Outlaw filmmaking at its best

Visions: The Tracey Fragments Director: Bruce Mcdonald Writer: Maureen Medved Producer: Sarah Timmins Cast: Ellen Page, Ari Cohen, Max McCabe Lokos, Erin McMurtry, ...

Visions: The Tracey Fragments
Director: Bruce Mcdonald
Writer: Maureen Medved
Producer: Sarah Timmins
Cast: Ellen Page, Ari Cohen, Max McCabe Lokos, Erin McMurtry, Slim Twig, Julian Richings
Distributor: Odeon Films

The Tracey Fragments is an extraordinary film, partly experimental and wholly dramatic.

The brilliant young actress Ellen Page delivers a stunning performance as Tracey Berkowitz, a nerdy teenager who despises her parents and everyone in high school except for a sullen, handsome boy in her class. Tracey’s life falls apart one day when her little brother, who always follows her around like a dog, goes missing, forcing his frantic big sister to search the city for him.

If the plot sounds compelling but hardly avant-garde, gear up for a surprise. The images in The Tracey Fragments are shown in rapidly shifting boxes, which bisect, trisect and occasionally draw and quarter the screen. As Tracey’s adolescent life is segmented into fragments of experience, so is the film. Edited by virtuoso Jeremy Munce, with a soundtrack by Canadian indie icons Broken Social Scene, The Tracey Fragments is outlaw filmmaking at its best. It won the Manfred Salzgeber Award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

The director of The Tracey Fragments is also one of the legends of Toronto festival folklore. After McDonald blasted onto the festival circuit in 1989 with Roadkill – and won the award for outstanding Canadian film at the Toronto Festival of Festivals – he earned his place in IMDb online history ‘by announcing that he would spend [his] $25,000 prize on a ‘big chunk of hash’.’

Along with his buddy Don McKellar, McDonald made that rock ‘n’ roll road movie, as well as the acclaimed Highway 61 (1992). In the same genre is perhaps the director’s most revered film, 1996′s Hard Core Logo.

‘It was like pulling a bank job,’ recalls McDonald, at a Toronto restaurant, of directing those films. ‘You’re not exactly sure how you’re going to spend the money, but the thrill of timing it, going in, figuring it out, getting away – you’re never sure if you’re going to retire to Rio or buy a whole lot of coke – you just know you need the rush.’

By the mid-’90s, McDonald was searching for an audience with one of his mentors, Norman Jewison.

‘Norman was the executive producer of Dance Me Outside (1994), so we had to ‘sell it in America!’ He took us to Washington, to New York to show the Weinsteins. Suddenly there was another world of publicists and distributors and big business.’

Though the film wasn’t an international hit, it did launch McDonald into the TV drama world through the spin-off show The Rez (1995).

McDonald the maverick became a TV director for hire, working on shows like Lexx, Lonesome Dove and Emily of New Moon. Five years later, when McDonald had the opportunity to make a $10-million film for Robert Lantos, he went for it.

‘In Picture Claire (2001), everybody had the best intentions,’ recalls McDonald. ‘We became working men in a factory, good citizens, and forgot to embrace the brattiness of how we got to where we were.’

The film, starring Juliette Lewis and Gina Gershon, was never released after being savaged by critics at TIFF, and McDonald retreated to TV.

Now, with Tracey Fragments, the man with the cowboy hat and the sly smile has got his mojo back. ‘It was fearless filmmaking,’ he says of the new film.

Referring to his Ryerson University film professor (a Governor General’s Award-winning experimental filmmaker), McDonald summarizes Tracey Fragments with a grin: ‘If Bruce Elder and Norman Jewison made a film, this would be their love child.’

The boy is back in town.