Underground Performance: Interview with Zack Russell


Toronto Outdoor Picture Show takes a trip to 1930s Berlin with our screening of Bob Fosse’s Cabaret on July 19th at Corktown Common. Filmmaker Zachary Russell’s short film She Stoops to Conquer is a tailor-made pairing, telling the story of a Toronto drag performer who stumbles across a doppelgänger of her on-stage persona. Is it lust, or mere kinship born of seeing yourself reflected? Life and love are both cabarets, ol’ chum.

 Toronto Outdoor Picture Show invites you to journey to parks across the city for our Cinematic Cities programme all summer long.

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? Is there a city that you dream of capturing on camera?

Zack Russell (ZR): I love Paulo Sorrentino's film The Great Beauty. For me, the Rome of that film is such a perfect, melancholy fantasy, richer and more beautiful than the real thing, probably. I would love to really capture Toronto, the parts we haven't seen represented in cinema. For me, trying to serve up new and honest visions of this city is one of the joys/challenges of making work here.

TOPS: Your film is paired with Bob Fosse's iconic Cabaret, a film also about identity, performance and the blurred lines between the two. What do you think of this pairing?

ZR: It's a perfect pairing! Cabaret is one of my favourite films and Joel Grey was absolutely an inspiration for the Emcee in She Stoops.


TOPS: We did our job well then! She Stoops to Conquer explores Toronto's independent and underground performance scene. What was it about Toronto's nightlife that peaked your creative curiosity?

ZR: Kayla [Lorette, co-writer]and I met working on this crazy project organized by Henri Faberge called Feint of Hart. It was a kind of opera/musical/play/variety show extravaganza. I was directing it, and Kayla was playing this old man character and every night, we had a new 'guest' appear in the middle of the show (musicians, drag performers, comedians). The whole experience was so wild, so fun, and that whole scene that Henri Faberge and also Judy Virago introduced us to… I think it permeated our psyches and seemed like it was the right scene for this film. We'd had these great experiences with these very talented people, doing these off the radar shows, and we wanted to capture that feeling, and to take it further using our own twisted logic.


TOPS: For you, what makes Toronto a cinematic city? Is there something special about Toronto that you draw inspiration from?

ZR: I think I'm still trying to unlock Toronto. For me, it's not easy to capture or to know. It has a lot to offer - different neighborhoods, different cultures, sprawl - and that's what makes it endlessly inspiring, but also impossible to really capture. Part of what I love about it is that you don't grow up with a cinematic idea of Toronto - I don't think I saw Toronto playing itself in a film until maybe I was in my 20s? So really, you have to come to the city on your own terms, to make your own version. So much of it feels like uncharted territory, ready to be explored.


She Stoops to Conquer screens with Cabaret on July 19th at Corktown Common Park.