Reeling in the best films

Nicolaou’s first feature-length film, Show Me, will be shown on Feb. 5.
Nicolaou’s first feature-length film, Show Me, will be shown on Feb. 5.
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Photo courtesy of commonwealthfilms.com

“Like short stories, I think a good short film ... can be a really beautiful, succinct thing,” says Toronto-based director and film writer Cassandra Nicolaou, whose work will feature at the Reelout film festival closing gala this Sunday, Feb. 5.

While Nicolaou loves to make short films, her first feature-length film, Show Me, will be shown at the closing gala on Sunday along with her three short films Why I’ll Never Trust You (In 200 Words or Less) (1995), Dance with Me (1997) and Interviews with My Next Girlfriend (2002). Her move into feature-length films stems from wanting to reach a larger audience outside of the film industry, much in the same way that her films themselves deal with universal themes beyond gay issues.

“It’s about exploring who we are, exploring how we relate to other people, exploring what family means,” Nicolaou told the Journal in recent interview.

“Making films is about telling stories to people and [I want] as many people as possible to be able to enjoy the stories”—something that the soft-spoken filmmaker hopes to achieve by making more feature-length films in the future rather then simply short films, despite her love for them.

Nicolaou’s film Show Me is not a “gay” film—although the main character of the film, Sarah, is a gay woman and her sexuality is a part of the story, it’s not central to the story. Nicolaou was quick to add that in many ways the movie is about “secrets and lies and what we hide from people and what we reveal to people,” and it is in that respect it most relates to queer identity. However, the main themes of this thriller revolve around the idea of being trapped in a routine or life without even realizing it. The idea for the film came from an experience of Nicolaou’s where, in typical Toronto style, she was stopped in a traffic jam and a squeegee kid approached her vehicle looking to clean her windows for some change.

“When you walk by a person on the street who’s asking you for money you can say ‘no’ and keep walking and that’s it and you never have to think about it again.”

But being stuck in a car, Nicolaou had to continue to stare back and feel guilty about not having any change.

“You’re sitting in your car thinking your life is so different from this kid out on the street,” Nicolaou said. But then she began to think of what two characters in this situation could have in common. This idea is taken to a more extreme level in the film when two squeegee kids, Jenna and Jackson, take Sarah hostage while she herself is stopped in the constant gridlock of Toronto’s downtown core. This kidnapping becomes a metaphor for Sarah’s life and how she feels about it, and she learns that her kidnappers are themselves “hostages in ways to other things that are going on in their lives,” creating unseen common links between the three characters. Show Me is a sort of return to Nicolaou’s more serious side after her comedy Interviews with My Next Girlfriend, although her past films deal more with queer issues then her latest.

“It was really fun to make a film that had a certain intensity and had a lot going on at a dramatic level,” she said in regards to Show Me.

Nicolaou has been writing and directing films since 1995, and is a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Director Lab. Her films have been screened at hundreds of international festivals and have been licensed for broadcast and home videos and DVDs in both North America and the U.K. She has also been nominated for a Gemini award for Best Short Program for Interviews with My Next Girlfriend.

Nicolaou herself will be attending the closing gala, and it will be her first time at the festival. In regards to how people may like her latest film, Nicolaou is optimistic.

“I hope that people can get into it, and it’s a tense film and usually leaves people at the edge of their seats,” she said.

The reelout film festival offers a chance to view independent films, not all of which—at least in the case of Cassandra Nicolaou’s work—deal solely with queer issues.

As such, if you are interested in independent films, this Sunday’s screening will offer you the chance to see movies that offer a slightly different spin on some common themes and ideas in film. So head on out to The Screening Room this Sunday. You never know, you just might like it.

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