By Anita Malhotra
Special to The Toronto Sun
Wiebke von Carolsfeld loves to tell stories. It was this love that drew her into the world of filmmaking. Now, the 38-year-old director is celebrating the release of her first feature film, Marion Bridge, which recently opened at the Cumberland theatre in Yorkville and in 11 other North American cities.
Left to right: Rebecca Jenkins as Theresa, Stacy Smith as Louise, and Molly Parker as Agnes in Marion Bridge, director Wiebke von Carolsfeld's first film.
Starring Molly Parker and Rebecca Jenkins, and featuring a cameo appearance by Ashley MacIsaac, it's a gentle story of three sisters who confront a disturbing family secret.
Von Carolsfeld's road to filmmaking was far from smooth. Born and raised in Germany, she moved to Toronto in 1989, hoping to become a book editor. But with limited English skills, she found this career closed to her.
Instead, she ended up working as an office temp.
One day, as she watched a friend edit a film, she had a sudden realization. "I thought, 'I could do that,'" she says. "Language was not so much of an issue." But when she applied to film school, she was rejected. "It was devastating, but I was spurred on to do it on my own."
She began volunteering at Rogers Television, where she learned how to shoot and edit news stories. Then she picked up the phone and started cold-calling film editors. "I wound up getting a job as a trainee assistant editor on David Cronenberg's M. Butterfly," she says.
Von Carolsfeld gradually became a full-fledged editor by watching editors work and by editing short films for free. Between jobs, she made two short films of her own.
Her big break came when filmmaker and playwright Daniel MacIvor, whose short films she had edited, showed her his screenplay for Marion Bridge. She loved it so much that she found producers for it and became its director. After months of planning, a 24-day shoot in Nova Scotia, and picture and sound editing, the film was ready.
"Directing is like conducting an orchestra," says von Carolsfeld, who helped prepare for her shoot by watching Atom Egoyan direct his film Ararat. "You make sure you cast properly -- I don't just mean the actors, I mean the whole crew -- and then you make sure they all sing along to the same tune."
Everyone sang so well that the film won the Citytv award for Best Canadian First Feature Film at the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival.
Von Carolsfeld attributes much of her success to building a network within the film community. "I truly believe in helping each other out," she says. Talent is not the most important ingredient for success, she adds. "It's not so much about how good you are, but how well you deal with rejection. And you have to be able to work quite hard. It's pretty intense work."
She says there are many paths to becoming a film director, including going to school and working on other people's films. But she advises that the shortest way is just to do it.
"If you want to be a director, direct," she says. "With digital video being so affordable, it's actually something you can do. Then you will know if it's something you want to pursue in a professional way."
(Anita Malhotra (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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