ‘that could be the film just him and his grandmother’, so any opportunity that I could get just to spend time with him and his grandmother I thought was great for the film, and really just an interesting relationship that I’d never seen before. His grandmother owned this old salon that hadn’t had a customer for 25 years, but she still cut Marshall’s hair.”

What year was it filmed?

“I think 2007 was the final date that we put the edit together. But that film took three years to make, so we probably started filming it in 2004, so we were shooting on a little Sony PD-150, standard definition, it took a long time … we didn’t know what the story was, and we had to wait for Marshall to finish, that’s the thing about some documentaries that you get into, you can have a great beginning, great middle, but if you don’t have that end, then you have to wait for it all to come together. Now I do things a little differently.”

Why did Marshall like making movies in Windsor?

“Marshall could only answer this himself, but from what I know about Marshall, what I remember about him at this point, was that he wanted to stay in Windsor, he liked Windsor, he grew up here. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulders about Toronto filmmakers, and Vancouver filmmakers and filmmakers in Hollywood, and how much it takes to make a movie and all we need is our passion and our stories. Marshall was a big supporter of anything Windsor and loved this city, and I think for him he saw it as a badge of honour to be able to produce shows like ‘Ten Dollar Tales’ and these other movies in a city like Windsor that you don’t expect to see that, at least in 2007 that was something new, now I see that … Windsor has been featured in a lot of other films, but at that point there wasn’t much here. 

Theodore adds: “And that was before Youtube really kicked in, and just the idea that they had this show on local cable was amazing, I remember flicking through channels and seeing it, it was this cool grassroots thing that predates, or prototypes it.” 

How did you overcome the amount of footage in order to pull a story from it? 

Nick Hector said, “Whenever anybody talked about the Hi-Ho, it was incredibly dull, but the second that it was between you two then everything pops. It became easier.” 

Did you intend to be a character in the film? 

“No, I didn’t want to be a character in the film. I hate being in films. I’ve been forced to narrate a couple of films, and I always get dragged into it kicking and screaming. It’s my intention not to be into it, but Marshall pulled me into the story. His conversations with me were interesting when it came to art and what’s real and what’s not real and what’s documentary and what’s not. He forced my hand and made me be in the film. At the end of the day, we just looked at the content and what he had on tape. The footage will dictate your story. If you’re looking for a true story, you just have to look at the footage.” 

Conflict in the story between the brothers, how much were you involved in pushing them to finishing the project, and pushing them so that you could finish your own project?

“I couldn’t finish my film unless they finish their film, and at that point they were probably three years in or so and I was just done. I didn’t want to do this anymore … either finish the film or don’t finish the film, but Tuesday night I’m showing up there and I’m filming because I’m going home after this.  I think it was my soft-threat that actually got that screening happening, good or bad, it was an ending to my film, but at that point I was tired, as I’m sure they were.”

How do you get somebody to give you money to make a film?

“The technology now is amazing – 4K and 6K and now you can do it so much easier, and the editing software is so friendly. I still struggle, I’ve been making documentaries for twenty years, and we still start from scratch every time we go into a broadcaster. In Canada, there’s only a handful of broadcasters. There’s TV Ontario, and they only do 13 a year, and CBC might do another 26. You’re competing against me and every other filmmaker in Canada, it is going to be very difficult to get a green-light on a production and when you do you should thank your lucky stars. What I would do, and what I did do in the beginning is I just made them on my own. I made a half-hour film on my crazy Uncle Terry who lived in downtown Detroit. I did another little calling-card drama that actually Ted (Theodore Bezaire) volunteered with lighting and production assistant. You can’t wait for a yes from a broadcaster, you have to go and make your film and hopefully get it into a film festival; but that short about my Uncle, it got into Hot Docs which is a good documentary festival in Toronto, and it got into a festival in Michigan, but that little calling card film was enough for TV Ontario and CBC to take me seriously when I got them on the phone the next time. There’s a thousand ways to do it, and I don’t want to pretend that I know the secret code, that’s the way I did it, and I would recommend for first time filmmakers to make a calling card film.” 

There you have it, Windsor, follow your passion and make your movies, your subjects are out there in the city waiting to be discovered. The next, and final screening in the U of W Alumni Filmmakers series is Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Local Movie Screenings Cancelled Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

As Canada tries to shut its doors on COVID-19, the city of Windsor’s movie theatres have done the same to help prevent local spreading of the pandemic. Movie theatres and special event screenings have been postponed or cancelled due to the emergency. Here is a quick summary of what’s happening so far with the local theatres.

Windsor Film Society has postponed their upcoming Friday March 20 screening of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. Recall, that for the U of W Alumni Filmmakers Series the screenings were being presented downtown at the Armouries – School of Creative Arts building. All non-essential activities at the University of Windsor have been cancelled or postponed due to dealing with the pandemic. You can follow Windsor Film Society on Facebook, to see the latest updates to learn when this event will be rescheduled. 

Following the announcement from the University, another screening, The 46th University of Windsor Film Festival and CMF Gala, has also been postponed. Follow the event on Facebook to see when it will be rescheduled.

WIFF 365 has cancelled their upcoming screenings for March and April. The affected screenings are: MAFIA INC on Thursday, March 19; KUESSIPAN on Thursday, April 9; and THE TRAITOR on Thursday, April 9. Refunds will be released for purchased tickets. 

‘Movie Nights at the Chrysler’s screening of The Goonies on April 2 has also been cancelled. The cancellation puts a halt on their new plan to show weekly movies. When the health crisis is over, they will send out a media release for the summer movie season. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram to learn when the new summer movie schedule is released.

Lakeshore Cinemas, in Tecumseh, has also decided to close it’s doors indefinitely, due to the concern that COVID-19 will spread locally.

To cap it all off, the big theatres are even closing their doors. Cineplex announced earlier this week online that, “Based on the publicly stated guidance from multiple public health authorities, including recent government directives and the escalating dangers of community spread, we are temporarily closing our network of entertainment venues. This includes the closure of all locations of The Rec Room and Playdium, as well as our entire circuit of 165 theatres across Canada beginning tonight through to April 2, 2020.” – Ellis Jacob, President and CEO, Cineplex.

This page will be updated as I learn about more cancellations or the details of when postponed events have been rescheduled. Until that time, follow the recommended guidelines for health and safety. Dust off those old DVD’s to keep you company during the coming period of hibernation as we wait for this emergency crisis to pass. I recommend Outbreak, the classic 1995 thriller starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman.

Windsor Film Society Presents: The Birder and Q&A Discussion

The pre-show reel featured photos from production and the Red-Carpet Premiere. It was an interesting behind the scenes look at a local film production, full of images of camera and boom operators, grips, grip stands, grip stands holding flags, and all the other crew members it takes to make a movie right here in Windsor. It was nice to see the movie highlighted in this way, as if making it was special, meaningful. It set the tone for a night of celebrating U of W Alumni filmmakers. 

One of the clips from the Red-Carpet Premiere Q&A showed Mayor Drew Dilkens saying how proud he was to see Windsor on the big-screen. I concur, Mayor, and from the popular turn-out to the screening, quite a few others do as well. 

Following the main presentation, was the highlight of the evening, a Q&A discussion with filmmakers Theodore Bezaire and Mike Stasko of The Birder, and Gemma Eva of “Rough Love”, which began with Mike Stasko asking crew members of both films that were in attendance to stand and take an applause. 

Gemma Eva, writer/director of “Rough Love”, the short film which preceded The Birder said the idea came to her from, “basically my past acting experience, I started off in theatre, and when I started off acting I did screenplays like Night of the Living Dead and High Physique and later on I started doing more parody musicals and getting into stuff like a musical called Evil Dead Musical. A parody of the Evil Dead film and so from there I wanted to do something in lieu of more parody.”

Gemma was asked about the thrilling soundtrack. “We basically picked five 80’s pop songs to mimic in the film, our composer Will Rogers did an amazing job, he said, whatever song you have, we want your parents to think, ‘oh yeah, I know that song’ – he goes, it’s not that song.”

When asked about the actors, Gemma replied, “They’re all friends of mine from theatre I’ve done around the community. I had an idea of who I wanted to cast while I was writing it and hoped to God that they said yes”. Gemma continued to say, “My favorite relationship in the film was the two brothers – [the actors] had actually been best friends since before high school … so their chemistry was on-point.”

Gemma was asked about the shooting schedule next: “It took four days and they were very long days. Most movies are 10-hour days … 14 hours a day are quite long. I remember picking up Starbucks on the way to set, and them closing and then coming home and it was already open for the next day.”

Of the sets, costumes, and props, Gemma stated, “renting from the theatre companies that I’m involved with, production designers buying stuff, and then a lot of the paintings in the background was us painting them, a lot of them were home-made.” 

The audience also noticed the sharp colors that highlighted the movie. “We wanted to make a difference from the party room – nice, fun, bright colors, and we wanted to make the death room to be spooky as possible and cliché as possible.” 

And, finally, what are you doing next? “Right now, I’m working on my thesis, because I am doing my Masters at University, and I’m working on a musical movie.”

The focus shifts to The Birder. Theodore Bezaire spoke about coming up with the idea for the movie: “I was having an idea about relationships with teachers after high school. I had had this interesting conversation with a teacher. I was in University at the time, I went back to my high school and had this real conversation with a teacher, and [realized] ‘he’s a real person, he has emotions’, so that sparked an idea … Mike and I were kicking around different ideas, we have a mutual friend who is a big ornithologist – that’s kind of an interesting sub-culture, that at the time we hadn’t really seen.”

Mike Stasko adds, “I think the idea of him being an ornithologist came late in the script … There’s a lot of parallels between drift migration and finding the path again. We knew we wanted Ron to go through this arc. At first, it was a teacher that decides to live in the school for the summer.”

Theodore adds: “And then we developed it.”

“The script was in development for technically seven years. Originally, it was more of a buddy comedy between the two main guys. When Telefilm came in, they wanted us to play up the daughter relationship and the parallels that came out of that gave it a nice third dimension.” Mike remembers.

Theodore reflects: “Looking back, growing as a writer during that time was huge. Through that process of dealing with story editors, with producers at Telefilm Canada made us better writers.”

When asked about actor selection, Theodore remembers, “during that development process we started doing packaging – getting the main actors together and creating lists. Tom [Cavanagh] was always on that list. He was one of the first people that we went after, because we wanted to lock in our Ron, and then hopefully, the other people would fall into place.”

Mike adds: “Fred Willard was a dream pick of ours, one of my favorite comedies is Waiting for Guffman. He was one that was a big feather in our cap.” 

Theodore notes: “He came on early in the process. That was a big day. Being a huge Christopher Guest fan, as a filmmaker, Waiting for Guffman, was a transformative movie for me. Graham Greene fell into place, he was only on-set for a couple of days. Mark Rendall, is the other key component of the relationship. I had seen him in a movie called Victoria Day, and it’s more of a drama, and kind of sullen, but his performance, I like that guy a lot. When we were trying to cast for everyone, a lot of people were pushing stand-up comedians, but my thought process was let’s find an actor, and they can be funny.”

What about the locations? Will people from Windsor recognize shooting locations?

“I remember going on scouting trips and shooting videos dating back to 2007. We checked out the old St. Joe’s. One of the key components was the outdoor stuff. We found a home at Ojibway for most of the outdoor stuff, on the trails and things.” Theodore said. 

Mike adds some technical filmmaking insight: “If you know Windsor-Essex, the park for example was exterior at the park, Ojibway was the inside of it, Malden Park was the side of it, and from Villa Nova roof was the roof of the old St. Anne’s. Optimist was the façade of the front. It was five different locations to piece it together. If you’re an outsider, it looks like a continuous thing, but people in Windsor were probably a bit confused.”

Theodore adds: “But the key component was the school though. We were lucky enough to get access to the old St. Anne’s in Tecumseh. We basically got the run of the place, so it was our production office, it was our production design workshop, we had the gym for building sets and things like that. We had also shot in the school a lot. It became a central hub for the film, it was our headquarters. You move around a lot to different locations; it was nice to have that one hub.”

Asked next about the production schedule, Theodore remembers: “It was 19 days. 99.9% of the movie was shot in Windsor-Essex. The park film [from opening scene] was shot up in Toronto, and a couple of inserts. At the end, when Floyd’s running and he cranks his knee, that’s all with the actors here in Windsor, but just that one shot of his ankle bending was up in some park up in Toronto, and it was our producer’s brothers, that was his foot.”

Mike: “I play a lot of Ron Spencer’s hand-modelling. When you see close-ups of Ron’s hands or feet or he’s driving – that’s me.”

Theodore: “The foot going into the pedal of the fountain:” Mike: “that’s my foot.”

The Q & A ended on a humorous note with somebody asking about Mike Stasko’s beard in the film. Mike replies, “I wrote the character Mike Harper. I gave him the name Mike so that it would force Ted’s hand to cast me. He didn’t want me in it, because I starred in his last one, so he said, “fine, you have to grow a huge beard and look unrecognizable and that’s what I did to get the part. He made me audition for it as well.” 

The screening was made all the more special for having the opportunity to gain this insight into the production of these two movies. Windsor, we are so lucky to be living here right now in the midst of a burgeoning film industry. The Rise and Fall of the Grumpy Burger, screening at the School of Creative Arts downtown on Friday Feb 28th is your next opportunity to be part of the growing discussion about movies in Windsor. Come out to the event and engage with the filmmakers themselves and see for yourself what is so cinematic about Windsor. 

Where to See a Movie in Windsor: A Guide

There are alternatives to seeing box-office blockbusters on the big screen in Windsor. Although Windsor still does not have a full-time independent cinema, there are organizations and community groups devoted to viewing a wide selection of movies. In this guide, I will breakdown the options so that you know where to go the next time you want to see a movie on the big-screen. You can also check out the Events calendar located at the top of the sidebar menu to your left. Let’s get started:

Windsor Film Society: I have already posted a blog about this important community devoted to showing triptychs of movies for cinematic fans here in Windsor. Their current series is U of W Alumni Filmmakers, and features three selections coming up from local filmmakers. Up first is The Birder, on January 24 at the new home of the School of Creative Arts, University of Windsor, in the Armouries building located in downtown Windsor. The filmmakers will be in attendance for a discussion and Q&A after the screening. This is your opportunity to support local films, cinema, and artists all at the same time. By attending this unique event, you are getting a cinematic experience that big chains do not offer: a conversation with the filmmakers. See the Events calendar for more information.

Windsor International Film Festival: The wildly successful WIFF has been getting bigger for fifteen years, and last year celebrated being named #1 Film Festival in Canada by selling more than 42, 000 tickets in 2019. You can read the WIFF 2019 recap for more information. WIFF offers a chance for people to see the hottest documentaries, the latest foreign films, and a range of festival and Oscar winners. For more details about the local component, please read the 2019 recap. A trend is developing where WIFF and its monthly 365 series have been screening Netflix movies before they stream. This trend points to an idea that people still want to go out to see a movie. There is a shared communal bond among a movie audience that can’t be replicated at home in front of your T.V. – every November, WIFF reminds us of that for a hearty week of filmgoing; but that just leaves us wanting more.

The lobby of the Capitol Theatre for WIFF365

WIFF365: More. WIFF introduced WIFF365 to alleviate those post festival blues with a monthly series that screens two movies. Recently, I viewed Uncut Gems, and was grateful to see this Netflix movie on the big screen. It won’t be released in many theatres, so I feel like I was treated to a special experience. WIFF365 brings Windsor the opportunity to consistently see the best in alternative screening. Check the Events calendar for upcoming WIFF365 selections and don’t miss your next opportunity to see a once in a lifetime screening event.

Classic Films and Flashback Series: Screenings of older movies, offered at a discount price through Cineplex, at Windsor’s Silvercity. Coming up this spring, titles such as The Karate Kid, On the Waterfront, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and many more will be available for viewing at Silvercity on select dates. Silvercity has an advantage over an independent cinema because they can afford the distribution rights, which can be costly, especially if you do not sell a lot of tickets to the event. I commend them for choosing to select older movies to throw in with their programming. Recently, I have viewed Batman and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, I am grateful to see those movies on the big-screen where the eye-popping colour scheme of Batman dazzles me and the action scenes of Raiders are right there in front of me.

It is after all, an experience. Whether you’re into an intimate setting with locals, a raw documentary, or the stylish comforts of Silvercity: Windsor has a movie-going option that is just right for you, and is as diverse as our great community.

What are your main considerations when going to see a movie? Is location as important as the film you’re choosing to see? Do you still value movie theatres in this age of streaming? What comforts and/or amenities do you require at a theatre nowadays? Please leave your comments below, thank you.

The Windsor Film Society

The Windsor Film Society is something that every film buff in Windsor will want to know about. Outside of Silvercity and Devonshire’s small Classic Films Series, Windsorite’s do not really have a lot of options for seeing older movies. WIFF, and the newly devised WIFF365 which seeks to show movies at least once a month at the Capitol, tend to screen foreign and independent content, not necessarily old and classic. What about the movie buffs that want to see old classic movies on the big screen? 

The Windsor Film Society has just the ticket for such a Windsorite. Theodore Bezaire and Mike Stasko, two popular local filmmakers themselves, formed the Society out of their own passion for movies. Theodore remembers fondly the independent theatres of Toronto – The Bloor Cinema, or The Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles Ave, and would like to create a similar experience here. “I just love watching movies, outside of my house, on a big screen.” Says Bezaire. “Right now, it’s a hobby between just Mike and I, we’re the two guys running it in the hopes that we can build it up, and bring in those audiences every month.”

It is not just about nostalgia for a by-gone era in cinema though, it’s about trying to create a community discussion about film in hopes that it will grow over time. “We do a lot of stuff with the University, because they do have a film program, so we market a bit towards them, these students are interested in films and seeing films in that environment.” The WFS is presenting linked films as a series. The current theme is “Women in the Director’s Chair”. Their last screening featured Sarah Polley’s, Stories We Tell and hosted a discussion with local filmmaker Kim Nelson afterward. They hope to have something similar for the next one. 

“I’d like to get that conversation going more in Windsor,” says Bezaire. If you would like to be part of that discussion, the next screening by the Windsor Film Society is The Babadook, on Feb 26 at the Green Bean Cafe. Be sure to check it out. 

The other part of that love of movies and desire for conversation about them is that Bezaire is also a filmmaker. In 2013, he directed the feature length film, The Birder. In 2006, Bezaire directed Things to Do, which he co-wrote with Stasko. He recollects, “my first feature we did shortly out of film school. It did really well for us, it played at Slamdance, the independent little brother of Sundance. It got a positive review in Variety. It opened a lot of doors for us here in Canada. It got a deal with Mongrel Media, a Canadian distributer for films, and we were in every Blockbuster across Canada.” 

The success of Things to Do, led to The Birder. “With that one, we wanted to step it up with our cast, do something a bit bigger. We brought in Tom Cavanagh, Fred Willard, and Academy Award nominee Graham Greene.” -again, shot in Windsor; and again – more projects in various stages of development ensued. For instance, The Control, “we’re working on distribution on that one now, and most recently, Boys vs. Girls, written and directed by Mike.”– and yet again, these were also shot in Windsor, “we’re trying to shoot more features down here…one of Mike Stasko’s goals as a professor is to give his students opportunities so they can gain some professional experience on a set.”

If you’re like me, you’ve already heard rumblings such as these about the movies in Windsor; but don’t get so excited and start thinking that Hollywood productions are on their way into town – they are not. According to Nick Shields in a recent CBC article, we don’t really have the infrastructure here yet to support them. Bezaire is optimistic that it can be done though: “We’ve had amazing experiences shootings our films here in Windsor. It works for us as local filmmakers, but it may be difficult to bring bigger films to the area…There’s definitely challenges, but maybe we can overcome those challenges.”

As for the infrastructure, Bezaire says, “We definitely need work in that area, but it is getting better. That’s part of what Mike’s trying to do with the University students, so it’s not the first time they’re walking onto a feature set, they understand the process, they understand the workflow, and are not as green as they would be otherwise.”

Giving students experience at making movies is a positive thing for their artistic growth. From that experience they will be better equipped to direct their own first features after leaving school. If there’s two things Essex County is doing really well, it’s growing things and making movies. With the cultivating of youth through these experiences, as well as others that are available, it’s imaginative to wonder what the future film industry may look like one day in Windsor.  

If you have thoughts that you’d like to share, you can always feel free to leave a comment below and start some conversation about movies here in Windsor.