Calgary-based David Christensen is a huge film buff. At last year's TIFF, he was as eager to talk about other filmmakers - and even quiz me about my job - as he was about his fiction feature debut, Six Figures. That's not surprising, since his film is as suggestive and mysterious as some of the best recent foreign films. (Think Cache set in Calgary.)
We don't often see Calgary onscreen. How important is the setting? Yeah, it's often made to seem like a generic nowhere. The book (by Fred Leebron) was set in boomtown USA, and Calgary is boomtown Canada. It was easy to transpose the novel. The cold winds of commerce and new wealth blow through that city.
How did your documentary work affect your directing fiction? Working in docs lets me observe people. You see how they act, how they talk to one another, how they stand and speak. I tried to bring a sense of truthfulness to Six Figures so that people could feel they were observing real life.
You like wide shots and don't like cutting away much. Another carry-over from docs? I find a lot of features too busy, with different angles and close-ups that act to underline what you're supposed to feel. Audiences are smarter than directors often give them credit for.
I like how the script suggests but doesn't overplay the idea of familial violence and lies. It was there in the book, and I tried to draw it out a bit more. Most of us wouldn't brain our spouses, but we can appreciate the petty frustrations we encounter every day. What the film does is ratchet it up to the next level. The incident rips the lid off this festering can of worms. But there are hints all over the film's first 30 minutes.
No one in the film ever says, "Six figures." How come? No one ever says "Garden State" or "My own private Idaho." I think everyone, at least in Calgary, knows what it means. But apparently it doesn't translate well in other languages. There's no equivalent in French.
Where do you think these characters are now? I don't know. I like the fact that you get to the end of the film and, if you're open to it, it can continue in your mind. Less successful films are the ones where everything's tied up neatly.
Apart from the setting, Six Figures doesn't feel like a Canadian film. Was that intentional? I wanted to do something I hadn't seen in Canadian film. Some of my favourite directors are foreign. My art director and cinematographer watched Laurent Cantet's Time Out. I love how Michael Haneke designs his shots and also avoids music. And Taiwan's Edward Yang uses a lot of wide shots and isn't afraid to ask the audience to meet a film halfway. All these directors were important in my thinking about an aesthetic for this film.