Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Sasha Leigh Henry

Sinking Ship

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While out for drinks, a couple finds themselves in an intellectual discussion of how they feel about each other. Their clinical honesty is contrasted by a massive mural behind them that conveys the emotional truth of their relationship.

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

I’m holding up...ok? Really yo-yoing between extremes on a constant basis to be honest. It’s a lot but TIFF has been a high point.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

Definitely. My creative partner Tania Thompson and I like to brainstorm and ideate a lot. In the not too early but not

Congratulations on having Sinking Ship as part of TIFF Short Cuts, how does it feel to have your film a part of such an amazing lineup of short films?

It feels really full circle for me as a former volunteer and I’m really honoured to be in selection. Especially to be alongside my other collaborators Kelly Fyffe-Marshall and Tamar Bird with Black Bodies and fellow producer Coral Aiken’s latest from director Hannah Cheeseman Succor.

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

It’s a bit of a romantic story in my memory. Tania was in Japan and I was in Thailand for the winter. She texted me a thought, a thesis I guess, for a film she wanted to write about a couple looking at their changing dynamics framed through the man’s discomfort with his girlfriend’s growth. That’s not exactly what she texted me but that was the essence of it and that there would be two conversation layers: what was being said aloud and what was happening beneath the surface.

Tania is a wicked fast writer so she got a first draft out pretty quickly. Our plan was to write it so we could should it quick and dirty and flex some creative muscle but after reading it I thought there was some cool things we could try in telling this story that could be bolstered with budget and the artistic nature of what we going to try to do felt like something the Ontario Arts Council would support. I recommended we hold out to apply for the upcoming funding stream and then we were selected!

"I think my passion for filmmaking comes from the joy I had as a viewer for some of my favourite shows growing up." 

What was it about Tania Thompson's screenplay that connected with you as a director?

I really like working with actors on meaty pieces like this. I knew performance was going to have to really stand up over the light touch of the camera. Figuring out how to execute the wave was an exciting challenge I wanted to explore. I’ve worked with VFX elements in my early project and the opportunity to take it one step further and have it play such a big role in the story was very appealing to me.

Are you a flexible director and allow for changes or do you prefer to stick to what has been written?

I allow for changes. I think I’m fairly reasonable. I used to think I was too accommodating and needed to be more demanding as a director but if the location falls through it falls through, working with limited budgets it happens. Producers can definitely make magic happen but when they can’t, remaining inflexible in the moment doesn’t seem like an efficient use of the time we have to fix the issue. I’d much rather ideate and troubleshoot than get too pissy about changes that need to be made to the script or story for whatever reason. That’s if we’re in the middle of shooting though, in pre-production I can be stubborn about what I want.

Plus over the years I’ve noticed that my instinct is getting sharper and sharper, which is an incredible thing to be able to identify. When I know that something needs to be kept or is invaluable to the story for whatever reason the confidence it takes to say ‘no’ comes so much easier to me. Even when I don’t necessarily have the words to describe why I can’t be flexible in that moment I know enough about how I work to know that I’m typically inclined to be collaborative and compromise so if I’m not feeling that in the moment then I know I need to fight for whatever is up on the chopping block.

If I’m the writer I don’t mind changing the script if something isn’t working . Tania and I have that relationship as writer-director as well.

What was the most challenging part of making this film for you?

The VFX. With other VFX elements I’ve had in my work in the past the reference was obvious enough that it was easy to know that I’d get something close to what I’m looking for based off of the first draft. With this trying to communicate what was and wasn’t working in the wave files between each iteration was really difficult to do remotely. This was my biggest foray into VFX so I don’t have a short hand of terminology to help communicate what I wanted or help me understand some of the challenges we experienced along the way.

Editing remotely was also tough for me. Not my jam at all. It made it too difficult to just try things because you have to write out your notes, they have to be implemented, exported, and then you can see it and in that time you could have lost a day. Felt much harder to play.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I think my passion for filmmaking comes from the joy I had as a viewer for some of my favourite shows growing up. It just filled me with so much glee to watch Fresh Prince and Martin. My dad really loved watching television as an escape and entertainment, it’s wind-down time, so we watched a lot of comedy growing up and laughter is one of my favourite experiences.

I got my first taste of storytelling to an audience when I was cast as the lead in my 6th grade Christmas play. I really loved that I could make the audience laugh and feel things. I knew then I wanted to tell stories.

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

I don’t know exactly how it’s changed but it has. I feel more at home in my ideas. I’m not as daunted by them when I think about them. I feel more capable so I’m sure that translates to taking bigger risks in my filmmaking then when I first started. Now when I have ideas I know what I’ve been given is the essence of something and it’s not for me to know all the answers right away but to sit with and discover and explore further, the confidence in knowing that alone has changed quite a bit.

The oracle . not an oracle, working with broadcasters

Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of their art form?

I really don’t know much about what any should be doing when it comes to art making. In my opinion it would make sense to be trying to push the limit. Ryan Cavan said a great thing to me when I first started writing which is that “All films are having a conversation and it’s our job to figure out what’s been said, who said it, does it need repeating, and do we have anything new to add?” I think of that all the time. I’m driven by finding new ways for us all to look at familiar things.

What did it mean for you to get such recognition for your film?

This film is a different tone than my first film Bitches Love Brunch, it was a bit more dramatic and a big feat to pull off the entire VFX setup, so it’s a huge endorsement of what felt like a step out from what people might expect based on my first short film.

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

I hope they see themselves and elements of their own relationship in this contemporary, french-speaking Black couple. I hope people are less afraid to have difficult conversations. I hope people are more okay with the end of things if it means a presentation of self that doesn’t feel aligned with who they feel they are.

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