Filmed during the pandemic and released to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival (where it’s now screening), Chandler Levack’s directorial debut “I Like Movies” is a hilarious, surprisingly dark and uncompromisingly Canadian coming-of-age tale about a teenage cinephile living in Burlington.
The film centres on angsty, Kubrick-loving Lawrence Kweller (Isaiah Lehtinen) who works at a video store while trying to survive Grade 12 and get into film school. The movie is set in the early 2000s, but its underlying theme about the difficulty of making connections will likely resonate with today’s social media-obsessed audiences, even if they don’t have formative memories of perusing DVD racks at fluorescent-lit video stores.
Levack, a longtime film critic, has been behind the camera before. She directed two Juno-nominated music videos for Toronto punk band PUP, and her short film “We Forgot to Break Up” screened at TIFF in 2017. She started writing “I Like Movies” in 2018 and wrote “about 40 drafts” of the script before filming started in March 2021. I sat down with Levack to discuss breaking into the Canadian film scene, the influence of Greta Gerwig and the challenge of finding a PT Cruiser during COVID.
What was it like filming your first movie during COVID?
We had to follow very strict rules, but the process was very fun. We were excited about the challenge of sourcing everything: it was really hard to find a PT Cruiser on Craigslist in the middle of the pandemic! We constructed the video store “Sequels” completely from scratch in an empty thrift store in Ajax. I had found this abandoned Blockbuster in Owen Sound that has been sitting vacant for 10 years — there are petitions online trying to turn it into a national heritage site. I tracked down the property manager and he agreed to meet me there and, when we entered, everything was completely untouched: the shelving, computers, DVDs. We made a handshake deal with him on a street corner at night: I gave him an envelope full of cash and he gave me the keys to the Blockbuster. I went there with my truck and my production designer, and we just took everything.
“I Like Movies” joins a celebrated canon of coming-of-age movies. Which films were you inspired by?
A kind of holy trifecta: “Rushmore” (1998) by Wes Anderson, “Ghost World” (2001) by Terry Zwigoff and “Lady Bird” (2017) by Greta Gerwig. Gerwig’s film especially. I had seen the movie at TIFF, and I related so much to the storytelling, the character and her experience. I invoked it in every single creative discussion to the point where everyone else was making fun of me.
“I Like Movies” has such a uniquely Canadian voice. What has the reception been like outside Canada?
I wasn’t sure if anybody outside of Canada was really going to get it, especially outside of Ontario. But recently it screened in Taiwan and all of the screenings at the film festival were sold out. People were coming up to me saying that they’ve seen it three times. In Norway, too. The reception was very positive when it screened in California as well. People were calling it the Canadian, male “Ladybird,” which is fun.
What has been your experience bringing the film to festivals across the country?
I feel like Canadians are just so happy to see their own culture represented onscreen, and legitimized and celebrated. Not in a kind of hokey way of ‘Oh, we’re going to the hockey game.’ It’s a question I’ve gotten before: was I worried about alienating audiences by making this movie so Canadian? I honestly didn’t think about it: I was interested in telling a very Canadian story from the start. And the responses at film festivals have been incredible. At the Vancouver fest, “I Like Movies” was programmed on Thanksgiving Sunday at 9 p.m. I thought no one was going to be there, but it ended up being a full house with an amazing crowd. It was one of the best nights of my entire life.
As a filmmaker who has just gone through the process of filming your first feature film in Canada, what is your outlook on the state of the industry as it stands right now?
I made my film with a $125,000 Talent to Watch grant from Telefilm. It’s interesting to see how DIY the generation has become: the movies at film festivals in Venice and Berlin are made with paltry micro budgets and yet they’re still garnering attention. At the same time, we’re still invoking the same names in conversations about great Canadian directors as we were 20 years ago. On an independent level, though, there are a lot of young, hungry filmmakers who are really beginning to dominate the conversation. But the questions remain: are these films going to travel? Are they going to receive distribution? Are we going to hear about these filmmakers 10 years from now? Still, I think there’s been a lot of watershed movies over the last five years that are marking a very bright future. “Beans” (2020) by Tracey Deer and “Riceboy Sleeps” (2022) by Anthony Shim, as examples.
What are you working on now that “I Like Movies” is out in the world?
My next script is set in Montreal in 2011, so I’m slowly but surely making my way toward contemporary time. It’s loosely based on my experiences in the early 2010s, navigating the Montreal music scene while I was a music journalist there. I’d say it’s “24 Hour Party People” meets “Reality Bites.” I’m excited about it.
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