Director Andrew Huculiak knows his hometown of Peachland inside and out, and that local knowledge is proving invaluable as he scouts out locations for his next film.
Local moviegoers might remember Huculiak’s first production, A Shore, which followed the survival story of a marooned castaway, set in the wilderness of Okanagan Mountain Park and released in 2005 or 2006.
“That was my childhood in Peachland, just making movies and roaming the streets,” he recalls.
In Vancouver, where Huculiak currently resides, the art of filmmaking has become heavily commercialized and fees are often applied to very simple services.
“Local connections in Peachland is the way,” he said. “The other producers I’m working with are from Vancouver and they’re used to doing things the Vancouver way. So expensive. (The generosity of locals) was kind of surprising for them – it’s a lot more organic here.”
When filming begins later this month on his latest project, I’m Not a Bad Person, there will be several opportunities for Peachlanders to get involved. Between the need for extras and small favours like asking neighbours to turn porch lights on during a shot, “I’m hoping for as much community involvement as possible.”
The script for I’m Not a Bad Person has been in the works for three years, Huculiak said, and its finally time to begin the bulk of the filming.
“It’s all planned out pretty precisely at this point, we know exactly what shots we want and all the special effects.”
Some shots have already been taken. Parts of the film in I’m Not a Bad Person involve a wildfire in the backdrop, and since forest fires can’t safely be replicated, producers spent two years chasing and filming authentic wildfires “to get the perfect shot.”
“Film is just where my interests are. I always wanted to be a director – even as young as 5 or 6 I was making movies in my mind.”
The complexity of human interaction fascinates Huculiak as a storyteller, and he likes to challenge the customs and beliefs that audiences have comfortably embraced.
“An empathetic approach is really important to me, I use it to help people look at things from another angle.”
Even with a 25-person crew not including actors, I’m Not a Bad Person isn’t quite a big-budget film. But compared to Huculiak’s first feature-length film (and his most recent film), Violent, there will be much more breathing room for the filming in Peachland.
“We’re still technically low budget but for us it’s going to be quite a playground – it’s going to be an impressive production.”
Violent, which had a skeleton staff as crew and a shoestring budget, required Huculiak and his crew to travel to Norway in 2012.
“It was kind of an experiment to go to a different country; a country we’d never been to with a language we’d never spoken,” he said. “The idea of shooting it in Vancouver or even Canada – it didn’t feel like we had the right energy, so we really took ourselves out of our comfort zone.”
After receiving positive receptions at film festivals around the world, it was the momentum from Violent that propelled his team to write I’m Not a Bad Person.
Since Huculiak never studied cinema, “producing Voilent was like my film school.”
But his brother Josh graduated from film school, and since the two work very closely, the academic insights of his sibling are always being absorbed.
Huculiak finds its most effective to tell a story at a slower pace. It can be challenging to keep audiences engaged, he admits, but “it makes the experience more rewarding when there’s something you have to work for; you feel yourself interacting with the story.”
And cinema has far more to offer than intense stimulation, especially in 2017.
“That experience of sitting down for two hours and shutting off everything else rarely happens anywhere other than in a theatre,” he said. “Twenty years ago, film was thought of as a sensory experience. Now with the inundation of so much technology, the threshold has been raised and film has become a meditative experience. In a funny way, going to the movies has turned into a therapeutic and meditative practice.”
Beyond his work as a director, local residents might remember Huculiak as a Peachland Ambassador in the mid-2000s.
“I find myself in a lot of situations at film festivals where I feel just like I did as the ambassador; I feel that same personality come out. It’s quite a funny thing – it brings me back to the feeling of being at the pageants in different communities.”
Back when Huculiak was in the second grade, he met his future-(now current)wife as a student of Peachland Elementary School.
Huculiak was also part of the local team with TNI The Network Inc. Also, he spent years recording music and touring North America and Europe as the drummer for We Are The City. Back in 2009, his band came in first for the Peak Performance Project contest, winning themselves $150,000 in professional development.
“The band was going steady for a few years so film took a bit of a backseat during that time.”
Now that film is fully back in focus, Huculiak is hoping I’m Not a Bad Person will be finished early in 2018 and ready for release shortly after.
“We would love for there to be a Peachland screening,” he said. “It would be an awesome way to cap off the whole thing.”