A car accident in the cold winter night leads two strangers, Joanne (Sonja Smits) and Chris (Jonas Bonnetta), to share a road trip the next day. As a snow storm rolls across their route, memories of the past year float through their minds. Processing the loss of his mother, Chris also copes with failing eyesight that could jeopardize his career as a filmmaker. And after losing her husband John (Colin Mochrie) near their cabin, Joanne must come to terms with the rituals of daily life without him. As their drive continues, their drifting memories reveal parallel experiences, helping each of them shift the focus of their destination.
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DIRECTOR’S NOTES: ARTISTIC INSPIRATION
Drifting Snow was inspired by my retreat to a more rural lifestyle, when, after a decade living in Toronto, I moved to a small old farmhouse in Prince Edward County, Ontario. At the time I thought I was just escaping the hustle of the city for more nature and cheaper rent, but after growing up in flat south-western Ontario, this new hilly limestone space became a constant curiosity. I soon found a real home in this place, through a random community of artists, eccentrics, and farmers. Along with my wife Tess, we spent our first few years deep in renovations and exploring the shorelines, trying to maintain a link to film careers based in Toronto. In my seven years here, I’ve learned to keep bees and chickens, directed and edited films from our barn studio, and have consistently been filming details of the landscape. I was compelled to return to subjects like barns on their last legs, shorelines of ice and water converging, and the Glenora ferry and lakeside Loyalist Highway. All those experiences were knitted into the fabric of Drifting Snow.
Visually, I also remember seeing “401 Toward London No. 1,” by Ontario painter Jack Chambers, while living in Toronto, and recognizing myself in its floating depiction of the 401 highway from an overpass. As my time on the road grew, travelling between cities for work, my mind drifted to a film featuring characters in cars, a space that is moving through the landscape. Car conversations sometimes flow like the highway, with thoughts suspended between destinations, and are usually more intimate than other locations. The environment outside the window of these drives was a priority for me to frame, as was the presence of wildlife, echoing early PEC painter Manly Macdonald’s works.
There’s a common yellow road sign along the highway and rural roads in Ontario, cautioning “Winter Hazards; Drifting Snow; Reduced Visibility.” This film is a collection of three short stories inspired by this sign: Winter Hazards is Joanne’s loss of her husband in the landscape; Drifting Snow is Joanne and Chris’ unexpected journey together; and Reduced Visibility reflects Chris’ complications for a clear vision of a personal and professional future. While it spends a lot of time on the road, Drifting Snow is not a traditional road movie. Through the visual style and also a narrative structure that moves from the present to the past, I wanted to explore how information and stories are revealed and related to an audience. I’m trying to experiment with the plot/narrative aspect of my filmmaking from a more impressionistic and visual perspective. I’m inspired in this non-linear approach by Atom Egoyan’s structure of The Sweet Hereafter, some of the magic realism in Reygadas’ Silent Light, and also Pablo Larain’s Jackie. All these films frame both documentary and stylized fragments of the lives of the key characters.
NARRATIVE THEMES and INSPIRATION
Alice Munro’s short stories and Kelly Reichardt’s films (Old Joy, Certain Women) are my narrative inspiration for their depictions of rural and small town stories, with a focus on outsiders, and the open secrets a landscape often holds. I wanted to create a story that primarily took place along both the 401 Expressway, a common throughway for much of the province, but also the old lakeside highways and small towns. Travelling along roads like this, particularly in the depths of a blowing winter storm, are some of my most vivid life memories. I also wanted to reflect contemporary Prince Edward County, a booming rural area that I call home, to explore how the landscape attaches itself to the lives of people, and how they have to learn to embrace its character if they want to make a real home.
Conversations in transit were important to me because so much of life in the country takes place travelling to and from places. I also wanted to film key spaces where I live and travel through regularly - landscapes that I would paint portraits of if I was a painter. Winter has always been my favourite season, and living in PEC, I’ve noticed that there’s a beautiful fragility in the depths of cold in a rural winter. Snow-covered fields and lakes feel like a huge white blanket, but are also a bounce-board that give the light a diffused glow at dusk and dawn. From whiteout conditions to slippery roads and wind howling through old windows, or creaking trees on a ski trail, winter is my favourite subject to film.