Canadian filmmaker Ross Munro's latest documentary short "European Tour ‘73” is a film that highlights the "Munro Bunch" 1973 European vacation which is quite simply breathtaking.
Hi Ross thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Thanks for asking because, as you rightfully point out, these are strange times indeed. Luckily, here in Vancouver, Canada, we all took the warnings of the pandemic seriously and for the most part locked ourselves down pretty well- mainly going out for walks, groceries, etc.
Like everyone else, it’s definitely been a lot to get used to- my wife (and film collaborator/producer Maria) and I have had to adjust our mindset and try to find the balance of maintaining the right mix of mental, physical and creative harmony. Not to mention watching a healthy diet of Netflix (thank you “Ozark”!) and movies on TV!
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
We actually fell into a pretty productive rhythm re: our creative endeavours in film. We were able to spend some time really thinking about our film projects and see them in a new light thus allowing us to reprioritise some of our potential films. Not being able to shoot anything throughout the pandemic allowed us to free ourselves creatively and even come up with one or two new ideas for films that wouldn’t have come to fruition without this artistic and personal pause that we went through (and are only now starting to come out of).
European Tour '73 has already been selected for some film festivals, with such a personal short documentary like this what has it meant to you to share this with festival audiences?
As you mention, we’ve been blessed with having our very personal film selected now for a good number of film festivals and that has meant the world to us as there’s always the concern that for a film like ours that tells such a specific family story we never knew for sure how audiences would react. That was one of the main challenges in making “European Tour ‘73”: how do we tell this very personal story but at the same time give it a universal appeal? And now that it’s in film festivals (online so far of course) we have been truly astounded and grateful at how audiences have really embraced our film and found a kinship and a direct line towards relating and identifying with the travails of my crazy family trip to Europe depicted in our movie.
Before making this film how much of this trip had you remembered?
Over the nearly fifty years now spanning the date of our family trip to Europe back in 1973, I’ve always remembered a surprising number of incidents and sights and smells from that trip- I was nine at the time. Also, for some reason I’ve been the sibling hanging on to the many reels of Super 8mm film from that trip over the years and have watched it intermittently over the years since then which has probably fed and maintained my real or imagined memories of that trip. Once I began working in earnest on “European Tour ‘73” a few years back and began the prospect of searching my memory banks, I seemed to be able to recall very vivid scenes in my head- it was like being transported back to that era. I thought of things that must have been trapped into the well of my long term memory and a lot of it just came pouring out.
"I suppose you can’t even buy an almond milk latte for under $5 nowadays…"
When did you realise you wanted to make this trip into a documentary short?
Probably around five years ago- after the release of our first short documentary “Broken Palace” which was another nostalgia-based film about the experience of long-ago moviegoing and the unfortunate demise of heritage movie theatres. Being creatively immersed in thoughts and motivations of the past, I had the light bulb moment of seeing if I could turn all that amazing Super 8mm family footage from our European trip from back in 1973 into a documentary movie as well. Originally, I imagined “European Tour ‘73” (I came up with the title as an homage to all those great rock n roll bands from the 1970s like The Stones or Led Zeppelin who used to have concert tour shirts emblazoned with European Tour ’73 as it felt like with the whirlwind of countries our family visited back then it felt like we underwent our own exhausting and exhilarating tour…minus the groupies of course!) would be a feature length film but after logging all the footage I thought it would play stronger as a 15 minute film.
$5 a day for 6 weeks, how did your parents even manage that? (I did a search and that's around $30 in today's money?
That seems like a crazy small amount of money today for sure. That was one of the funny things we wanted to emphasise- to creatively point out how different things were back in ’73 than today (mind you, we also had a lot of fun mirroring how, at least politically, many things were oddly the same…). But getting back to the $5 per day- back in the day there were many ubiquitous best selling books that my parents stocked up on before the trip that detailed how you could undertake a whole trip to Europe on a super economic budget. They were like bibles to my parents as I can remember them perusing those pages even on the initial trip’s flight from Winnipeg (our hometown) to London’s Heathrow Airport. I suppose you can’t even buy an almond milk latte for under $5 nowadays…Also, another thing that we examine in the film in an amusing manner is the amount of preparation my parents would have undertaken to pull off a six week barnstorming trip across numerous countries in Europe with five small boys and all of us stuffed inside a small VW camper van. I remember my parents had to get us all passports, new clothes (colour coordinated of course to match each child- I think I was always covered in blue fabric…), vaccinations, maps, traveler’s cheques (remember those?)- with all the modern cons of today (internet, cell phones, etc.) I can’t imagine how they pulled all that pre-trip organisation off.
In reflecting back at this time what was there any one part of the trip that really stayed with you?
Oddly, I think just being on an airplane for the first time in my life was one of the things that most impacted me. That’s why it was important to create the humorous animation in the film that highlights the plane journey to London- I actually was kind of dreading taking this first ever flight and, as I did have a legit fear of water at the time, I was especially nervous when my father first indicated the flight path over the scarily voluminous Atlantic Ocean. I was amazed when I looked around in my seat and saw all my brothers comfortably snoozing away during the flight- I knew instead that I had to stay frightfully awake and try to use all my mental energies to keep the plane in the air. As far as actual locations on the trip to Europe itself, I have very strong memories of London- riding the tube (there were warnings at the time about potential IRA bombings), all the neon lights of Piccadilly Circus and the amazing meat pies and chips stores (we even had a burger at Wimpy’s which oddly enough didn’t rate a Michelin star…). Also, Paris is etched in my mind as well- being atop the Eiffel Tower, witnessing a fashion model shoot on the Pont Neuf Bridge (oddly, my father spent a lot of Super 8mm film on this!) and being around all the street artists in Montmartre. Also, my mom was born and raised in the French part of Winnipeg and was able to do all our communicating for us as the citizens there were quite impressed with her language skills.
And, of course, as detailed in our film, the end of our trip at the Dachau concentration camp was, to say the least, highly impactful although as a nine year old at the time of going there it took a few years of looking at the footage from there to fully realize the historical importance of that visit. Another memory is how overall the people of Europe were so warm and inviting to us- Canadians seemed to have a high standing in the eyes of Europeans as I can imagine they were still with their memories of Canadians being part of the Allied liberating forces back in WW2. We always had our Canadian flag emblazoned on our van’s window and sometimes people would see that and go out of their way to invite us to park for the night at their home- I especially remember Belgium and the Netherlands as especially welcoming towards us.
Is a similar trip like this something you or your other family members would consider redoing in the future?
Believe it or not- I’ve actually never thought of this before. What you suggest sounds like an amazing idea- I’d love to do it. Who knows? Ironically, it sounds like a lot of work to pull off- makes me wonder in amazement once more how my parents actually accomplished this Herculean effort of a trip back in ’73. The idea of returning with my siblings (and our recent loved ones) back to the scene of our crazy trip would be potentially very moving and kind of bring our lives full circle all these nearly fifty years later. Oddly, I’ve never even returned to Europe since that trip in l973- I never imagined that many years would go by without making my way back there. Time does fly! Would be awesome to bring our film to a European film festival or present our film in person at a cinema there.
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making this film?
On a personal level I would say to really appreciate and cherish the time and memories you can make with your family. Making the “European Tour ‘73” really brought the impact and importance of family bonding and realization that you should appreciate every day as we never know what the future holds. I also came to have a new and valued appreciation for just how much my parents sacrificed to for us overall as kids growing up and how they put all their love (and blood, sweat and tears- great name for a band by the way) into giving us this once in a lifetime experience of our family trip to Europe. Looking back I can imagine how difficult it was for them- I mean, it would have been a lot easier just to pack us up and head to Disneyland but, no, they instead took on this mammoth undertaking and even having the foresight of buying a Super 8mm camera to document the trip with (with the hopes that one of their kids would someday make a documentary about it…?). On a creative level, I learned just how much research you have to put into making a personal family documentary- Maria and I went through an exhausting couple of years researching family photos, interviewing family members, doing military research of my grandfather’s WW2 service, going through myriad historical archives, reviewing old newspaper records, etc.- because the film is so personal about my family, we felt we needed an almost obsessive search for being as accurate as possible not to mention maintaining a strong necessity to remain as respectful and truthful as we could to the memory of three generations of my family.
How important is the collaborative process of filmmaking?
For me, film is the ultimate collaborative art form. It doesn’t just take a village- it takes a metropolis! And it was never more so than in “European Tour ’73- especially the very close collaborative process that Maria (as the film’s producer) and I had with our editor Patricia “Pat” Maldonado. For almost the entire duration of editing our film, our editor was holed up with us in our apartment as we worked extremely close and were able to really all plug into the artistic rhythm and creative wavelength of our film to assemble the complex fragments and story threads that were embroidered together to craft our story. The three of us were able to bounce ideas off of each other and create or enhance story ideas that always forced us to up our game. It was very intense at times with lots of overheated computers that needed to be iced down due to the marathon editing sessions as sometimes I’d be in the other room recording the film’s narration into my phone until quickly dispatching it to our patient and hard working editor who was awaiting my words to plug into the scene upon receiving them.
It was very intense at times with lots of overheated computers that needed to be iced down due to the marathon editing sessions as sometimes I’d be in the other room recording the film’s narration into my phone until quickly dispatching it to our patient and hard working editor who was awaiting my words to plug into the scene upon receiving them. Meanwhile, Maria (who along with being our film’s producer was also an experienced graphic designer) would also be delivering all the photos and graphics to our editor at the same time- it was quite the little filmmaking factory we had in our cramped, sweaty apartment! Once the film was edited, it was also great to collaborate once again with our amazing Leo Award winning sound designer Gregorio Gomez who was able to help create and bring to life the many soundscapes needed to generate the desired emotional terrain of “European Tour ‘73”.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from and how much did your father's 8mm inspire you to get into filmmaker?
Like a lot of filmmakers, my love and passion for films came by honestly: being a movie rat going to see movies every weekend as a kid in the 1970s at my beloved movie houses. During the week all I could dream about was when Saturday would come and I would get my allowance and head downtown and visit once again my treasured cinemas- sometimes going in the afternoon and not emerging until nightfall after watching the movie 2 or 3 times. At that time I was also very inspired to be a filmmaker by the presence of my father’s brand new Super 8mm camera which I used a little bit during our trip to Europe but graduated to exploring more fully upon returning from our trip and then using the camera to shoot my own movies- usually three minute (approximately the length of a roll of Kodachrome) versions of the current Hollywood action flicks or knock offs of Bruce Lee movies which were super popular at that time). All starring my siblings or whatever fellow neighbourhood kids I could scare up. Of course, this eventually led me to going to film school in Toronto after high school and the rest, as they say, is history.
Has your style/approach to your films changed much since you started out?
Early in my film career, I embraced the DIY spirit of indie filmmaking which I’d like to think I still follow even today. However, after making my first two movies “Renaldo!” and then my first feature “Brewster McGee”, I was handed the gift of my wife deciding to quit her career job as a graphic designer and thankfully opt to take on the role of movie producer- and we’ve never looked back since then. Having her as my producer has been a godsend of epic proportions as we’ve been able now to undertake and complete all the film projects together. We work very well in tandem as we bring very compatible skills to the table- I can focus on writing and directing while Maria can concentrate on all the detail oriented skills needed to bring the whole project together- and it also doesn’t hurt to have her immense graphic design skills when it comes to creating our film’s posters and marketing materials!
As for style in my filmmaking journey, I’d say that with each new film I really try and take everything I’ve learned from the previous project and try to find ways to elevate everything- my storytelling, visuals, sound, and just being more on top of the overall aesthetics. I think I’ve tried to improve my skills and continue to be more present in how I communicate with cast and crew as the director and also how to effectively translate your artistic vision to all my valued collaborators when making a film.
Should filmmakers push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
I don’t think anything bad can ever emerge out of pushing the boundaries of your films because doing so can lead to numerous exciting discoveries within the theme and story of your project. When it comes to making movies there are no mistakes- only things that you learn and discover along the way towards creation. When I think about the best movies that have stayed with me over the years like “Raging Bull” or “Apocalypse Now”, I think of movies that were created out of the richly-fuelled furnace of pushing the limits and boundaries of their filmmaker’s vision and courage to attempt a deeper more personal and, ultimately, more universal work of art.
Are there any tips or pieces of wisdom you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
It’s probably the most cliché answer but, like many clichés, embroidered in the most truth: if you have a passion and desire to make your film then don’t let anything stop you. The technology and information needed to start your path towards filmmaking has never been more abundantly available to you. Grab a camera and some like minded friends and go shoot your movie! And don’t worry if you’re not the second coming of Welles and Ozu- almost nobody is and the only way to improve as a filmmaker is to just keep at it and you will eventually start to find your voice. And try to have fun and enjoy the journey and not think so much worry about the destination (ie- will my film play festivals, get distribution, allow me to break into Hollywood, etc.). Making a film is gruelling work at times but I wish early on I had stopped to enjoy the process while shooting and not be so stressed with the moment by moment decisions you have to make when directing on set. And, don’t forget- always appreciate and respect your cast and crew. As the director, you get to play a major part in what kind of atmosphere and environment you create on set- keep it fun, respectful and professional as you’ll want to have your collaborators continue to enjoy and thrive working with you moving forward.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from European Tour '73?
I hope that, even though our film focuses on my own family experience back in 1973, audiences will be able to relate to the joyous celebration of family that we all share and how connected we are to the generations of family that came before us. We all have defining family moments and memories that we can carry in our hearts and minds- it’s our hope that with our humble little film “European Tour ‘73” that all who enter our warmly nostalgic cinematic love letter to family will come away emotionally and personally impacted and, ultimately, see their own family experiences in our film’s story.