There's a perfect moment in past perfect that captures all the talents of Daniel MacIvor. Playing a scholar named Cecil, he sits in an airplane beside working-class Charlotte (Rebecca Jenkins). She asks what he's reading, and he passes her his copy of Finnegan's Wake. As she cracks open James Joyce's impenetrable last novel, a two-shot shows creeping bewilderment on her face and perverse pleasure flushing his.
It's MacIvor at his quicksilver best -- wicked, smart and strangely sweet. Wordless, but all about words.
"I just really enjoyed the idea of playing a man who'd consider Finnegan's Wake airplane reading," MacIvor laughs.
Talking over the lunchtime buzz in the café at 401 Richmond, MacIvor explains his ongoing migration from stage to screen. He wrote, directed and acted in Past Perfect, and it follows from the strength of his theatre work.
A study in contrasts, it's the story of a man and woman meeting on a flight between Halifax and Vancouver, intercut with their prickly relationship two years later.
Like Harold Pinter's Betrayal or even David Hare's Wetherby, it's a love story filtered through the intellect and tempered by time. But the scale is deliberately smaller. Past Perfect is part of a series of low-budget films designed to start from the dramatic challenge of two seats on a plane: 3A and 3C.
MacIvor admits he wasn't exactly blown away initially.
"Camelia Frieberg, the producer, called and asked if I'd be interested in a movie set on a plane, and I said no and that was the end of that.
"Then I started looking through some work. A number of times I had started a study of a couple. It took place in a number of locations but over the course of two specific days. I started to think, "What if I set half the movie on the plane?' Then the plane actually means something, it's not just a location. So I altered it to fit that hermetically sealed environment, which allows them to connect."
Sounds like a play. But MacIvor finds the two disciplines completely distinct.
"Theatre and film aren't apples and oranges, and they're not cats and dogs," he says with trademark pith. "They're apples and cats. My theatre work and my film work share one thing -- me."
And as for acting in a film he wrote and directed, MacIvor says it was a budget decision.
"I was in this movie because I was cheap and I took direction well."
Although he's best known for his stage work, MacIvor has been writing and acting in movies for years. Less known are his no-budget shorts, including the manic classic Wake Up, Jerk Off, Etc. MacIvor's work manages to roam easily from scabrous underground itch to the classical shape of his Marion Bridge script, directed last year by Wiebke von Carolsfeld.
"I don't know how to say this," he begins cautiously, "but... I'm a good writer. But good writing doesn't make a good movie. I can write a script and it reads well, but that can get in the way. I'm learning how to filter through the "good writing' to look for the good movie."
When I ask MacIvor why he's turning more to movies now, he blurts his answer like a reflex.
"In terms of reaching an audience, I feel like I've hit the ceiling. You know, we went to Santa Barbara with In On It and we played for 500 people last month. That was great, but I only have so much time and energy. I feel like if I want to tell stories, I can tell stories to more people by making film than I can by making theatre.
"But I do love the theatre, and I'll always do it, because it helps to keep me grounded as a human being.
"But I don't go to the theatre," he says. "I go to movies. I don't actually like going to the theatre. I find it really boring."firstname.lastname@example.org
PAST PERFECT written and directed by Daniel MacIvor, produced by Camelia Frieberg, with MacIvor and Rebecca Jenkins. 82 minutes. An imX communications production. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (February 21). For review, venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 68. Rating: NNN