In homage to outlaws, femmes fatales, and unforgiving towns of the 1940s, Christie Pits Film Festival is celebrating the Cinematic Cities of Classical Hollywood Cinema. Paired with Casablanca, local filmmaker Nadia Litz’s The Good Escape fictionalizes the capture of John Dillinger in Toronto’s historic Winter Garden Theatre. Shot in a film-noir style, this short depicts the notorious bank robber’s last moments watching Clark Gable, as a nearby chatty couple ponder the cruelty of life, failed love, and the hope for a happy ending. Below we discuss with Nadia her favourite classic films, Toronto’s unique architecture, and the city’s unlikely connection to John Dillinger.
Christie Pits Film Festival is the signature project of Toronto Outdoor Picture Show (TOPS), which presents its Cinematic Cities programme all summer long at parks across the city.
TOPS: This year's film programme is titled Cinematic Cities, a theme that draws bridges between vibrant and complex cities around the world while highlighting the people who make each of these cities unique. Do you have a favourite movie that captures the spirit of a city?
Nadia Litz: I love the way Berlin is depicted in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. It's a vital, mythic and romantic combination of history and fantasy that represents the city, not only in a literal way but also in a very impressionistic way. Also Los Angeles in Polanski's noir Chinatown and Michael Mann's neo-noir Collateral respectively because both are depictions of L.A. rarely shown. I tend to like city-films where the city is part fiction.
TOPS: Good picks! Is there a city that you dream of capturing on camera?
NL: I would love to shoot in Honolulu. My grandparents lived there and I've gone there my whole life. I see it very differently than the postcards usually show it. I see it like Lynchian-noir.
TOPS: For you, what makes Toronto a cinematic city? Is there something special about Toronto that you draw inspiration from?
NL: Toronto is actually appealing to me cinematically because it is such a new city. The architecture is new and you can either shoot around that or embrace it. I like it when filmmakers embrace it. I love how Denis Villeneuve shot Toronto for Enemy. I love the brutalist architecture up at York University. It's ripe for sci-fi. I draw inspiration from the variety of neighbourhoods. Lately, I'm into riding the subway uptown for some nightlife at Yonge and Finch in North York. Izakaya, underground karaoke bars and Korean boy bands.
TOPS: If Enemy weren’t too mature for public park exhibition, we definitely would have included it in the programme - such a great use of Toronto. Your film is paired with the classic romantic mystery Casablanca. What do you think of the pairing? What are your favourite Classical Hollywood dramas?
NL: What an honour! Both films are nostalgic films that are a little about how fruitless nostalgia is. Also comedic actor Dan Beirne is the modern day Peter Lorre... I love so many from that era, but especially ones that break form: The Big Sleep, All About Eve, Mildred Pierce, Night of the Hunter - anything and everything by Hitchcock.
TOPS: Your film is shot in Toronto's beautiful and historic Winter Garden Theatre. What did that setting mean to you? Did the theatre's unique architecture contribute to any particular thematic or stylistic expression in your film?
NL: I first visited the Winter Garden theatre for a Guy Maddin film, a perfect setting for Guy Maddin films! All of that garden on the walls is right for capturing an oneirophrenic state I like to put viewers in. I always want a little dream-like state in my films. Setting is a big part of that.
TOPS: Toronto is not normally associated with outlaws and gangsters. Where did you first hear the story of John Dillinger?
NL: I was making my feature Hotel Congress, a film that takes place in a famous Tucson hotel where John Dillinger was caught. A month after shooting that, while taking a tour of The Winter Garden, the guide said that the seats inside the Winter Garden theatre were the actual seats from the Chicago movie theatre that John Dillinger was killed outside of. I thought Dillinger was following me! Not only was I intrigued by the tangential connection Dillinger had to Toronto but I thought there was terrific romance in a master gangster being killed outside of a movie theatre. It got my mind going, like what if he knew he was going to get caught and die that day and he chose to go and see a movie as his last supper so to speak. The movies are a place for dreamers. And a gangster is just a dreamer gone wayward, likely from socio/economic disparity. Movies offer an escape from the hardships of life but also offer up often unattainable lives. That's The Good Escape.
The Good Escape screens with Casablanca on July 8th at the Christie Pits Film Festival.