A whole new thing

York film Professor Amnon Buchbinder (left) knew he had created a winning script when ThinkFilm made an offer for the Canadian rights to Whole New Thing a week after receiving the screenplay – an impressively quick response in an industry where a three-month wait is not uncommon.

Buchbinder, who co-wrote the script and then took on the role of director, has created a captivating and provocative film that’s earned a four-star rating in media previews (NOW magazine, Sept. 1; EYE magazine, Sept. 8). This evening at 9pm, Whole New Thing will receive its world premiere screening at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The film will be shown at the Varsity Cinema, 55 Bloor St. West (Manulife Centre) this evening and will have a repeat showing on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 4pm at Cumberland Cinema 2 as part of the Contemporary World Cinema series.

Buchbinder describes the film as “a coming-of-age story about a precocious youth who realizes he is not an adult, and adults who realize they need to grow up.”

Set in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Whole New Thing revolves around 13-year-old Emerson Thorsen (played by Canadian actor Aaron Webber), who has been home-schooled by his eco-hippie parents (actors Rebecca Jenkins and Robert Joy) in a household of casual nudity and sexual openness. Emerson’s lack of aptitude in math sees him sent off to the local school, where he meets English teacher Don Grant (Daniel MacIvor), who becomes the object of the boy’s affections.

Right: Canadian actor Aaron Webber as Emerson Thorsen

“I felt from the first moment that there was the potential to take something that could be really creepy and inappropriate, and use it to look at one of life’s most beautiful things – the purity of first love,” said Buchbinder. “Something about the contrast seemed a good way to look at love and see some things about it that we don’t often notice.”

The project was done on a shoestring budget at breakneck speed. “First, we were tasked to write the script in two weeks,” Buchbinder explained. “Then, we had to shoot the movie in 15 days amidst three record-breaking winter storms, and with only five days of pre-production. Finally, we were challenged to cut the picture in five weeks.”

And for good measure, Buchbinder led the film shoot while commuting between the production site in Halifax and his full-time job as a professor of screenwriting at York.

“Thanks to a talented film crew, somehow we all made it happen,” Buchbinder said.

Left: From left, actors Robert Joy, Aaron Webber and Rebecca Jenkins in a scene from Whole New Thing

That talent includes co-writer and associate producer Daniel MacIvor (who also stars in the film) and executive producer Camelia Frieberg. As a performer, writer and director, MacIvor is widely recognized as one of Canada’s most remarkable artistic talents, while Frieberg has been widely acknowledged as a producer with a remarkable knack for choosing creatively outstanding projects.

The film’s memorable soundtrack is by the director’s brother, David Buchbinder. The rich, haunting score comprises an exotic mélange of Arabic, Celtic, African and rock melodies, played on an array of unusual instruments.

“I love working with David,” said Buchbinder. “We grew up very close, and few words are required for communication. He really understands the particular role of film music, the way it voices things going on in the story’s inner world.”

Whole New Thing is Buchbinder’s second feature film. His critically-acclaimed, Genie Award-winning first feature, The Fishing Trip (1998), made in collaboration with his York students, was likewise launched at TIFF.

Concurrently with the premiere of his latest film, Buchbinder is celebrating the release of his new book, The Way of the Screenwriter. The book was launched in Toronto Sept. 8 by House of Anansi Press.

“A story is a living thing. And you don’t work on a living thing, you work with it,” said Buchbinder. “This is the way of the screenwriter, and it is something that I believe all masterful screenwriters understand intuitively – learning how to work with a story through a painstaking process of trial, error and self-exploration.”

Following its TIFF screenings, Whole New Thing will be featured in Halifax at the Atlantic Gala presentation at the Atlantic Film Festival. It will then be screened at the Sudbury, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver Film Festivals. Buchbinder will tour with the film, giving book readings and seminars alongside the screenings.

Visit Whole New Thing on the Web for more information about the film, the script and its production. For TIFF ticket information, click here.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.