Exploring the darker side of Halifax in Melski’s Charlie Zone

The Cape Breton director's latest feature showcases an often unseen face of Nova Scotia's capital city.
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Bringing out the dark side of Halifax was one of director Michael Melski’s goals during the  shooting of his latest film, Charlie Zone.

The city according to Melski, is closer to being the Baltimore of Canada, than the picturesque postcard city it’s often represented as.

“It’s not something that’s really been shown on film before,” the Nova Scotia native  tells Playback. “We have this reputation of being a quaint sea-side city that is most famous for the explosion 100 years ago. What people don’t know in the larger sphere of Canada is that we’ve had an explosion of crime, gun violence, homicide, drug use and addiction that has changed the whole dynamic and feel of Halifax.”

Indeed, according to Stats Canada, Halifax is the city with the second highest homicide rates per capita, a rate that has been on a steady incline since 2008. The director and writer decided this would be the right backdrop to tell his story.

Charlie Zone is the story of former boxer Avery Paul (Glen Gould) dealing with the worst the most dangerous part of the city can throw at him as he attempts to rescue runaway Jan (Amanda Crew).

Casting First Nations actor Glen Gould  was important for Melski, who hoped to represent the city’s often-ignored multiculturalism.

“I really want the characters to reflect that ethnicity in the city that hasn’t been depicted before,” Melski admits. “The characters show the cultural mosaic of the city.”

The film, which had been in development with Telefilm since 2009, managed to pique the interest of the American company Myriad Pictures and Canada’s Pacific Northwest Pictures. It was Pacific Northwest’s suggestion to bring in Amanda Crew for the role of the runaway junkie.

“We tracked down Amanda and she read the script and really liked it,” recalls Melski. “After that, we had all our pieces in place and it was full speed ahead.”

While the material was dark and heavy, the Cape Breton director explained that there was never apprehension from the funders regarding any negative connotations about Halifax.

“Overall, the funders have told me that they are extremely pleased with their investment and that’s really gratifying,” Melski said, before adding jokingly, “It means I might get to make another one.”

Charlie Zone has already been sold to Super Channel in Canada and according to director Melski, has several other distribution deals underway with broadcasters that will guarantee “as many people in the world to see it as possible.”

The director, whose previous work includes Growing Op–a light hearted comedy of a teenage boy coming of age in a suburban marijuana growing operation– admits that often his stories are unconventional.

“They are both connected by the theme of personal redemption and finding yourself by facing the worst of what the world can throw at you. I’m drawn to that theme. It’s a pretty classical theme but I’m very interested in how do you update themes for the new world.”

It was the exploration of that theme that Melski says drove the entire crew to withstand an extremely cold March and April film shoot to bring the film to life.

“The crew was so generous. They believed in the script, they believed in the story we were telling,” the director recalls. “They were happy that we were showing a story about a hidden Halifax and just as pleased that we were showing the possibility of hope. That there was still goodness.”

As for what’s next? Microfilms, TV comedies, feature thrillers, plays. All of it. Melski is nothing if not a busy man.