York film grads set to fly high across Canada

Hero worship and the desire to be a superhero in our own lives is the premise of the feature film, Sidekick (2005), created by three York film alumni: Blake Van De Graaf (BFA ’95), director; Michael Sparaga (BFA ’96), writer and producer; and Jordan Cushing (BFA ’96), cinematography.  Embracing the importance of creative collaboration, this dynamic York trio will be touring with their film this summer as it is being screened at cinemas across Canada. 

The three are no strangers to collaboration. “We made plenty of movies together while at York,” said Sparaga. “Since graduating, we all went into different disciplines in the film industry. Blake is editing, while Jordan is into cinematography and I’m screenwriting.”

After years of plugging away and getting the occasional screenwriting grant and corporate gig, Sparaga decided it was time to regroup with his classmates and create a feature film. “It was the right time in our lives and we trusted one another. So, it’s been great working with them again. I couldn’t have made this movie with anyone else.”

Described as “smart” and “funny” by National Post writer Chris Knight, Sidekick is a dark-comedy which follows the life of Norman Neale (played by Perry Mucci), a computer consultant by day and a man obsessed with comic books by night. The plot turns when Norman discovers his co-worker, Victor Ventura (David Ingram), has telekinetic talents. With the ambition of being a superhero’s sidekick, Norman coaches Victor in increasing his already unusual abilities.

The artistic connection that the York trio has together is producing startling results. Sidekick has enjoyed a series of screenings at film festivals across North America. Following this success, the film was selected for the opening night gala at the 2006 Canadian Filmmakers Festival on March 23 in Toronto, where it won the Cineplex Odeon People’s Pick for Best Flick Award.

Sparaga describes the whole experience with refreshing modesty: “There were filmmakers submitting movies with bigger budgets and more clout than us. To walk into Toronto’s Varsity to a sold out screening of Sidekick was nuts. I see ‘real’ movies there all the time and here I was seeing my movie there!”

Now, here’s the success kicker to Sidekick. Sparaga recently told the Toronto Star about his chance to make money with a Hollywood deal and his choice to “walk away from the table”. Focus Features, the company responsible for Brokeback Mountain, contacted Sparaga in the fall of 2004. They had just seen a rough cut of Sidekick that Sparaga had sent to them and wanted to create a remake. This was on the condition that Sparaga shelve both his film and the subsequent tour across Canada. In a show of true artistic integrity, Sparaga negotiated down their offer, allowing him to tour with his film while giving Focus Features the rights for a remake. As Sparaga says, “I’m not in this for the cash.”

Sparaga has some sage advice for those studying film. “Anyone taking film classes now should look at the people in their classroom and realize that they are not only their classmates, but their best chance to make a movie with after they graduate,” he said.