Exploring Memory: Interview with Anna Maguire and Charlie Tyrell

In keeping with Christie Pits Film Festival tradition, on Sunday, July 14th, look forward to one evening’s programme featuring the best in veteran and emerging Canadian filmmaking. As part of our summer-long Dynamic Duos programme, the all-Canuck night is headlined by Bruce McDonald’s Weirdos, which follows 1970s teens Kit and Alice as they hitchhike their way to Sydney, Nova Scotia. Paired with Weirdos are the shorts Your Mother and I, directed by Anna Maguire, and My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes, directed by Charlie Tyrell (which won a Canadian Screen Award this year). Your Mother and I represents one evening of a girl (Julia Sarah Stone, also the lead in Weirdos) and her dad (Don McKellar) preparing supper as he tells her outlandish stories of how he and her mother supposedly solved the world’s problems. My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes is about filmmaker Charlie Tyrell’s recollections of his relationship with his father told through phone calls and found objects.


We spoke with Anna Maguire and Charlie Tyrell to discuss their short films.

TOPS: Your films address past events that are not directly represented. How does that change your approach to cinematic storytelling? 

Anna Maguire (AM): With Your Mother and I, I wanted to explore what it meant to adapt a quite literary short story and allow a viewer to engage with the story the father tells in the same way a reader does: through their imagination. Don McKellar created such a compelling, complex character in a very short span of time, which helps the audience engage with his stories and imagine them through his lens, the way his daughter might. It was about telling the story between father and daughter: the little movements, the sighs, the ways they interacted in their relationship with one another. This, I hope, allows for an audience to engage with the characters and their emotions first and foremost, as well as enter their own imaginations to envisage the world the father conjures.  

Charlie Tyrell (CT): That was mostly a case of creative limitations. My family never had a camcorder (the home movies seen in the film were farmed from other family members and the one time my dad borrowed a camera from work) so we had to find a way to tell this story, which just happened to be animation. I generally thrive best under creative limitations - and I find it more challenging to have endless options and tools (and even budget) at my disposal, because then I can get a little lost in all of the versions that a film could be. But if a project is presented to me like a bunch of random pieces that don't seem to go together, then that's a challenge I can get into a lot more. There's more room, and forgiveness, for experimentation and it often means a lot more collaboration with other filmmakers to see what their particular department can bring to the table.

TOPS: Anna, Your Mother and I touches on a wide variety of serious social issues, including climate change, perhaps the defining issue of our time. What were you trying to achieve with your depiction of the mother-father duo's fantastical solutions to these problems?

AM: There is an irony, in my view, to the way he talks about all these things. Whilst it is true there is a sense of the urgency towards the issues our world faces, I also wanted to capture the space between these very real issues, the need to address them, and the reality of this white, middle-class man talking about the problems “out there.” The ease with which they apparently fix things is filled with hope, but also the unreality of how complex the powers behind these things actually are, and the naivety with which people in positions of privilege can often come at these kinds of things. Also, I wanted to touch upon the idea that Johnna, the daughter, is the new generation, and is maybe a bit fed up with the older generation's methods. There is a sense that she will lead the next wave, but it will be more complex from a more nuanced perspective than her father's, creating a sense of the continuity of “progress” and how each younger generation has the opportunity to change and fix things but maybe from a more evolved standpoint. 

Your Mother and I.jpg

TOPS: Charlie, My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes is a story about the relationship between your father and yourself, but instead of telling it completely from your point of view, it is narrated in the third person by filmmaker David Wain and also features the voices of your family members. Why did you prefer to tell the story that way?

CT: While writing this film with Josef Beeby, we decided to put it in the third person as a way to trick myself into telling the story objectively with the intention of switching it to the first person before recording it. After a while we began to love the quality it gave the film; it made it seem a lot less self-involved and presented the story in a way that made it easier for others to relate to it. But now we needed someone to narrate and all we knew was that we wanted a person who could do sincere but with a healthy balance of humour, since the film is supposed to be able to laugh at itself.

David Wain came up while discussing the project with a mutual friend and thankfully he agreed to do it! His narration adds such a level to the material that does so much of the heavy lifting for the film. Apart from that, including the phone recordings from my mom and siblings, as opposed to on-camera interviews, was because I actually secretly (Sorry!) recorded them. They knew I was making the film, but the calls were somewhat disguised as a general conversation to help me steer the film without giving them any idea that it would be content for the film. This was pretty intentional, since it can be difficult to get someone to be truly candid in an on-camera interview, let alone a family member.

TOPS: Both of your films deal with memory and documenting the past through stories, photos, and film - as do the films paired with yours that evening. How does your filmmaking practice relate to how you think about memories and the past, either your own or those of others?

AM: Working on a film is always a deep dive into the past in some way, or a past you. When I get an idea to work on something, it very rarely comes off quickly, so I keep working on the script, or we shoot a while after the idea comes to me because of when we get the money, or actor availability, or the edit takes longer than expected, etc. All of a sudden, you are propelled into your future self, and you have to remember the past self that wanted to make the film, to tell that story. I'm finding that at the moment writing my first feature - it's a very interesting exercise in past and present selves! 

CT: Among other things, that was one of the early ideas that made me even want to make this film. I did (and still do) think about my dad every day, but at the time I started to worry that one day I might not. And what memories of him did I stand to forget? So my reaction was to collect pieces of him (photos, tools, porno tapes). It wasn't until I had them all together, all of these material things, that I realized they didn't do him justice. But they still worked as launch points for stories and memories, and the only way that I was capable of preserving that was by making this film. It's my way of keeping a version of him, and my perspective of that version, in a format that I can revisit as time goes on.

My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes.jpg

 TOPS: Who is your favourite cinematic duo, and why? 

AM: Sharky and George! Though I guess they're more of a childhood cartoon duo!

 CT: My immediate response is probably Bill and Ted - I have had so much fun watching and re-watching those films. Station.

Your Mother and I and My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes screen July 14th alongside Weirdos (Bruce McDonald, 2016) at Christie Pits Film Festival.