Fredericton filmmaker Ty Giffin always had a fascination with gangster movies and ever since watching the movie Goodfellas, he wanted to make one of his own.
He wondered why he was so drawn to these types of movies in his younger years and eventually chalked it up to "toxic masculinity."
At that point, the short film he was writing, Cicerone, became a look into the men that young boys look up to and the culture of violence surrounding that.
"It was kind of, not exactly autobiographical, but I definitely put myself in the shoes of the protagonists when I was writing it," said Giffin.
Toxic masculinity refers to cultural pressures that encourage men to behave a certain way, which is often linked to the "boys don't cry" notion.
The 11-minute film follows a young man named Robbie who is trying to figure out what to do with his life, said Giffin. Robbie's getting bullied at school and sees a member of the Mafia named Jon. He looks up to Jon, so he decides to shadow him for a script he's writing.
Jon Wilkinson plays Jon in the film and he said it was fun to explore a personality opposite to his own.
"When it comes down to it, every human being has the capacity to do bad things, just not everybody chooses so," said Wilkinson. "So to kind of have this safe space … through film to explore that side of human nature is very, very interesting."
Wrong role models
Wilkinson said he's a big fan of the crime-drama television series The Sopranos and he always saw two of the main characters, Tony and Paulie, as being really cool. But since working on Cicerone, he's watched the series from a different viewpoint.
When people watch the film, Wilkinson hopes viewers start to re-evaluate the people they look up to, whether they're fictional or real.
"I hope after watching this film, people … say, 'OK, well cool, but also not a great person, you know, what exactly are they doing for society?'"
Giffin said the main character Robbie feels beaten down by society and he's at a vulnerable place where he's on the cusp of possibly becoming a violent young man. Robbie has an uncle in the film who tries to steer him in the right direction, but Robbie instead ends up looking up to Jon.
Giffin said this part of the plot inspired the title of the film, Cicerone, because it is an old term for a guide.
"I kind of imagined it as like the male role models that we look up to and the effects that they have on us and the culture that came before us, and how we fit into that," said Giffin.
How the film came to be
Giffin studied film at the University of New Brunswick and had only ever produced short films for under $100 each. But Cicerone was a $13,000 project.
When Giffin graduated, people told him to "write what you know."
"I was like, 'I don't really know what I know. Like, I'm so young, I don't really know what is my story to tell,'" said Giffin.
He wrote a script with gangster movie tropes and imagery, but when he worked with a producer and started digging deeper, he realized the real story behind Cicerone.
Upcoming film festival screening
Giffin received an ArtsNB creation grant and short film venture award after finishing the script in 2019.
Then when the pandemic hit, the shoot was postponed until September 2021. Giffin did all the editing for the film himself and said he tried to only work on it when he felt inspired.
The film premiered at some online festivals, but will have its in-person premiere at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival in Halifax on Sept. 18.
Giffin held a private viewing for cast and crew when the film was complete and he said he finally was seeing the short with "fresh eyes."
"After all those years and the delays and everything, it was pretty beautiful," he said. "I was pretty emotional and choked up as I got to the end of the movie for the first time. So hopefully, when people watch it, they feel the same way."
Giffin said breaking into the film world as an Atlantic Canadian filmmaker has been interesting. He said a lot of his connections came from university, which allowed him to have the opportunity to work on professional sets.
Now, he's working at UNB in the media services department and he said his journey went "full-circle."
"It feels every year that the [film] community in Fredericton and in New Brunswick is getting bigger and bigger."