Toronto International Film Festival 2021
Short Cuts: YYZ Edition
Mi’kmaw filmmaker and actor Tim Myles pays a deeply moving yet often humorous tribute to his mother and his heritage, in this semi-autobiographical story of a young man fleeing his late mother’s wake as he attempts to come to terms with his new reality.
Hi Tim thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Thanks for having me! I'm doing well, I finally got home to see my family in Newfoundland and I feel pretty recharged. I don't want to leave.
Has this time provided you with any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
I didn't think I'd be so productive during such a strange and awful time, but I really had nothing else to do but focus on writing. The experience was equally exciting and terrifying because you can't blame your 'empty pages' on not having enough time to write anymore. I'm also very lucky and humbled to have the opportunity to premiere my first film at TIFF, which seemed like just a dream until now. My team and I went head first into this project, and it honestly felt like we just came up for air after a year of working on Little Bird full time.
Having graduated from Toronto Film School, how much did this experience and your background in directing music videos help prepare you for your filmmaking journey?
Well, originally I was accepted into TFS for the acting program, but our thesis project was to write, direct and star in our own short film. I've been writing scripts since I was eleven or twelve, but getting behind the camera and directing had never crossed my mind until this project. I had a really great time on set, and when I graduated film school I got the opportunity to direct some small budget music videos, which led to bigger clients, which led me to break out into narrative.
Music videos are a different beast altogether, a lot of the time you have to answer to the artist and their label/management team, and sometimes there can be a lot of cooks in the kitchen. I had more freedom with my own shorts, especially since we were a small, indie production, so it felt very much mine, which it hasn't always in the past. With that being said, music videos gave me a stronger visual eye, and I notice frames a lot more than I think I would have before my MV career. I'm very grateful to have done them.
As a Mi’kmaw filmmaker will you continue to make films that explore your history and culture?
I'm still learning a lot about my own culture. This film was made for my mom, who passed away seven years ago. She was a proud Mi'kmaw woman who always reminded me who I am and where we came from. She was learning our language until she became really sick, and always had traditional art and sculptures/pieces from the Miawpukek reserve around the house to keep our culture close to us. I grew up around my non-native side of the family, and I feel like I still have a lot to learn about myself and the Mi'kmaq way of life, but I do have an idea for a feature that involves our history in Newfoundland, I hope I can make that one day.
What does it mean for you to be Premiering Little Birds in the Short Cuts Section at TIFF?
I don't want to sound cheesy, but it really does feel like a dream. Two years ago I was waiting tables for a TIFF event at a hotel job that I absolutely hated, and I remember going into the back kitchens and telling myself that one day I'd be on the other side of the festival. It's been a long journey for me, and my team and I have worked very hard on this short, like, harder than I've ever worked on anything before in my life. It feels good. I feel like a real filmmaker. I'm excited to share this with audiences.
Did you have any apprehensions about writing/directing and acting in such a personal film?
I was really on the fence about whether or not I should have been in it. I was worried that the performance would fall flat because I was wearing too many hats, but when I spoke to my producers, Caitlin Russell and Lauren Andrews, they assured me that because it's such a personal story, that it really should be me. I'm very happy that I did it. I almost cast someone else, and I think I would have really regretted that decision. A few days before we went to camera, Lauren and I arrived at our shooting location in the Saugeen Shores to get everything ready for our cast and crew, and my acting coach Sophie Rooney joined us to really go over the emotional beats with me, and we spoke about the journey this character was going on and how it related to my own stages of grief. It was very healing, and I couldn't have done it without my team.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Little Birds came about?
Little Bird came about when I was alone during the lockdown. I lost my mom seven years ago to Polycystic Kidney Disease. Shortly after she passed away, I moved to Toronto to become an actor and never really processed what had just happened to me. I think that time of grieving was pushed down by this new journey I was embarking on, and it really made me suppress a lot of the emotions I was feeling. I wouldn't think about it, and then when I would go back to Newfoundland for the holidays, I would find myself breaking down randomly at family functions, in public, just really inappropriate times. I never really spoke to anyone about it, and a lot of the time I used alcohol to cope with it, but the pandemic really made me sit down and reflect. In the script, my character runs away from his mother's wake but later learns not to bear the weight of grief alone, which was the conclusion I came to about my own journey.
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking for you?
Extremely important. Everyone was really excited to make this film come to life, especially my cinematographer, Nick Tiringer. He had some amazing ideas for visuals. There's a scene where my sister (played by actor Lisa Nasson), is hanging out of the window of a car, and it was completely his idea. It gave so much to the moment, it's one of my favourite shots. Not to mention my producer, Caitlin Russell, lent a lot of ideas to the story arc that I fell in love with instantly. Everyone was so amazing, but not in a 'too many cooks' kind of situation. I was happy to hear what they thought. It really became our film.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I've always had a passion for storytelling. I started writing scripts and short stories when I was ten or eleven. I was obsessed with the Chronicles of Narnia series as a kid, and the fascination probably lasted a little longer than it should have, haha. I've always loved the idea of being able to escape into a different world, which is why I think I clung to that series so much. I've been acting since I was a child, and I would write the plays for my school drama club. It wasn't until I went to film school where I started to appreciate the film more, but I'm in no way a "cinephile", I probably couldn't name a lot of the classic movies you "should see" as a filmmaker. Maybe that's bad, I dunno... I just really love to tell stories.
"Grab a camera and shoot anything. Even if it sucks. It will suck. But you'll get better!"
Has your style and approach to your films changed since your debut short?
Yeah, I would say so. I always loved to focus on the visual aspect, to make every frame look like a painting, but I think after finishing Little Bird, I've come to realize I really like being up close and personal with the character, having the camera flow with their blocking and let them tell the story. I still love my grand shots, but I think now it's more of a blend of the two.
Is there any advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into filmmaking?
The biggest piece of advice I would offer someone is to find people who love it as much as you do. Find your people, because they will uplift you and encourage you to be better. Really find what it is about filmmaking that you love and focus on that. Research the directors you like, watch their short films when they are just starting out. Join the 'fixer' Facebook groups to look for PA work, that's a great start to get yourself on set and meeting people! Grab a camera and shoot anything. Even if it sucks. It will suck. But you'll get better!
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Little Birds?
To keep their families and loved ones close, whether it be blood or chosen. Do not bear the weight of grief alone, and always reach out to someone when you're feeling alone or helpless. Call your parents. Don't take everything so seriously and learn to laugh at yourself. It's a beautiful life, even when it isn't.