Close to the Bone, Ian Foster's new film, hits close to home

·4 min read
Ian Foster says his new film, Close to the Bone, is inspired by his mother’s story of caring for a chronically ill parent. (Chris LeDrew/Submitted by Lynette Adams - image credit)
Ian Foster says his new film, Close to the Bone, is inspired by his mother’s story of caring for a chronically ill parent. (Chris LeDrew/Submitted by Lynette Adams - image credit)

In an early lyric of Ian Foster's, he says, "The law of God is the law of change." In the St. John's musician-filmmaker's new film, Close to the Bone, the divine nature of change takes centre stage, as he explores how illness profoundly alters the life of an individual and that of her entire family.

The film explores a life whose horizons are reduced, as Foster says, "to a daybed in the kitchen and a set of stairs that could go anywhere because you can't access it."

A longtime travelling musician, Foster credits a 2019 stay in Portugal with giving him the mental and physical space to find inspiration for this film.

"I was sort of burned out on the musical direction I was taking at the time, or the journey that I'd been on for the years prior. I needed a different perspective."

Almost simultaneously, he began creating this film and writing new songs.

Alex Stead/Submitting by Lynette Adams
Alex Stead/Submitting by Lynette Adams

"There were no tour dates, anything like that," Foster says. "It was just to try to live a bit of life, to get away from home so you can actually come home."

Close to the Bone indeed brought Foster back home. The film's narrative is inspired by his mother's experience as a teenager, caring for a parent debilitated by rheumatoid arthritis. In it, he imagines life as a series of rooms and explores "the private stuff that happens in the rooms of the home not accessible to the larger world, what's behind these walls."

'Film just grew in my heart'

While Foster is best known as a singer-songwriter, he is no stranger to filmmaking. He started "organically" in film, he says, through friends who made films asking him to score them. He also began scoring films for the Newfoundland Independent Film Makers Co-Op.

"I was just really fascinated by seeing films in various stages of undress: they're usually not coloured; it might not be final audio for the dialogue. That was exciting to me."

This early exposure to film led him to create his first short, One More Song, released in 2013, followed a few years later by Keystone (2016). And while working on these projects, he continued with his music career.

"Various streams were happening in some way, as we all do different things. And film just grew in my heart," he said.

Alex Stead/Submitted by Lynette Adams
Alex Stead/Submitted by Lynette Adams

Hybrid of narrative and music video

Foster says his Portugal experience was "a moment of thinking about music and film and their interaction." These two creative streams of film and music flowed together in his creation of Close to the Bone, as he conceived of the film while writing songs for a new album.

"Part of the record was written, the film sort of came up on the horizon, and that started to then inform part of the other record."

The album, which he plans to release later this year, is connected musically and thematically with the film.

"I knew it had to be some hybrid of a narrative story and a music video."

Foster says his simultaneous work on film and music was a "great antidote" to common studio problems.

He was able to draw on the contributions of Justin Simms and Michael Ciuffini, who produced the film, and of Mark Turner, who is co-producing the forthcoming album.

Alex Stead/Submitted by Lynette Adams
Alex Stead/Submitted by Lynette Adams

"You can focus on the technical aspects of achieving what you want in a sound that becomes so laser-focused that it's like a forest-for-the-trees issue."

He believes he was able to take the insights from each discipline and apply them creatively to the other.

"I'm trying to approach the music through a film lens, and then the converse I think is true too: I tried to approach the film through a rhythmic music lens."

Foster credits his producing partners with informing that crossover.

"Being forced to shift gears a little makes you step back and hear things again in a fresh way."

'Poetry of ordinary life'

Foster is quick to give credit to the crew and cast of Close to the Bone, whom he describes as "all-star players of the Newfoundland film scene."

Bridget Wareham's portrayal of the mother character spans from her youth as a dancer to the chronically ill older woman.

"A lot of that arc is represented in her, the shifting of one's life and size and scope of movement," he said. "I think the challenge of these very quick slice-of-life moments is how to imbue the weight of the character through a look."

Allison Moira Kelly plays the daughter, whose point of view is central to the narrative. Darryl Hopkins and Des Walsh play the father character at two different ages.

"Their action is sometimes something like chopping up something at the kitchen table — it's poetry of ordinary life stuff. And of course, there still has to be a dynamic to all that."

Elaine Condon and Michael Rhodri Smith also appear in the film in brief but poignant moments.

"To do that in these very short sequences across what is ultimately represented as years in someone's memory, that was the challenge, and I felt like they did a great job."

Close to the Bone plays at Nickel Film Festival on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. NT

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