Aidan Cheeatow

Heartbreaker screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player

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A young mother resorts to extreme measures as child protection services increase restrictions on her visitation time with her baby girl. Inspired by the filmmaker's experience working at Children's Aid in Toronto, Heartbreaker captures the messy, heartbreaking nature of the relationship between child protective services and the families in the system.

Hi Aidan thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

All things considered, I have little to complain about. Like everyone else I’m sure, the isolation and lack of real human connection is exhausting, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by family and the reduced pace has given me opportunity to organise myself and prepare for the next stages of my career.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

The restrictions have allowed me to simplify and direct my focus into writing. It’s difficult to go into production safely right now so I’m trying my best to put myself in a position where I will be ready to hit the ground running coming out of the pandemic.

Congratulations on having Heartbreaker selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of What’s Left Behind section?

It is particularly rewarding for Heartbreaker to be placed alongside a slate of films that tackle similar themes. It has been difficult to find a home for this film – at times it’s felt as though no festival would program it – so the inclusion of Heartbreaker in the “What’s Left Behind” section is both befitting the journey I’ve taken with this movie, and comforting to know there is a whole category of films where Heartbreaker belongs.

Can you tell me a little bit about Heartbreaker, how did this film come about?

Heartbreaker came from a confluence of life circumstances and my fascination with weighing the importance of nature versus nurture when considering a person’s development.

At the time, I was working visiting hours security at Children’s Aid in Toronto. Every evening I would watch as children were dropped off and picked up from their timed, supervised visits with their parents before parting ways until the next one. Many arguments were fought between parents and social workers over visitation rooms, duration of visits, and of course, issues often arose when children were not transport- ed to the facilities on time.

So much tension and frustration surrounded these small windows of time because more often than not, for the parents and their children, those thirty-minute visits were the only chance they’d have in a week to hold their baby or hug their mother. It was a truly heartbreaking environment.

As my final year at Children’s Aid was coming to an end, my older sister, Madison, gave birth to her first child, Isla. I brought my camera with me to the hospital the day she was born and filmed the moment Isla was passed around and met by family for the first time. When I was reviewing the footage, the idea for Heartbreaker kind of just occurred to me.

"I was lucky to have a full cast of actors who took on smaller roles than their merits should demand and it made all the difference in the film and for me as a director."

What were the biggest challenges you faced brining this film to life?

This was my first movie coming out film school. Financing the film was easily the biggest obstacle. I funded it entirely out pocket (with some generous support from a few of the cast, crew, my credit card, and my girlfriend who I will for sure pay back) in hindsight I would have sought proper funding on this one...

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?

Many things. Most importantly though, I would spend money differently. I regret not allocating more money to acting and background talent. The film would’ve really benefitted from more background chatter and movement. The reception area at Children’s Aid was empty at times, but tension always arose at its busiest hours. I don’t feel the movie captures the essence of chaos that often permeated Children’s Aid.

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making Heartbreaker?

I got to work with some really topnotch actors and crew on this film. I was lucky to have a full cast of actors who took on smaller roles than their merits should demand and it made all the difference in the film and for me as a director. I gained a lot from collaborating with each of them.

I have a special place in my heart for the crew on Heartbreaker, many of them also helped me shoot my follow up project (a music video I will be releasing in the coming months), so they are a fundamental part of the process for me. Everyone always has such great attitudes on set too!

So for me, I learned a lot about collaboration and the importance of having a strong, committed, and respectful team behind a film.

"Be open to constructive criticism and willing to embrace good ideas even if they are not your own."

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Growing up I was always circulating through different hobbies and interests, it took until I was about 14 to consciously embrace my passion for film. Prior to that though, I had a lot of exposure to filmmaking through one of my childhood friends (Jaek Eastcott who was the PD on Heartbreaker and a talented filmmaker in his own right). We’d run around with a mini-dv camcorder filming faux-parkour videos and outrageous scenes. Jaek would then cut the videos together and we’d have a little movie. It wasn’t until my high school film program that I began to develop aspirations of being a filmmaker, but those little videos we made running around the neighbourhood were my true introduction.

What has been some of the best advice you’ve been give?

Don’t be too precious with your film. Be open to constructive criticism and willing to embrace good ideas even if they are not your own.

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

Of course. I wish I had a more profound answer to this question, but pushing boundaries and innovating are intrinsic elements of filmmaking.

Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

Find people you can rely on and help each other make movies. I was lucky enough to meet my two closest collaborators (Kerim Banka and Cristian Gomes, both filmmakers as well and the editor and DOP of Heartbreaker, respectively). It has been key for me to surround myself with people who have similar goals and commitment to making movies.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Heartbreaker?

I just hope people see Heartbreaker and become even the slightest bit more empathetic and compassionate for human struggle.

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