All-in Madonna & Secrets Behind the Set, an Interview

4 Feb

Streaming Online
at the Victoria Film Festival.

Get your pass here to view beginning Feb 5th, 2021.
Facebook Watch Party on Feb 6th, 6:30 PST

Note: Available to residents in British Columbia

All-in Madonna marks Arnold Lim‘s (pictured left) directorial debut in making a feature length work. After its virtual (world) premiere at the Whistler Film Festival and limited online availability last year, its next screening is at the Victoria Film Festival!

This filmmaker’s visual style evolved from how he likes to communicate, which is through the camera. He made a career out of it. In Victoria, BC he’s very well known because of not only his role at Black Press Media as a photo-journalist, but also as a talent whose heart is big. He is the official photographer to various local charities. At the Victoria Film Festival, he’s involved with programming (handling the Asian film content), act as juror and be a member of the board.

Lim revealed, “Different films from different countries look, feel and smell tonally different because of a combination of the different actors and locations and cultures that exist in combination with the perspective of filmmakers whose voices tell the story.”

As part of the CineVic Society of Independent Filmmakers team, this photographer soon became a filmmaker after doing a story about them, about the Reel to Reel program. He joined, learned the craft and wanted to make movies. After making the short film version of All-in Madonna–about Maddie going to public school for the first time and hearing rumours that her dad is a thug–he and Susie Winters, the screenwriter, knew it needed to be feature length!

These two met when Lim was looking to partner up with someone and apply for Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program, and she had the ideal tale Lim liked. It spoke to him on a personal level. His family lived in Blue River, a small rural community in British Columbia when he was young, and back then, locals knew him as “that kid” because his family were the only Asians living there. While they immigrated from Korea, he was born and raised in Canada. During his teenage years, what he experienced was also what Maddie went through.

Making a short film to show proof of concept is one thing, but turning it into a feature length presentation needed the help of a producer, namely Ana de Lara. She’s a Filipina-Canadian actress and comedian whose desire to work behind the scenes gelled with Lim when they met through CineVic. Both have worked together prior to this film, but it was her success with recent works, namely the award-winning mockumentary Open For Submissions (2019), directed by Bryan Skinner–nominated for a 2020 Best Picture Leo Award (British Columbia’s version of the Oscars)–proved to be the key to driving All-in Madonna forward.

“With the trajectory of the short and the success of my latest work, Good Girls Don’t, in the festival circuit, we had a strong pitch and package and got in the 2018 Telefilm Talent to Watch Program to make our feature,” said de Lara.

“As a woman, who is also a daughter and a parent, I could relate to Madonna’s journey on many levels. My father died in 2017 from cancer, close to the time that I started working on this film. I was going through a coming-of-age moment myself in a daughter/father context.”

“Yes, there are secrets I choose to not tell my daughter that are not unlike those of Madonna’s father. [But,] I’m no longer the person who made those mistakes.”

She had regrets since she was not as close to her dad as she had hoped. But as a parent, she knew keeping secrets from her child is hard. This film is about those tough choices made between members of the family. This movie is about a father hiding his past–deeds he’s now ashamed of–from his daughter and it’s affecting her. She doesn’t want to continue homeschooling and yearns to attend high school, and have a social life.

The concept of keeping any family unit tight is hard. It also makes for superb storytelling too, no matter what the genre–be it in animation, drama or sci-fi–is used. We see it in works like The Croods, Kramer vs Kramer and Interstellar. Daughters who have issues with their father seem to make for stronger narratives than sons in conflict with their dads, but this ideology can be challenged.

This producer agrees tales about family and the bond reforged is important. “It’s a universal theme that everyone can relate to, regardless of what your “family” looks like or lack thereof,” said de Lara, “They strike a chord with everyone on some level.”

The director also chimed in, “I think the intersectionality of the different story arcs in our film is explored through Maddie, who wants to know more about her absent mother. She’s railing against her father. When she discovers that he’s holding secrets, she’s forced to reconcile her feelings with that person she thought she knew.”

Every culture is unique in how a family’s legacy can impact generations going forward. The themes explored in this movie include honour, respect and saving face.

“I grew up in a small community so that aspect of the tale really drew me in with Susie’s story. I was the only Asian kid in the entire school,” said Lim.

He probably heard some whispers too. Most Asian families are tight in the sense they help each other out within their own community. As for what life was like at school, this filmmaker said his direction was based on what he remembered from living in that small town long ago.

All-in Madonna is about Maddie (Melanie Rose Wilson) and Cher (Arabella Costello), who are half-sisters, and their father, Paul (Adam Lolacher). The girls’ names were a result of the patriarch lost a bet; he had to name them after famous singers. In small towns, people talk. Some of them are no doubt wondering about these two girls, and the father who is not letting them leave the nest. But as the tale progresses, viewers see how these characters aren’t all that bad. There are unfolding redemption story arcs after a bigger mystery begins. Ed (James Hutson) is missing and the wife, Kathy (Celine Stubel), isn’t all that hung up about it. This other couple are neighbours to Paul and family, so….

The scenario may seem like a horror story with the isolation each of these principal characters are facing. The girls aren’t accused of any wrongdoing, but the people in town have to talk–especially when Paul’s past is well known.

This movie is about one particular family finally bonding. It’s also a character study, a drama and much more. De Lara said these locations, including where it was filmed is a significant element in establishing the tone of the film. Lim wanted to show off a diversity of what the city of Victoria represents. Film analysts can interpret this subtle layer of meaning in this movie as however they wish. The casting of a bi-ethnic lead is important too, since it all fits in the concept Winters wrote.

Vancouver Island has a personality where each municipality has a particular look, and everywhere, the people are usually polite and helpful. This work used different parts of Victoria as a set, and the cozy hamlet of Sooke for the woodland scenes–even if it meant a lot of logistical problems to film in remote locations. Lim said this movie was made mostly there and the final product was well worth the lack of sleep. He acknowledged, “As cheesy as it sounds, the rural landscape speaks about who the characters are.”

De Lara believes it also adds to the tone of the narrative from the first frame to the last. It’s a West Coast Canadian thing; From the misty mountains to the foggy shorelines, beachcombers love the beauty here. The town of Tofino offers killer waves for surfers to come challenge.

As for whether more stories can be offered, Lim said, “I’m not sure if I’ll get that opportunity. There were a lot of story elements we were forced to leave out of the script. Fleshing out an independent micro-budget film isn’t an opportunity that happens often.”

But who knows what the future holds, as this movie ends in a darkish tone, giving it a vibe is no different from another west coast paranormal theatrical mystery. Maybe Ed’s body might surface somewhere, and the people who recognize the corpse are to ask, “Who killed Ed (Palmer–not the last name used in this film)?”

A sequel isn’t needed because the answer is in the movie. As for the future, a continuation is not likely to happen in the style David Lynch made famous. Instead, de Lara concluded, “I’d love to create a West Coast drama based on the feature and make the storylines relevant to current issues, while being set in a town stuck in time.”

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