Birchwolfe’s under-the-radar VIFF debut

The Toronto-based prodco raised funds for VIFF world premiere Flowers of the Field outside of the usual funding avenues and now are looking for partners to grow the company.

A fledging production company made its official Canadian debut at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) this year with the world premiere of its first feature Flowers of the Field (pictured), written and directed by Andrew Stanley.

Birchwolfe Productions was founded in Toronto by seasoned assistant directors Sarah Buell and William Roberts in 2017. Buell has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, beginning with Emily of New Moon in the late 1990s, while Roberts had his start roughly five years ago on projects such as the Poltergeist remake and Hemlock Grove.

The two met while working as ADs in Toronto on series such as Saving Hope, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Girlfriend Experience, and saw an opportunity to work together to jump into the producing side of things. They cut their teeth on the short film Willa, which Roberts participated in as first AD and associate producer, before jumping into their first feature.

It was The Girlfriend Experience creator and executive producer Lodge Kerrigan that brought Flowers of the Field to the new prodco, Buell told Playback Daily. Written and directed by Stanley, Lodge’s assistant and The Girlfriend Experience associate producer, the film tells the story of a man who goes to a reparative retreat while in crisis over his sexuality.

With Kerrigan on board as an executive producer, Buell and Roberts were able to finance Flowers of the Field through third-party investors. They shot the film in Ontario with a budget of less than $150,000, which mostly went to the cast members, while the locations were secured with minimal cost through the help of friends and family. The film’s cinematographer Jeremy Cox, who’s well-known in his Vancouver film community, got the film on the radar of Curtis Woloschuk, associate director of programming at VIFF, and the rest is history.

“We made Flowers completely outside of the traditional funding model,” says Buell. “By doing that we were able to shoot it when our actors were available, but then no one in Canada knows that you’ve even made a movie because most people go through the funding options like Telefilm.”

While it made for an under-the-radar surprise launch at VIFF, Buell says, the company is now looking to raise its profile in Canada to secure distribution for Flowers of the Field and find partners to support its growing development slate.

The slate includes a rock documentary about the B-Girls, an all-female punk rock band from Toronto that formed in the 1970s, and the feature Nothing Sacred, about a young Indigenous girl in the early 1900s who is stolen from her family and taken to a residential school. Buell optioned the Nothing Sacred script from writer Jessie Raye, who is of Mushkegowuk descent and works in the costume department in Toronto for series such as Titans, The Boys and Dark Matter. Birchwolfe is currently looking for an Indigenous producing partner to move the project forward.

Projects such as Nothing Sacred are part of Birchwolfe’s strategy as a prodco to tap into the creative resources found in the below-the-line talent in Canada.

“When you work in the film industry in Canada for 20 years, you get to know a lot of the crew and the talent,” says Buell. “Everyone gets into film to make movies; no one thinks they’re going to grow up to be an AD or a props master. We feel like we have this whole untapped market of people who work in film.”