Canada First! Crackie

We all can recognize the Newfoundland dog. A hirsute, enormous beast, webbing between its pads and gentle in temperament. If you're not from the province, you may not know about the crackie, however.

‘Small, simple story’ bowed at Karlovy

• Writer/director: Sherry White
• Producers: Sherry White, Jennice Ripley, Rhonda Buckley
• Production companies: Kickham East Productions, Streely Maid Films
• Key cast: Meghan Greeley, Joel Thomas Hynes, Mary Walsh
• Distributor: None
• International sales: None
• Budget: $750,000

We all can recognize the Newfoundland dog. A hirsute, enormous beast, webbing between its pads and gentle in temperament. If you’re not from the province, you may not know about the crackie, however.

‘It’s Newfoundland slang for a mutt,’ says Sherry White. ‘A particular kind of mutt – short-eared, short-legged, stubby-bodied, not-so-cute dog. Maybe like a Jack Russell terrier, but not even; a yappy dog.’

White is a first-time feature filmmaker whose Crackie is set in her home province of Newfoundland, in a community ‘around the bay,’ one of the small towns that follow the coast of the island. The story of a teenager’s coming-of-age and the emotional struggles between her, her mother and her grandmother in this blue-collar environment are at the heart of the movie.

‘Basically, it’s a story of three generations,’ White explains on the phone from Toronto where she’s a writer on the Global/ABC series Copper. ‘It’s a really small, simple story. I think it’s very emotional. I’m very proud of it.’

White grew up in Stephenville, on the west coast of Newfoundland, and attended Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, NL. Her ambitions in theater and film took her to St. John’s where she wrote and directed short films, and penned and starred in Anita McGee’s feature The Bread Maker (TIFF03). She collaborated with author and performer Joel Thomas Hynes on the CBC series Hatching, Matching and Dispatching. They also adapted his critically acclaimed book Down to the Dirt into a play and a feature film, with Hynes himself playing the lead. They also have a son together, and though they are no longer romantically involved, they remain good friends. ‘He has a true, rare voice,’ says White. She’s also written and performed on the CBC series MVP and penned an episode of Sophie.

Somewhere in the midst of all this work, White wrote Crackie whenever she could find the time. ‘I started writing that – I remember I was doing a Canada Council application, nine-and-a-half-months pregnant and overdue – in 2001,’ she says.

The story, which won the Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize in 2004, follows 17-year-old Misty (Meghan Greeley), who has been raised by her tough, cantankerous grandmother, Bride (Mary Walsh). Misty plans to go to school to become a hairstylist, while secretly hoping to live with her estranged mother Gwenny (Cheryl Wells) in Alberta. It’s her ‘kind-of-love-interest’ Duffy (Hynes) who gives her a dog to look after.

‘The fundamental seed was the relationship between a young woman and a dog, and she hopes it will cure her loneliness,’ says White. ‘It’s about looking for that connection that we have with our mothers early – that need to feel a connection, a pulling, yearning thing.’

White has many kind things to say about her cast. She describes Walsh’s part as ‘a very tough complex character. She does a great job.’ Twenty-year-old Greeley, who White discovered out of the same program she herself attended at Grenfell College, is in her first film role. ‘She needed to be completely watchable because she carries the whole film. She is so good. I completely lucked out, she was a gift.’

The film was shot in Conception Bay South in October and November of 2008. Producer Jennice Ripley took a print to Cannes this year.

‘I attended the Perspective Canada Marché du Film screenings and held meetings with sales agents, distributors and festival programmers,’ says Ripley. ‘The response has been fantastic – great critical feedback and numerous invitations to European festivals. I’m in the process of following up on all of it now.’

Crackie had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic in early July.

White remarks that Crackie was compared to the films of Ken Loach at Karlovy Vary, which she takes as a huge compliment to her work.

‘[Loach is] just so great,’ says White. ‘He does working-class films, and that authenticity is what I really aspire to. I feel like we’re a middle-class industry, because most of us that are in it are in the middle class. In Europe, especially in the U.K., there’s much more of a working-class voice in the world, so they get it right so much more. It’s just so beautiful and moving. It’s a voice to people who have no voice.’