By Adam Cook
Toronto-based filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz has a special relationship with Vancouver. It’s where her first feature, Never Eat Alone, had its world premiere in 2016 as part of VIFF’s inaugural Future//Present program (where we showcase emerging Canadian independent filmmakers)—where Bohdanowicz ended up winning our Emerging Canadian Director prize. Just last fall her second feature, Maison du bonheur, screened at the festival, hot off its world and Canadian premieres at BAFICI and Hot Docs respectively. A warm, deeply felt portrait of an elderly astrologer in Paris named Juliane and her traditions, rituals and personal history, it went on to pick up the Best Canadian Documentary Award from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle and the Toronto Film Critics Association bestowed its prestigious Jay Scott Prize for emerging artist in 2017. So it’s a great pleasure to welcome this wonderful film back into Vancity Theatre this Wednesday, May 16th at 6:30pm and we’re very proud to see Bohdanowicz’s career take off since her humble beginnings here on the West Coast.
For those who have yet to see the film—or if you want to see it again—we hope you can join us. To prime you for the screening Sofia Bohdanowicz has helped prepare some intriguing insights into her unique documentary:
Maison du bonheur was shot on a Bolex:
“I knew I wanted to shoot this project on film and so I bought a Bolex camera off of eBay for $500.00 one month before I went to France and ran out of time to test it before I left. And so the scene at the beginning of the film where I am packing was actually the first time I had ever used it. I was planning on sending that footage to a lab in Toronto to get it processed while I was in Paris and was hoping to get a green light that all was well but the lab was working on summer hours and did not have time to process the footage until the end of the month. The entire time I was shooting the film, I actually wasn’t sure if the footage was going to turn out or not. Something inside of me told me it was going to be okay though, the motor on the camera sounded healthy and things felt right. So I just kept shooting hoping that it would all work out and was lucky that it did! The next time I try and pull something of this nature off again I will certainly budget time for camera tests, it’s a little too much of a nerve-wracking gamble otherwise.”
Maison du bonheur almost has a 1:1 shooting ratio:
“I shot the film with a $10,000 line of credit and so I had to be very careful with how I was spending my money. I could only really afford 90 minutes of film which worked out to be 30 100 foot rolls of 16mm. I set off with 20 rolls of 500 tungsten and 10 rolls of 250 daylight Kodak Vision 3 stock and decided to budget accordingly. I lived with Juliane for 30 days and decided that each day I would dedicate a roll to a different aspect or angle that was integral to her life and in order to pace myself I decided that I would shoot 100 feet every day. I had to be quite disciplined with what I was deciding to shoot knowing that I really didn’t have film to waste while trying to be in the present moment with Juliane. It was challenging but I enjoyed it, Juliane’s home had quite a lot of natural light and a beautiful ornate apartment to capture so it wasn’t too hard to find my frame.”
It was a solo undertaking:
“Since I was shooting this film with a line of credit, I could not afford crew. I am certainly the kind of person/filmmaker that doesn’t like to ask people to work for me for free and since I work with so little resources, I often find myself working on my own. This definitely worked to my benefit though because I think that if I had a lot of people around while I was shooting, the film would have been completely different. I don’t know that Juliane would have opened up to me the way she did nor would she have been so comfortable in front of the camera. It’s one thing to let one stranger into your space but when you start adding people to that equation the atmosphere can get a little dense and complicated. I also enjoy working by myself, I have learned how to use a TASCAM to record my own sound and love to shoot my own work. Knowing how to use my equipment enables me to have more control over what I’m doing and I find this to be very liberating, it’s also nice not to have to explain or answer to anyone, I like to have the freedom to experiment on my own time and dime.”
The film was foley’d entirely by its Director and Producer:
“So when you shoot on a Bolex you cannot record sync sound to go along with it unless you have something called crystal sync which is an older kind of technology which isn’t really readily accessible these days. When I was shooting in Paris I made myself a sound bank of noises, ambience and room tone that I thought would be helpful in crafting the soundscape for the film. There are moments in it where I was able to sync brief moments of live sound (which I was always recording just in case) but for the most part, the atmosphere of the film was completely reconstructed. My producer Calvin Thomas and I spent about 3 months in our apartment in Toronto trying to re-create different scenes where Juliane was baking Shabbat bread or getting her hair done with her hairstylist Manouk or eating a meringue dessert. I had never done something like this before so it was a lot of trial and error in terms of figuring out which sounds were going to work or not and we kept trying until it felt and sounded authentic. We also had a lot of help from Elma Bello our sound designer and Matt Chan our mixer who really cleaned things up and brought them to a whole other level.”
If you’re into astrology, it’s a must:
“Juliane learned astrology from a military general who worked for President De Gaulle which is pretty wild. So during WWII when De Gaulle was needing to sort out military maneuvres he was actually relying on the help of an astrologer named Regulus. Juliane came across Regulus when she was having trouble deciding if she should be the president of her children’s school committee and was recommended to go and speak to this man who ended up giving her great advice. Juliane and Regulus became friends and eventually he invited her to study astrology with him and the rest is history! While the film is about an astrologer it also takes on different aspects and dimensions about her everyday life and her practice impacts how she moves through the world.”
Maison du bonheur screens Wednesday, May 16 at 6:30PM at Vancity Theatre.