With 30 years of experience as an actor, producer, writer and director, Ingrid Veninger is a veteran when it comes to the film festival circuit. And with her latest film 'i am a good person/i am a bad person,' the Toronto filmmaker draws on that wealth of experience to play Ruby White, also a Toronto filmmaker, who struggles with personal and professional crises while touring European festivals with her daughter Sara (played by Veninger's real-life daughter Hallie Switzer).
After premiering 'MODRA' to acclaim in Toronto last year, Veninger returns to the Toronto Film Festival for her latest film. Moviefone sat down to talk to her about how 'i am a good person/i am a bad person' came together so quickly and where the line between fiction and reality blurs.
So I know there's a tradition of movies about making movies, but not so much movies about promoting movies. What inspired you to make this film?
Oh, just the general slog of being an independent filmmaker. I started out as an actress and then moved into producing, and I really always felt it was my duty as a producer to maximize the potential of the film in the marketing/distribution end. So I've been known to do a lot of grassroots/street marketing, from 'Gambling, Gods and LSD,' which was over 10 years ago, onwards. And some of that's been really humiliating.
[But] that's what you have to do. Especially in a festival like Toronto, it's so easy to get lost, and if people don't know the film exists, they can't come. So some of the themes in 'i am a good person/i am a bad person' come from those experiences. Just sucking it up and having the nerve to be embarrassed and humiliated in the name of trying to get as many people as possible to see the film.
The film gets pretty meta at times, but just how meta is it? I know your real-life daughter played your daughter in the film.
Yeah, my daughter starred in 'MODRA' -- that was in the film festival last year -- and we were actually scheduled to present 'MODRA' at the Bradford International Film Festival in England [the film's first stop]. I only conceived of wanting to make another film at the end of January. Then 'MODRA' had its release in February, and so I had some time in March to sit down and write, but our flights were booked for March 20th. And I really wanted to attend Toronto, my goal was to ideally have a film that could at least be considered. That meant I had to start shooting in March -- what did I have? I had a film festival trip.
In between I thought, maybe a trip to Paris because I knew some actors in Paris. Mathieu [Chesneau] had acted in 'MODRA,' he lived in Paris. Okay, so now I had three locations, it was March 1 and I had 19 days to write the script. Who else did I have? I had myself, I had my daughter. Our trips were already booked, those flights were already paid for. Those hostel rooms were already booked.
But it's fictional in a sense that we never had those experiences, those were all imagined. And my relationship with my daughter is very different from the one in the film. But it was really fun to play opposite each other like that, and we had really a lot of fun making this movie. I would say more fun than we had making 'MODRA,' which is perceived to be a more joyful film.
At times the film has almost a documentary feel, especially with the scenes in the park. Did you go into it attempting to blur that line a little bit?
I guess because I started as an actor, the line is a very interesting question for me. You know, how much do you use from your personal life, where does the real world cross over into the fictional? And in the process of making the film, I've been inspired by a lot of people, like Cassavetes and the neo-realists and the humanist tradition of using the real world and non-professional actors and mixing them with professional actors in a fictional world.
I wanted a small crew, because I wanted to be flexible so I could be really spontaneous and allow the accidents and the unexpected things to kind of come into our fictional, made-up world. Like the poet in the park, right? He's a real guy, who I noticed out of the corner of my eye. We were shooting a scene, he spontaneously approached us, interrupted our shoot, he started reading his poems, I knew he had to be in the movie. But you can't just shoot it ad hoc, it has to be acted. [So we] paid him some money, got him to sign a release, and now I could direct him. And so when he actually comes in the scene in the film and asks if he can read the poem, that's Take #5. It didn't just happen spontaneously, the mic has to be on him, the camera has to be [rolling]. So there is a plan, but then I want to be able to lift off from that, I guess as the documentarians do.
When you direct and star in something like this, playing a filmmaker, do you think people have a hard time divorcing the character you play from the real you?
I did think of -- I've had blonde, bleached blonde dreads -- I didn't think about it seriously, but I thought well, if my hair was different ... I mean, there's going to be dreadlocks no matter what, but if I had blonde dreads at the Q&A, then maybe people would [find it] easier to be able to distinguish and say, 'Oh, that was a performance because she had the brown hair, and now she has the blonde hair, so that wasn't her.' But my hair is the same. I think it's interesting, if I dressed radically different, like a rubber pantsuit with like black makeup, they'd go, 'Oh, that wasn't her in the movie, she's crazy in real life.'
But those are such superficial things. I'm not that person. I wrote a character that I was interested in exploring, and it's a combination of yes, being a filmmaker, yes, struggling to get my films screened, yes, always questioning what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Those are things every filmmaker struggles with, they're not unique. It just happens to be me and I kind of look the same.
What do you anticipate the Q&As will be like for this film?
Well, we're sold out, so there's going to be more than 15 people. There's going to be 500 or 600 people on Saturday night. I know our first and second screenings are sold out, so I can't wait. My Paris actors are in town, my daughter will come in. The cast will be there, seeing the film for the very, very first time.
It'll be really exciting for me to have the dialogue with the audience about the film. I'm so curious to know if the humor comes across. I hope there are a lot of laughs. And that people that don't make films can engage with this character that's obviously so consumed and immersed in what she's doing that she's losing herself. I hope it's not a film for filmmakers, I hope it's a film for anybody that is trying to do something they love and has maybe gotten lost along the way and is trying to find their way back.
What's the toughest question you've ever been asked at a Q&A?
The budget question is a tricky one, and I always get asked it. And I never want to be coy with that answer about revealing the budget, because that seems silly. But it really does equate to the value people put on something. So like if you're buying a shirt, buying a piece of furniture, buying anything, if you say you made it for very little money, that equates to the value and the importance of the thing. If you say you made it for a lot of money, people think you overspent.
And otherwise, in Bratislava, the first question was, 'Do you consider yourself a filmmaker?' Which wasn't awful, and it didn't stump me [like it stumps Ruby in the film], but it was a little bit like, 'Wow, you clearly did not like this film. Alright, I'm trying to be a filmmaker, man. What can I say?'
'i am a good person/i am a bad person' screens at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 13th at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 12:30PM and again on Sept. 17 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 8:45PM.