'BlackBerry' film connects with Goderich audience for special screening
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
Monday night marked an auspicious occasion for Goderich’s burgeoning film industry, with cult filmmaker Matt Johnson returning to town for a special screening of his new film BlackBerry.
BlackBerry tells the parabolic parable of Waterloo’s Research in Motion (RIM), creator of the earliest iteration of the smartphone, which, as we all know, is a device that went on to casually alter our brains in intense ways we may never come to terms with.
The thoroughly Canadian production, shot in and around Southern Ontario, has an even more localized connection to Huron County - the entirety of the film’s post-production was done by Goderich’s own FauxPop Media.
An hour before the screening, there was already a line of patient patrons awaiting admission, and more than a few people posed for photos with BlackBerry’s “Now Playing” poster, which features Jay Baruchel as inventor Mike Lazaridis, and Glenn Howerton as businessman Jim Balsillie - the film’s dichotomous protagonists. Johnson’s interpretation of Douglas Fregin may be less prominent on the poster, but is the essential third member of the team’s triumvirate.
Screenings of the cautionary tech tale started at the historic Park Theatre last week, and have been steadily well-attended, culminating in Monday night’s packed house. Both of the venue’s popcorn machines were brimming with salty snackables served by two hard-working employees running an impressive multi-tier butter distribution system, and the soda fountain was firing on all cylinders. Amongst the throngs of moviegoers filling the lobby was Park Theatre manager Rob McAuley, who was ebullient over the turnout. “I think it’s pretty exciting to have the director of one of the best movies of the year here in Goderich at our little theatre… Sunday is supposed to be one of our slowest days, but it was one of our busiest days!” McAuley also ran the Q-and-A that happened after the film.
Mark Hussey, Curt Lobb and Matt Johnson spent six months in Goderich together editing BlackBerry at FauxPop Station, and became notable fixtures at several of the square’s local businesses. Local artist Luca Iles was in attendance at the screening, and explained her connection to the film. “I actually work at The Den, and they were doing editing there, and I’m a huge [It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia] fan, so I had to come check it out.”
The excitement even drew reclusive film editor Mark Hussey out of hiding. The FauxPop founder found it heartening to see such a healthy turn-out. “It’s really nice to be in our hometown, and see all these people come out,” said Hussey before the screening. He estimated that, in the editing process, he had probably seen the movie at least 100 times, but Monday night’s screening was only his second time seeing it with an audience.
From feather-capped front row friendlies to the shy back row lurkers, the Park Theatre was packed with cinema-goers. Before the show, eccentric director Johnson thanked Goderich for welcoming him during his time there, and for teaching him about the virtues of an early dinner.
The film opens with a prescient quote predicting that advancements in technology will alter the traditional role of cities as the epicentre of industry. It is a sentiment that is hard to argue with, considering that those lines of text were inserted into the film by Goderich’s FauxPop. All three of the film’s leads hit the mark, delivering performances of nuanced hilarity - many of the film’s funniest moments are simple glances between characters, and much of the movie’s emotional impact is carried in the silence between these three men as they all strive to achieve very different goals within the same company.
Baruchel, as RIM founder Lazaridis, delivers a performance of quiet anguish - a perfectionist trapped in an imperfect world, so focused on his world-altering invention that he is oblivious to the changes that computers were already making in our society. Many of the programmers and engineers in the RIM office are so transfixed by their computer screens that they have no idea what is happening directly next to them.
Howerton’s tightly unhinged performance as sassy, sketchy business shark Jim Balsillie is a perfect counter to Baruchel’s aging boy genius. Lazaridis goes to great lengths to avoid direct eye contact during confrontations, while Balsillie seems to revel in staring down his various foes.
Both Lazaridis and Balsillie fail to understand the importance of the balance created by Johnson’s headband-clad Doug Fregin, who exists almost as an embodiment of the company’s core spirit. Fregin’s various alarmed expressions can be almost dog-like at times, and are often at the centre of the film’s biggest laughs.
The retro techno-score, composed by Jay McCarrol, ratchets up the tension of even the smallest moments, and there is an excellent attention to detail in the recreation of the world of Waterloo, Ontario in the late nineties and early aughts - a world that was irrevocably changed by the events depicted in the film.
Audience members young and old enjoyed the film, and many people stayed for a lively Q-and-A with Johnson, Hussey and Lobb after the end credits rolled. Despite the fact that the final film was very funny, Johnson explained that the shooting experience was quite different. “Shooting the film was quite serious… it was not funny when we shot it. At all. I can’t stress that enough. Divorced from context, things become funny.”
Hopefully the Town of Goderich loves Matt Johnson as much as Matt Johnson loves Goderich, because he is hoping to edit a lot more movies here. “I want to continue doing all our post-production here,” he said. “It lets you get away from all the distractions.”