Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Ian Bawa

Strong Son

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From the wonderfully weird mind of Winnipeg filmmaker Ian Bawa comes an endearing portrait of a South Asian man and his relationship with the father who shares his passion for weightlifting. 

Hi Ian thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times? 

It's been hard. As an extrovert who lives alone, I had a lot of low days and days where I did nothing at all. However, I also had days where I was super motivated to get things done. One of the benefits that came out of self isolation was working on projects, such as Strong Son, and becoming overly obsessed by it. I had to focus my mind on something since I wasn't going out and interacting with people, so I interacted and focused on my art. I'm not sure if Strong Son would be what it is if it wasn't for self isolation.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

My friend and I (who also lived alone) opened our bubbles up to each other, and began making short 15 second films entitled 'Not Cancelled'.  It was something to do while we had nothing to do, and to also show the world that things were not cancelled, despite feeling like they are. It was also for my friend and I, to exercise our creativity while living in this strange new world.

Here's a link to the films.

Your latest short film STRONG SON is part of TIFF Short Cuts, how does it feel to have your film a part of such an amazing lineup of short films?

It's been amazing. TIFF only took around 35 short films this year, so to actually play in such a prestigious festival really is special this year. Usually they take a few hundred films. This is also the first major festival in a post-covid world. TIFF is going to show that there are still amazing films out there, and an audience that can still see them.

Can you tell me a little bit about STRONG SON, what was the inspiration behind this film? 

The film is inspired by my relationship with my father. My dad's getting older and his health has not been great. I have been his full time provider for many years. The film is about a bodybuilder who is working out as his dad (played by my actual father) watches him. His dad narrates and talks about how strong his son is and why he needs to be strong. It was also inspired by my dad, who used to come to the gym with me and watch me work out. I would take him with me to get him out of the house, and he would just sit on a bench and watch me exercise, which is weird when you think about it, but I go so used to it. This is a story pretty much all about that.

"I guess this sort of taught me to really trust my instincts."

Was it challenging to film STRONG SON entirely in a gym? 

Not really. The gym we filmed in is actually the gym I go to regularly. So I was able to ask the owner if we could shoot there. However, it was a small shoot, naturally lit, and we shot it while people were working out. 

It was more funny, cause people kept watching us with this small super 8 camera wondering what we were doing. The were also confused as they kept watching my dad sit on this bodybuilder in each scene.

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making STRONG SON?

This is a film about my insecurities. When I wrote the script, I wrote about all my truths (my relationship with my dad, my relationship with my body, etc), and actually didn't BS anything. 

What I've learnt is that the more vulnerable you are in your art the more people will respond to it.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

My passion for film came from the idea that if I was ever in a nervous situation with a new person and didn't know what to talk about, I would also bring up movies. I figured it was a topic everyone could talk about. I eventually began just watching tons of movies after that so that I had so many talking points. What eventually happened was an obsession to actually create movies.

"And I think when the focus is just as much on the approach and the way of making the film, as it is on the subject that's when you can get something really special that can surprise you." 

How much has your style and the approach to your films changed since your debut film?

I think I've matured my style in a lot of ways. By watching more and more films, and reading tons of scripts, I have a better understanding of what I like and what I don't like. 

I know what the beginner mistakes are and therefore don't do them anymore. I think also, I've strive to push myself with each new film. I'm never happy with the last and want to make it better. Each new film is a chance to fix the mistakes from the last.

Is there any advice you would offer someone about making their first film?

Three things I always say to people starting out is that they need:
1. To find people you like to work with.
2. To find your champion (someone to motivate you to keep going when you want to quit - friend, partner, parents, etc)
3. To just make it, and then make the next one, and the next one - progression will allow you to get better and better, and learn more.

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

I hope people just smile and enjoy it. It's an autobiographical film and it actually stars my dad. I'm just happy if people want to watch it and like it. 

It's a film about me, if they like it, then they like a part of me.

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