The film’s the thing

[attach]4072[/attach]A young woman sits alone in a field, staring blankly into the vast expanse that surrounds her. Later, the same woman is bound to chair in a dirty basement, eyes wide with fear.

Feeling a tad uneasy?

Good, says film director James Dubbeldam, who wrote and directed the award-winning 2010 film [url=]Fallen Before Falling[/url].

The feeling of impending doom is precisely what the Lawrence Park CI alum was trying to conjure in this psychological drama.

The storyline follows successful actor Anastasia, who rents an abandoned farm to seek solace from her life. Played by Toronto actor Cecile Butt, Anastasia is hoping seclusion will help tackle her untold demons.

As the film unfolds, the viewer is left to question whether the move to rural life is helping or hurting Anastasia’s cause. And, as with many a movie thriller, not all is what it seems.

Shot over seven days on a 40 hectare farm property near Innisfil, the feature-length film has just finished the international film festival circuit.

[attach]4073[/attach]In April, Fallen Before Falling took home the Best Canadian Feature prize at the 2011 Canada International Film Festival.

Adding extra distinction to the accolade was that the film was 30 year old Dubbeldam’s first foray into feature-length filmmaking, though he’s been working behind the lens and with a scriptwriter’s pen since his teen years at Lawrence Park CI.

Back then he was a laidback teen like any other, but Dubbeldam soon discovered he was yearning to carve out his own path. He was just unsure how to do it.

“My entire family is artistic, and I had no creative outlet whatsoever,” he says over coffee at Yonge and St. Clair, metres from where he once toiled as a record store hack.

Like other bored and unengaged high schoolers, Dubbeldam enrolled in a hands-on screen arts class, thinking it would be an easy way to score a good grade.

Something clicked.

“As soon as picked up the camera, I knew that was my creative outlet,” he recalls. “I remember the moment, I picked it up and I was like, this it — this is what I’ve been looking for to express myself.”

Dubbeldam immersed himself in the artistic process, creating video shorts during his final years at Lawrence Park. He helped with the school’s video yearbook, long before the age of iMovie and Final Cut Pro.

“That was back in the days when we did linear editing, like a VHS-to-VHS kind of thing,” he recalls. “No computers involved.”

Naturally, by the time post-secondary schooling queries came flashing on to the screen, Dubbeldam was toying with the idea of film school. Instead, he took some time off, and eventually enrolled in Ryerson University’s business management program. Leaving that program sans degree, Dubbeldam says he was continually drawn to film projects.

“I was waiting until the point where I felt like I was just ready to run with it,” he says. “And I knew there’d be a certain point where I’d let nothing get in my way and I would sacrifice anything to make it happen.”

By the time Dubbeldam reached his mid-20s, he was ready to do just that. In 2006, he quit his job at a travel agency to focus on scriptwriting.

Unfortunately, in transforming words to moving image, he had to utilize whatever business acumen he had acquired at school to get these projects off the ground.

Dubbeldam admits he chose Fallen Before Falling as his first feature because it could be produced under tight budget constraints.

It’s a familiar frustration for artists in Toronto, he says.

“It’s not really a culture where people know much about independent film and emerging artists,” he says of Canada’s film landscape. “And that’s a shame, because you have to start somewhere and most people say, ‘Well, I’m going to end up in Hollywood, that’s where I need to be, there’s nothing here.’”

The fallout from that, Dubbeldam says, is Canada’s absence from the mainstream cinematic scene.

“If you ask your ordinary person (to) name five Canadian films, they’ll struggle at two.”

Though Fallen Before Falling wasn’t his first choice, Dubbeldam says he’s proud of the result. After all, the film explores society’s complex struggle with, and understanding of, mental illness — a topic Dubbeldam was itching to tackle.

“I wanted to challenge myself, and just basically get into the mind of somebody with some problems.”

Moviegoers are intrigued by society’s dark underbelly, he says.

“I like characters that are happy and where everything’s going great for them, but every one of those characters in real life will have a secret or will have things from their past,” he says. “No one’s really that one-dimensional.”

Now with an award-winning feature under his belt, Dubbeldam is not resting on his laurels. He is working on new scripts, but his passion for the indie filmmaking scene is evident in his newest venture: creating a film festival.

Focusing on his company, Film Addict Productions, Dubbeldam is also working to establish the Toronto International Film and Video Awards. A joint venture with business partner Jeff Applewhite, the festival and award are meant to showcase the work of filmmakers who don’t have other means of promotion.

“We really wanted to start something that worked a little bit different and ultimately offered more to artists to get recognition for their work,” he said, adding their website will be a place artists can upload trailers for submitted works.

It’s a tall order, given the generous number of special interest festivals out there these days.

But Dubbeldam, once again, has his eye on the prize.

“Ultimately, we want to create a community.”