Gravitational pull of friendship
Virgo and Bailey come together to make The Planet Of Junior Brown
By BRUCE KIRKLAND
It was a Rude awakening, but in absolutely the best sense. When Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo made his directing debut with the acclaimed inner-city drama Rude, he brought Toronto film critic Cameron Bailey into his orbit.
Now the two have collaborated on The Planet Of Junior Brown, a complex Toronto film about the friendship between a 400-plus-pound misfit named Junior and a skinny street kid named Buddy. It makes its world premiere in the Toronto filmfest's Perspective Canada series tomorrow.
Virgo and Cameron's friendship led to a joint writing credit on the film, which Virgo directed, his first on-screen effort since Rude stormed out in 1995. Friendship is a theme developed in several of the scenarios crammed into Rude. In Planet it is the heart of the matter, says Virgo.
"Friendship is the staple of films and literature," Virgo explains, citing such films as Midnight Cowboy and books such as Of Mice And Men as parallels to his unlikely friendship saga, which began as a book by Virginia Hamilton.
"Buddy's unconditional love for Junior, and his caring for Junior, is central, and Junior feels the same for him. It's the kind of friendship that doesn't have to be explained in the film. They weren't 'in the war together' or any such thing.
"The book is not cynical, it's not sentimental, it's not melodramatic. I wanted somehow to capture that spirit in the film and to be honest and to be open. I came to it as open as I could, not passing any judgment." Which meant he had to overcome his own prejudices about fat people, he says.
Officials at the production house Film Works, which owned the book rights, courted Virgo for the project after Rude impressed them. But Virgo was already working on another original script which he still plans to shoot in the future.
"So I looked around for someone I could write this with, somebody to share the burden and the load. Cameron is a good friend and he is a good writer."
Bailey is a nine-year veteran film critic at NOW magazine and also a veteran programmer at the film festival, where he helped originate the Planet Africa series. Like many critics, he always dreamed of writing a movie.
"It is a cliche," Bailey chides himself. "I've always been living the cliche. But it's funny. When I told my editor at NOW that I was writing a script, she burst out laughing because she's heard that forever from so many writers."
The difference is that there is now a movie with Bailey's name in the credits. He succeeded, thanks to friendship. Now the filmmakers are hoping for a distribution deal, and are counting on a strong Toronto showing to generate interest.
The film, which stars Martin Villafana as Junior and Rainbow Sun Francks as Buddy and features Sarah Polley, Clark Johnson, Margot Kidder and Lynn Whitfield, was created independently. It's a risk. It's a challenge.
"This is not a classic straight-ahead Hollywood type of film, which to me is not that interesting," says Virgo. "I can watch them and some people do them well but, for myself, I'm constantly searching for new ways to tell stories."