Exclusive Interview with “La Cartographe” writer/director Nathan Douglas

Blog post by Ross Munro for Wholly Cinema.

Vancouver based indie filmmaker Nathan Douglas, on the threshold of launching his new short film “La Cartographe” at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, took a little time from his busy schedule of packing and organizing numerous requests to purchase Swiss chocolates (OK- that part is pure speculation on our part…) to chat with the ink-stained wretches here at Wholly Cinema.

The film, which clocks in just under 34 minutes, is a moody, atmospheric tale of a young woman (sublimely played by up and coming actress Emma Bonikowsky) who mysteriously investigates her neighbour by mapping out his running route which leads into a Malick-esque series of visionary set pieces while poetically contemplating the surrounding urban environment in all it’s beauty and history.

Filmmaker Nathan Douglas. Photo by Ross Munro.

Wholly Cinema: What were some of your influences with your meditative film “La Cartographe”?

Nathan Douglas: I love Antonioni to death- who wasn’t an influence on the film per se but he’s definitely in that mix of things that you watch over the years and they come out somehow. I find it interesting how a piece of work hits everybody in a different place. I like how Antonioni relates to modernism, economic changes and how that affects the environment and then how that environment affects the people.

When I was actually making the film, the filmmaker I had most in mind was Eric Rohmer. I was reading a lot of biographies on him, going through all his films- I think he’s absolutely brilliant. The title of my film is actually a play on words from Rohmer’s film “La Collectioneuse”. I just loved the sound of that title and wanted to keep it in French.

I want people to be haunted by my film and think about it the next day and the day after that- hopefully it stays with you and makes you think about your surroundings.


WC: What’s your experience and philosophy of filmmaking been so far?

ND: It’s great to know that if you have the tools and the skills and you know what you’re doing then you can produce small-scale cinema that, hopefully, has a big effect. It’s like the dream Francis Ford Coppola had way back when video was becoming mainstream- that eventually cinema would become common for everybody. And, really, we’re at that point now and that’s why we’re seeing a flowering of new voices in Canadian cinema. Hopefully we’ll keep building on that.

WC: What was the biggest challenge making “La Cartographe”?

ND: The biggest challenge was actually before we even decided to make it. I sat on this idea for so long that I just needed to knuckle down and get the film made. Partly because it was so small scale I knew I could make it anytime but I also wanted to move from my apartment and my neighbourhood so it was a ticking clock. This is the third short film I’ve directed since finishing school and even though everyone I’ve worked with on all my films have been fantastic, with every passing year I always get more leery about asking too much of people- and this is such a tiny film.

But making the film itself was such a beautiful experience. We had so much freedom and, even though we had so much to do, it was very relaxed and wonderful- I don’t expect I’ll ever have that again. Reminds me of Ingmar Bergman saying that every year I make a film with my friends- that’s the ideal. If you can do that then you’re set.


WC: How did you end up hiring your main actress, Emma Bonikowsky, for the film?

ND: When we first auditioned Emma for a previous film, she just walked in the room and we knew immediately that she was different from everyone else. She just has that presence that I’m looking for where I can read so many possibilities from just one of her expressions which is want you love to see in an actor. I don’t think it’s that common to find so when it happens you just sit upright and notice. She wasn’t right for that particular film but I couldn’t stop thinking of that audition so I wrote “La Cartographe” for her. I’m so excited for her that she’ll be coming to Locarno as well to represent the film especially since it’s her first film role.

WC: What are you looking forward to at the Locarno Film Festival?

ND: It’s a film festival that’s particularly geared towards cinephiles and especially world cinema. On the professional and social side I’m just planning on going and enjoying myself and just meet people and be open and not take it too serious.


WC: Are you planning your first feature film anytime soon?

ND: I have a few ideas I’m working on right now. I’d really like to make a film that deals with history as it’s subject. I love the idea of going on a journey to different eras and see how they collapse against each other in a way that feels like there’s no time between them. I love films that take those big leaps in time.

The other project I’m developing is a family drama set in Vancouver where the characters are put in a condensed pressure cooker kind of a situation where I set up the relationships- brother, sister, mother, father, grown kids- and see how they all bounce off each other. It would be a more theatrical kind of story. Ideally it would be in Russian but we’ll see- I still don’t know yet.

WC: What advice would you give to any up and coming filmmakers?

ND: I think one of the harder things- in Vancouver specifically- is that it’s very easy to let the larger film industry tell you you’re doing it wrong. I mean, there’s a lot of wisdom and experience especially regarding on-set safety and making your daily quota of shots but I think here in Vancouver they emphasis the professional over the artistic. I think more filmmakers need the encouragement to trust their instincts, their intuition and their gut to make the film they want to make. And don’t let anyone tell you it’s not commercial enough or narrative enough or whatever- because we need the new life that will come from these new films and their revitalized ideas. We need more of that and we only get that by having filmmakers pay attention to that spark that caused them to make films in the first place.






Viva La Cinema!