It’s 10pm on a Thursday evening and although downtown is pretty quiet, outside the Sanderson Centre there are numerous trucks loading and unloading movie equipment. Inside the centre all is dark except for the stage where, behind drawn curtains, footage is being filmed for a ‘play within a play’ scene in a new independent film called “The Cuban”. This is almost the end of the cast and crew’s stay in our area.
We sat down with Ana Golja, Jonathan Keltz, Giacomo Gianniotti, Shiva Negar and Sergio Navaretta (director/writer) during a brief intermission in filming. There is an obvious camaraderie among them – they are dealing with a subject of every significant importance in our society – aging and dementia. It is a serious subject but the film also aims to bring light heartedness and laughter into an otherwise tragic situation. Off set the actors laugh and joke like old friends. Some of them have known each other for several years. Together, through research and professional development, and conversations with the Alzheimer’s Society, they learned of the ravages of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in our society. The message they are bringing comes from the heart. As they tell their stories in the brief time we have together, we recognize that it is quite remarkable how things come together in a kind of symbiotic flow, once the right path has been found.
Taras Koltun, Producer, states “The whole thing came to me about two and a half years ago, after the passing of my grandfather. Growing up, I never really asked him about his incredible life, his achievements. We are so busy growing up that we forget about our elders.” Writer/Producer Allessandra Piccione wrote intuitively about the effect that music can have on dementia patients and how the quality of life that can be affected and transformed. What began as a 7-minute short film idea quickly grew into a full length feature film script that also delves into the themes of immigrant life, listening to stories of our elders, and closing the gap between generations. There was just so much to write about.
The story takes place in a nursing home, where an elderly dementia patient meets a young Afghani nurse. The nurse sings while she is doing her work and this causes something to awaken in one of the patients who then is able to share his memories from when he was a Cuban bandleader. In turn the young woman begins to have her life changed by something that she had long forgotten. The movie is full of original African/Flamenco/Cuban jazz score written by Juno award winning musician, Hilario Duran.
While writing the story, they had Oscar winner Lou Gossett Jr. in mind to play the elderly, charismatic patient. After months of attempts at connections to reach him, they finally got the script to Gossett who immediately saw value and relevance int he story being told. He signed on. The cast and crew have been awed by his professionalism, and mostly his character, as the shooting commenced and they were able to spend time with him. With over 196 film credits to his name, Gossett is ‘old school Hollywood’, having mingled with the like of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. He was perfect for the part.
Producer and lead actress, Ana Golja, (playing the young nurse) has starred in MTV’s Degrassi. She states “All of the businesses have been great. Filming here has been a wonderful experience. It was a bit nostalgic for me because I used to come here, to the Sanderson, as a kid to compete in dance competitions.” Ana has been integral in bringing this production together. She is also the one that originally suggested to Navaretta that Brantford would make an ideal location.
So of course, the question on our minds was “How did you end up filming so extensively in Brantford and surrounding areas?” Sergei Navaretta, Director and co-writer, explains that They needed a location that had empty rooms that they could use without disrupting the other inhabitants. An online search yielded the Stedman Hospice and they were connected with Olga Consorti, who was very helpful and accommodating. They decided to visit the location which, it turned out, was perfect on the inside, but not the outside.
Piccione states “I know Serge I really wanted to capture some of the charm of a smaller place and some of the more unique settings that you can find there but it needed to also to be metropolitan. It needed to be convincing as a big city in some ways it needed to have a university or a place that looked like a university. Sergio did a search online of places that you look like ideal spots to shoot. We started location scouting all around Brantford and it was so funny because it was these exact places that were the images that he had found online but he didn’t realize they were all right here in Brantford and Brant County.
They found Thorpe Funeral Home, which had the outside look they were wanting. Other filming locations include Club NV, Dufferin Street Apartments, On the Lam restaurant, Photohouse Studio, and among others in Brant County, 2 Rivers Restaurant and Paris Surf. After this the crew move on to Cuba to film more scenes.
They have been residing at the Arlington in Paris, for which they had high praise. Sergio jokes that during their time here, they have experienced all of the seasons – including being stranded by the ice storm and accosted by wind during the wind storm. The crew were very impressed by the treatment and hospitality that they have received from everyone that they have dealt with – high praises going to Olga Consorti, President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Lifecare, for the great assistance she has given.
To complete post production they have begun a Kickstarter to help bring some marketing dollars to the film. The plan is to bring the film to the festival circuit, and if it does well there, to release it more broadly. But that is still a while away. The aim for this film with its’ important message is to be a part of 2019’s film festivals.