Vic Sarin and A Shine of Rainbows
It's a bright sunny day and I'm sitting in a lounge overlooking beautiful Vancouver, talking with Canadian director Vic Sarin about his latest film, A Shine of Rainbows.
WD: Could you please tell us a little about yourself as a filmmaker.
VS: I feel a little shy about talking about myself.
I started out quite early in life into films. I think sixteen, seventeen. All I wanted was to make films.
I was born in Kashmir but my father was a diplomat and he got a posting to go to Australia so I went with him. One of the biggest things for me was to play cricket because they were the number one country in the world at that time. I loved playing cricket but soon after, the passion for movies took over.
My father was a film manager and used to run a movie theatre so I used to watch films all the time. Then I just wanted to make films.
My father was instrumental in getting me a camera and everything else. At the age of seventeen I started to make films. I had no training. I just went and started shooting.
In those days it was very hard for people to get into the film business because there were no schools. There was nothing. You just had to apprentice: polish somebody's shoes, make coffee, before they'd let you learn. I bypassed all that and just started making my own films. That was the beginning.
Television was just coming in and it was very hard to get in to. You needed a degree and I never finished university, just the second year. I was just so eager to go and make movies.
So I took the camera, because to me the visual end of filmmaking is very important. You tell your story through pictures. That to me is the left hand. The right hand, of course, is writing and the brain is probably the actors so you've got three, four elements that you need to make movies. I happened to take this element in my hand to make films.
So I came from that end which is not as traditional, not as common. It was the best route for me in those days.
WD: What's your favourite role in the filmmaking process?
VS: People try to peg you but I'm not sure that's necessary. I just want to make films. If it's a story you really want to tell, what are you going to do? Make coffee on set, take a camera, write, direct, whatever, it's all part of making films. In the end, I think you need three things to tell a story.
To have control and very clear thinking, is to have a strong knowledge of the camera and your pen. Those two elements. Then of course you bring in other people to help you out like actors and crew.
I think now I'm at a stage where I think I want to say something. There are a few things I want to tell, the way I want to tell, so I feel I need much more strength in writing more so than anything else. I've done camera all my life so it's second nature to me. Writing is the skill I need to pay more attention to, to tell a good story.
WD: How have your film choices evolved over the years?
SV: I like different genres. I don't like to do the same thing over and over again. I've done thrillers, I've done family films, Partition which is an historical epic. Every film is different and I know that some people might think it's not the best way to go but I like it a lot because I think what makes life rich is the experience of life. It's not the money, it's not the fame, it's the experience of life. And how you get those experiences is by doing different things all the time.
I am so fortunate that I am in a profession that allows me to go into worlds I've never seen before and experience that world and understand that world, at least for a short time. Doing a film like A Shine of Rainbows, I got into Irish culture and Scottish culture, spent five, six months in Ireland, got to know the country, got to know the people, got to know the folklore, and came to have some understanding of the people, what they like, what they don't like. I've enriched myself with that culture now.
Partition was totally different. We were in India with the historical background of India and Pakistan. Before that I did Cold Comfort, a thriller. I mean it was totally bizarre. A setting in the cold climate of Canada so I had to spend a lot of time in that genre understanding what the isolation does.
Every film I think, offers me that window that looks into some place new and interesting and I like that a lot. I think that's what keeps me, at least as a person... I mean I can't wait to open a new window tomorrow.
WD: How did you come to choose this story.
VS: Someone recommended that I read the story. I don't read that much but someone very close to the family said, “Vic, you should take a look at this story. I think you'll like it.” That was almost 20 years ago. So I read the book and the story stayed with me, and that's a good sign. Then one day I said, “you know what, I think it's time to do it.” The timing seemed to work out.
What I liked about the story was that it was very honest. It had a bit of a timeless classic feel to it which I liked. It's not something that's gone and done tomorrow. It'll stay around for a while, this kind of film.
It was the character Maire which drew me into the film more than anything else. Her spirit, the way she looks at the world. She always sees something positive about everything. She sees things we don't normally see with the eyes. She directs us to see, you know what I mean? And how she takes something which is so nothing, and makes something interesting out of it.
I thought that, that creative way of looking at the world in a very positive way was wonderful. She's a wonderful character.
On a personal level I also felt I wanted to celebrate. I was very close to my parents and I always felt that if there is one love that is unconditional, it is the mother's love for the child. I wanted to celebrate that. I couldn't do that while my mother was living. I wish I'd done that while she was around. This was a venue for me to celebrate a bit of that.
WD: I think you've answered my next question. I was going to ask you if this story had a special meaning for you.
VS: Yah, I think it has a special meaning. The culture I grew up in didn't have mother's day and all that stuff so we never really grew up that way. But I always felt I should have done something because my mother was very special, as most mothers are, and this was one way of saying, “I love you mom and you were great.” It came a little late but that's ok.
WD: You tend to gravitate towards films with soul and deep emotional personal journeys. Can you tell us about that?
VS: The best stories you can tell are the ones you have experienced yourself. That's part of the reason I think. And secondly, we all have our likes and dislikes so we do gravitate towards certain things more than others.
I've always felt very much as if this is a journey we're taking. I've been very conscious, all my life, of my own mortality. So I think for the journey that we take, what we do with it is very important.
We're all going to go so that doesn't bother me. But what interests me is the footsteps, what you do with this life, what you leave behind.
Anyone I think, who leaves even a small footstep is worth celebrating, and is worth having on this earth. I think you should treat life as honestly as possible. Not to be shy about whether you live or die. It's all part of life. We shouldn't be afraid of those things. We should be thinking more about what we can do while we're breathing, while we're living, and how we can enhance this life. The little time we spend here, make it interesting, for yourself and others as well.
If you can bring something out of that to make people conscious of it, I think you've done something. I can tell you a million stories because I screen films in different places all the time, and people make comments and people talk to you and it's been a wonderful journey in that sense, people's reactions.
WD: What was the biggest challenge making this film?
VS: For me it was getting good cuisine in Ireland (laughs). Because I don't eat meat and all that, it made it very difficult. But no, I think that was nothing (laughs).
The biggest challenge I think was the child John. He's in almost every scene. He was only allowed seven hours a day on set. You can't make a movie like this. So how do you plan your days. We shot the movie in only 28 days. Really, we shot in 21 days because of the seven hours a day. So that was a challenge.
There were ways I got around that. I shot a lot of stuff on my own. I'd go on my own or take one or two of the guys with me and shoot the sunrise rather than have sixty people waiting for me. All the seal stuff I shot before the main unit came, all the rainbows as well. So a little planning, a little thinking. That was a challenge.
WD: Were there any surprises. Any things that you didn't expect?
VS: Pleasant surprises. I never thought the weather would hold out the way it did, which was totally unheard of over there. The locals told me they hadn't seen weather like that in 85 years. Consistent good weather for two, three weeks straight.
I still can't get over my luck that we got it because you see it's very hard to shoot otherwise. The same scene sometimes takes two, three days to shoot and you can't shoot pieces of the same scene in different light. So that was a huge, huge plus.
I love the Irish people, love the land. I just can't say enough about that. They were all pluses, no minuses at all. Somehow, somebody up there was smiling at us.
You have your own creative tensions like how to make something more interesting or better, and the same old story: time and money, but that's standard. I don't even think of them and just get on with it.
WD: What would you like your audience to take away from this film?
VS: I think again, my very first perception of the film: how you look at life. We all wear different glasses. The world hasn't changed but we look at it differently. And I wish that we all could start to look at the world with not a glass half empty, but with a glass half full feel to it, so we make something interesting each day and look at it in a positive way. If people can take that kind of a feel from this film I think I'll be very satisfied.
And also, love is very important in this life because we all need to touch and be touched. And the basic core at the end of the day is who's hand your holding. That's what matters. We really should pay a little more attention to the people we love and connect with them while we still can.
WD: What's next on the horizon?
VS: I have another film which I want to do in Africa. It's a very interesting story of a Canadian who went to Africa in the 30's. What he did and what he achieved was amazing. The story is like a bio-pic in a sense. I'm really keen to get that off the ground. The first draft is written now. Dennis Foon (A Shine of Rainbows) and I wrote it. So we'll see how people respond to that. If people like it then that'll be the next film.
A Shine of Rainbows, starring Connie Nielsen and Aidan Quinn, opens April 9 at Tinseltown Theatres.