BITS 2014

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Black Mountain Side DVD Release and Interview with Michael Dickson

Published January 25, 2016 by rmpixie

BMSnew

Black Mountain Side (2014)

One of my favourite film events in Toronto is the Blood in the Snow Film Festival, where you’ll get to see some of the most unique, intriguing and exclusively Canadian horror films around.  One such film, Black Mountain Side, has resonated with me since I first laid eyes on it at the 2014 BITS Fest.  The tale centers around a team of field researchers who find a mysterious artifact on a remote mountain.  They are soon affected by an unknown force and slowly succumb to an insidious madness.  Directed by Nick Szostakiwskyj, this psychological horror is an homage to The Thing and The Shining.  Although it definitely conjures up memories of the horror classics, the film approaches mistrust and madness as an unexpected creature feature with fantastic production value and camera work.

I’ve been wanting to add this film to my collection as soon as I saw it, and my horror prayers have been answered.  This festival favourite is coming out on DVD January 26, a most fitting release date for a horror shot in the dead of winter amidst all this snowbound craziness, don’t you think?  I got the happy news from my Twitter friend, Michael Dickson, who played Piers Olsen, the professor sent to verify the artifact and ends up in a snowy Hell on Earth in the film.

Originally from Manitoba and now based in Vancouver, Michael has been going strong on the Canadian acting scene from a young age with a long list of theatre, TV and films on his resume, like TV series Northwood and Neon Rider.  Along with acting, he is a singer/songwriter with 2 albums under his belt, and has also begun producing for both film and music.  I got a chance to ask the busy actor a few questions about his experience on the set of this Canadian indie gem.

MichaelDickson

Michael Dickson

I’m excited that more people will experience this film now that it’s available on DVD.  Despite the obvious influences, what do you think makes the story unique?

When people see the film there are always, understandably, comparisons made to the original The Thing and The Shining but I think that there are plenty of differences that set the film apart and make it more of an homage than anything.

I think the introduction of “the creature” combined with the archaeological and mythological aspects, make it quite unique. A lot of work went into keeping the story fact based and I know they were consulting with an archaeologist on a regular basis through the writing process for just that reason.

Another thing that I think sets it apart is the style. There is no soundtrack, the takes are all quite long and the cinematography is widely framed and beautiful-shout out to Cameron Tremblay, the D.O.P. [director of photography] on that one. Nick [Szostakiwskyj] and Cameron had a very specific vision for how they wanted the film to look and feel, and I think they pulled it off wonderfully.

I also like that the special effects are all practical, not CGI. When I first read the script I assumed that there would be a lot of CGI involved [because] it has just become so common these days. When I learned that there would be none I was nervous initially, but dealing with the practical effects added certain challenges that I quite enjoyed.

 

I felt your character, Professor Piers Olsen, was the sole anchor as everyone around him descended into madness.  How did you prepare for the role?

Initially, it was some research into archaeology and Mesoamerican history and mythology. Before we began filming, I met with Nick a couple of times to discuss the character and kind of, flesh him out.

Except for 5 days of filming in studio. the entire film was shot on location and everyone lived and worked on site. That allowed ample opportunity to prepare for scenes and rehearse them with the other actors. Before shooting certain scenes Nick would often pull the actor aside, talk through the scene with them and help them get in the right head-space. As an actor, it’s great having that opportunity and a director who spends that kind of time with you. I’m still amazed when I think that Nick was only 21 when he directed Black Mountain Side.

Dickson as Olsen in Black Mountain Side

Dickson as Olsen in Black Mountain Side

We learned at the BITS fest that this film came from a nightmare director Nick Szostakiwskyj had.  How was it for the cast to bring this to life for him?  Were there any scary moments that were too close to home for him, or yourself?

I got the feeling that by the time it went to film, Nick had spent so much time with the writing, rewriting and pre-production that he had a good perspective on it all so I’m not sure he had any of those moments.

The actors put a lot of faith in Nick and his vision for the film and he, in turn, put a lot of trust in the actors. Bringing the story to life was really rewarding and A LOT of fun.

For me, the scary moments were in the actual filming of some of the scenes. As I mentioned, the special effects were not CGI and there was not much room for error in some areas [like] the ARM [sic] scene in the doctor’s office, for example. In these situations it was more just being afraid you would screw up. In the end it just added to the adventure. [The arm scene in question involved only one shot for the use of a prosthetic arm and an axe.  Luckily, they got it!]

 

Since you were so isolated, and things get really intense in the film, I imagine you formed a brotherhood with your co-stars.  How did that affect your performances and were there any cabin fever hi-jinks that occurred?

There are some very intense scenes and there were times when the actors had to go to a rather “dark” place. For those scenes we would prepare and then just… give each other space. Afterward, yeah, we would definitely need to decompress. We spent many hours in the evenings drinking beer, playing cards and having a lot of laughs.

It was nice that everyone got along really well; cast and crew both. Many of us still keep in touch now. That whole atmosphere sort of carried over onto the festival circuit.

Of course, two weeks in a cabin with the same people, there was a certain amount of cabin fever but we just…channeled that into our scenes ;).

The cast one snowflake away from a real bad scene.

The cast, one snowflake away from a real bad scene.

Were the conditions as bad as they looked?

Well…truth be known, it was not as cold as we made it out to be. The temperatures were actually unseasonably warm. We were fortunate that the temperature would drop at night and we would usually have a fresh snowfall by morning.

Of course, dealing with the snow and being in such a remote location did have some challenges. The location was near a town called Lumby [in British Columbia, Canada]. It was up a very remote valley and you would have to drive half an hour out just to get cell reception. Navigating the terrain was an ongoing challenge for everyone but definitely made more work for the crew. They would have to get the equipment up and down the hills through some pretty deep snow. Everyone pitched in where they could but the crew were great.

 

What struck me the most about the film was the quiet of the landscape and lack of a soundtrack.  It made things so much more frightening because it felt like you were there in the action instead of an observer.  What was your first impression when you watched the film?

Well, I know when I heard that there was not going to be any music my reaction was…”Huh?” I know how much the soundtrack can set the mood of a scene and work to build tension, so I thought the choice to not have ANY was…well…bold, to say the least.

Having now seen the film, I can say that it works really, really well.  Adam Pisani, who did sound, managed to capture the sounds of the elements [like] the wind in the trees, footsteps through the snow etc. really well and I think that does engage the viewer more. That, combined with the beautiful, wide framed shots and the long takes, works to draw the viewer in and hold them within the scene.

 

What have you been up to since Black Mountain Side?

This summer I worked on a film called “The Surveyor” directed by Kristian Messere. It’s a gritty film about a guy trying to do the right thing and seeing it all go wrong. I play Walter, a bar owner who becomes something of a mentor on the main character’s path to revenge. That film is just going into post production and I will let you know more when I have more info.

Another film I am involved with is called Surftopia (working title). It might be more in line with your readers’ tastes. It is the story of an isolated surfing commune and has elements of immortality, cannibalism and psychological horror. A cool concept and should be a lot of fun to shoot. It’s currently in pre-production and I expect it will start filming early spring.

 

Do you have a favourite horror movie?

In recent years I’d kind of gotten away from horror movies. Truth be known I’m just kind of a pussy and the really spooky ones keep me up at night and the slasher ones make me queasy. That being said, the whole experience with Black Mountain Side has really brought me around. Doing the film festival circuit and meeting both the film makers and the fans has given me a whole new appreciation for the genre. I actually want to do more horrors/thrillers because of it. I’ve started watching them more, too…averting me eyes as necessary.

As for a favourite, I’d probably go back to the classics like Psycho or the Godzillas [sic films]. I know The Omen scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Oh and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark [the original 1973 made for TV movie].  My sister and I watched it as kids and we talk about it now and it still gives us the creeps.

 

A big thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer some questions.  I’m looking forward to checking out his upcoming projects, and you can find Black Mountain Side on Amazon here, or buy the movie on ITunes here!

You can follow Michael on twitter @1MichaelDickson and check out his IMDb page.

Follow Black Mountain Side on Twitter @BMSFilm ;

and on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/BlackMountainSideTheMovie

Black Mountain Side on IMDb

 

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Black Mountain Side BITS 2014

Published December 4, 2014 by rmpixie

black mountain side

Black Mountain Side (1 hr 39 mins)

The unknown and isolation takes center stage in Black Mountain Side, the closing film for The Blood In The Snow Festival.  A team of field researchers are on the site of a breakthrough and mysterious archeological find that has the potential to turn history on its ear.  When a professor joins them to figure out the where and why of the ancient structure they are excavating, the mystery gets even more confusing as the men start to become increasingly ill and mentally unstable.  In the ensuing days, the team unravels and their isolation feeds an unknown terrifying menace that blurs the lines of reality.

I have to say this was my favourite film of the festival.  While it was a definite nod to horror films centered around isolated locations like The Thing, The Shining and even perhaps Alien, it had its own unique feel, most notably the lack of a soundtrack or scoring.  The opening scene of breathtaking beauty in the snow-covered wilderness was ominous enough, without any musical interpretation.  Cutting from interior, dialogued scenes to the silent, frozen exteriors subtly built tension as we watched the countdown to the characters’ descent into madness and murder.  The story also had a bizarre twist that defies any creature feature out there and will definitely stay with you long after the movie ends.

The cast really blew me away with their realistic portrayal of men losing touch with reality.  They were rough around the edges which added to their growing paranoia as nips grew to throat-crushing bites within their almost feral pack.  Most notable were Carl Toftfelt as Francis who gave me goose bumps as he struggled to keep sane, Michael Dickson as Professor Peter Olsen who was the only tether to reason and logic, and Marc Anthony Williams’ wild west demeanour that would culminate in one incredible continuously shot sequence.

In attendance at the screening was executive producer Samantha McDonald, and Michael Dickson.  McDonald told the audience that the inspiration for the film came from a nightmare writer and director Nick Szostakiwskyj had, and he was also influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter’s The Thing.  They filmed in Lumby, British Columbia and the 35 cast and crew members actually lived in the cabins seen in the film.  She also revealed that the lack of music in the film was deliberate since they wanted the audience to be in the action with the characters.  Szostakiwskyj also wrote with real research in mind.  He wanted the science to be accurate and the mythology behind the film believable.  Dickson recounted tense moments with one time use prosthetics and a real axe (eek!), but it all came together in the end.

Black Mountain Side, winner of a Best Cinematography Bloodies Award at the festival, offers a clean and beautiful low-budget thriller/horror that takes you to weird world of myth and madness you won’t soon forget.

Ejecta BITS 2014

Published December 3, 2014 by rmpixie

Ejecta

Ejecta (2014, 1 hr 27 mins)

I would love to get inside writer Tony Burgess’s head.  I am sure it is a place of wonder and intrigue, a place where festival hits Pontypool and Hellmouth were born.  His latest brainchild, BITS Fest selection Ejecta, tackles some pretty mean aliens.

William Cassidy is a tormented man.  After being abducted, or as he put it “meeting” with “an advance life form”, he has been under their watch and control for 39 years.  His reports and theories on his alien captors have made him something of a mysterious legend online under the name Spider Nevi, and when he contacts an eager filmmaker Joe (Adam Seybold) to finally tell his story, things hit the fan as an anticipated solar event serves as a backdrop to an insane alien cat and mouse chase and interrogation by a secret military operation.

This is definitely more mainstream for Burgess, and refreshing.   I could see the Burgess substance as William waxed poetically about his alien experiences, but there was an overall popcorn movie feel that I enjoyed.  Directing team Chad Archibald and Matt Wiele (winners of a Best Director Bloodies award at the fest) created a found footage/real-time combo that didn’t confuse the story.  There was a fair amount of terror in this sci-fi gem, and the aliens were filmed in true found footage style, with glimpses of their angry, saw-toothed faces and low lit alien autopsy-like shots.  Plenty of frantic shaky camera chases kept a frenzied pace, but it was a step above many found footage films with some great performances.

Julian Richings, who is literally everywhere from the Canadian sci-fi classic Cube to the super popular Orphan Black and a Bloodies Best Actor winner, delivered as the tortured William.  His expressive, angular face captivated like no other, and Lisa Houle as the intense Dr. Tobin was equally engaging with her steely and villainous resolve to find the aliens by any means necessary; and Adam Seybold was believable as the eager Joe, who exuded a certain innocence that would be lost as the aliens took charge.  Also look for another cameo by director Bruce McDonald that provides some nutty comic relief with a touch of menace.

Burgess, Wiele, Richings and Houle were all in attendance to give us more insider tidbits that I love to hear about!  Ejecta was shot the same time as Hellmouth and Septic Man 2 years ago.  When the directors saw what they had, they decided it wasn’t what they wanted, with Wiele calling the found footage genre the “bastard child of horror” and basically shot another movie.  The incorporation of the 2 films was actually pretty seamless, making a better overall presentation.  When Burgess was asked if he thought about the genre of film while he wrote, he revealed that he didn’t and the story just comes regardless of the genre.  What is consistent with him is a guaranteed surreal world that has been respected by his directors.

I have seen enough films with the common denominator of Tony Burgess to know that I am rarely disappointed, and Ejecta is no exception.  If you want some mystery and mean, determined aliens, check it out!

(As an aside, I had a cool experience that night.  As you all know, I love Stephen McHattie, Canadian actor extraordinaire.  He showed up to the Ejecta screening to support his friends, and I got a chance to say hello.  There is always a fear that someone you hold in high regard will disappoint you, but he was so nice!  We shook hands, had a laugh and I gave him my card so he could read my “love letter” to him.  One thing off of my bucket list!)

 

Berkshire County BITS 2014

Published December 3, 2014 by rmpixie

Berkshire County

Berkshire County (2014, 1 hr 23 mins)

I’m back for another helping of Canuck horror at the 3rd annual Blood In The Snow Film Festival, where a select number of Canadian-made horror is showcased over 3 days with many of the directors and actors in attendance.  It’s a smaller, more intimate festival, held at the Carlton Cinemas in Toronto, where fans and film cast and crew can literally rub shoulders at the theatre and after-parties all weekend.

The opening night film was Berkshire County.  In the tradition of classic slasher and intruder films, this flick melds the two for a large helping of suspenseful, action-packed horror.

The victim of a cruel video prank that quickly spreads through her high school, Kylie (Alysa King) is having a rough time of it.  She unable to deal with the shame and ridicule of the aftermath, and feels outcast and hopeless.  Taking on a babysitting gig in a remote country home on Halloween night, she tries to escape the memory of the mean stunt, but when 3 pig-masked intruders darken their doorstep, Kylie is in for a night of terror that will test her will to survive.

Berkshire County‘s director Audrey Cummings’ first feature-length film was an overall success.  The components for a typical horror film-teens, sex, jump scares and knife-wielding bad guys-were elevated to create tension, great plot twists and action that culminated with car-crash velocity, leaving plenty of room for a sequel with an over-the-top ending.

Alysa King’s terror-stricken performance was a great rollercoaster ride that took you from despair to determination, and Madison Ferguson as Phoebe along with Christophe Galland who played her brother Sam, did a stellar job as the scared charges under Kylie’s care.  At the Q & A after the film, King said it was a great honour to play such a strong female role, and beating out 200 other girls for the part, as well as winning a “Bloodie”award for best actress at this festival, she really gave it her all.  Also look out for Samora Smallwood, who played Roberta.  Without giving away any spoilers, she will knock your socks off, and I hope to see both her and King in more films soon!  And the bad guys?  The stuff of legend.  The pig-faced slashers were methodical, creepy and pretty bad ass!  From their pork truck of terror to their underaged minion, they will surely haunt your nightmares for years to come.  Definitely goes into my book of iconic villains.

We also learned some inside info about the shoot and what inspired the film at the Q & A.  Writer Chris Gamble pulled from true life events when he was a babysitter.  Breaking his glasses that basically left him blind one night on the job, he was terrified by some strange knocking on the door, which was later found out to be a prank.  Cummings and Gamble funded the film with their own money, but they had fantastic news of Canadian distribution with A71 Entertainment, International with Ravens Banner, and a soon to be announced U.S. distributor.  The cast and crew all felt the set of the isolated house was super creepy, and I have to agree.  It was particularly hideous, and appeared to have endless rooms similar to the Winchester Mystery House in California.  Cummings had a lot of issues with the use of the location, including foreclosure and some miscommunication with the owner which lead to a couple of script rewrites for the 22 day shoot, but it obviously worked out to bring us a great horror film.

I had to ask about the masks.  When you see them, I think you will agree that they are incredibly horrific.  They were created at The Butcher Shop, a Hamilton, Ontario based makeup effects studio.  All the cast agreed that the shop itself was something out of a horror movie due to its creepy basement location, so it set the scene for what they were about to be a part of!  Carlos Henriques, owner of the studio and special effects artist on the shoot, created the masks to Cummings’ specifications, and even went so far as to use a real severed pig’s head as inspiration for one of the masks.

Berkshire County has won the grand jury prize for Best Feature at Shriekfest in L.A., and has since won awards all over at many festivals.  Do yourself a favour and see why because it really is the whole horror package and one of my top picks for the BITS Fest!

 

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