HOTEL CONGRESS directed by Nadia Litz and Michel Kandinsky, written by Litz, with Litz and Philip Riccio. A Search Engine Films release. 72 minutes. Opens Friday (May 30). For venues and times, see listings.
Nadia Litz shot Hotel Congress in three days, but the Toronto-based writer, co-director and actor had been working toward it for a while. Perhaps best known for her roles in Love That Boy, Monkey Warfare and You Are Here, Litz has had one eye on the other side of the camera for years.
She attended the Canadian Film Centre, where she made the delightfully odd short How To Rid Your Lover Of A Negative Emotion Caused By You! When Ingrid Veninger launched her 1K Challenge in 2012 - offering $1,000 to filmmakers to write, shoot and edit a feature film in three months - Litz pitched Hotel Congress, an austere study of two people (played by herself and Philip Riccio) meeting in an Arizona hotel room.
On a patio in Kensington Market on the first truly warm day of the year, Litz is talking about the speed with which it all had to come together.
"It was, like, three weeks of writing, two weeks of prep, three days of shooting," she laughs. "And Philip was in a play at the same time, so he had all this other [work] he was learning and performing every night. Rehearsal was very limited. I was mostly working by myself; sometimes my mom would Skype in and read Philip's part."
Litz cites Eric Rohmer as a jumping-off point for herself and her co-director, Michel Kandinsky, who found themselves interested in "those art films where the couple in gorgeous clothes go and sit in a hotel room and frolic and sort of bathe in their own wonderfulness," she laughs. "What would happen if they were forced, because of the circumstances, to have a real emotion?"
That's the crux of her movie, which slowly reveals its characters' desires and goals over a series of conversations that take place in total isolation - thanks to ACTRA rules restricting the shoot.
"It's kind of neat," Litz says. "No one can even walk past the frame. It becomes an air-pocket type of film, but you can still feel the hotel. I like that you can hear that there's life happening outside but these two people are just kind of fixated on whatever they're trying to figure out."
Meanwhile, we're supposed to be figuring out what's being figured out, which makes Hotel Congress an intriguing Rorschach test for the viewer.
"The only way for a movie like this to work is if you and the audience are projecting your own experiences," she says. "You've maybe been in this position at various points. It'll be different for every person watching it."