THE ANIMAL PROJECT written and directed by Ingrid Veninger, with Aaron Poole, Joey Klein, Jacob Switzer and Hannah Cheesman. A Mongrel Media release. 90 minutes. Opens Friday (June 6). For venues and times, see Movies.
When Toronto filmmaker Ingrid Veninger wanted a change of pace from her intensely personal, DIY-style movies, she altered her entire approach. Her new film would be scripted and cast with professional actors. And maybe it would be a little weird.
The result is The Animal Project, which stars The Conspiracy's Aaron Poole as an acting teacher who challenges his students to wander around Toronto in oversized animal costumes.
"I don't think they knew what they were getting into," Veninger says, fresh from taking the movie to the Cannes film market.
Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, I'm in a mascot suit, it's gonna be fun! I'm gonna be lovable!' But the world's reaction to a mascot is completely unpredictable, and you see the bright and dark side. These actors were put through the wringer when they were in these suits. They were surprised, and they were transformed in completely unexpected ways."
Veninger cites the experience of co-star Emmanuel Kabongo, who wore the owl suit and sought hugs on a rainy night.
"One minute he's being hugged, the next minute he's being completely rejected," she says. "He is absolutely vulnerable in the suit. He's happy and euphoric and in love with the world one minute, sobbing in his owl head the next minute. And people just think he's this big rag doll, so they're punching him in the head, pulling his tail, humping him...."
Yeah, about that. I worked at Canada's Wonderland when I was a teenager, and saw people in Hanna-Barbera suits repeatedly attacked by swarms of children. Veninger assures me that she and her crew kept an eye out for potential threats.
"We were never very far from the actors," she says. "There's always someone with them from their starting positions to their ending positions."
Which isn't to say there weren't occasional deviations from the plan.
"Joey Klein, in the beaver suit - he was wild," Veninger admits. "I was always very paranoid about crossing the street and not doing anything crazy."
Now The Animal Project is ready to go out to the world. Thanks to a same-day release on iTunes Canada and a deal with Vimeo VOD for the rest of the globe, Veninger's movie will be available literally everywhere as of Friday.
"I'm really excited that we get to do this multi-platform thing," she says. "Everywhere in the world with an internet connection can see The Animal Project as of June 6. I love that a small, independent film can actually have that kind of accessibility. That's been the problem: we make our films, and then no one knows how to find them or where to see them."
Now Veninger can turn her full attention to coordinating the six scripts she's developing in her pUNK Films Femmes Lab, to be delivered to Melissa Leo at the end of the month.
"Don't even," she says, waving her hands. "I'm gonna have a panic attack."