"Sweat" feature opera-film wraps in Kingston

·5 min read

A busy summer for Kingston's film industry is well underway, with The Bicycle Opera Project wrapping the production of their new feature film "Sweat" after completing the majority of the project's filming in Kingston.

The Bicycle Opera Project was started in 2012 by Larissa Koniuk and Nadia Chana, two operatic singers who wanted to experiment with a car free alternative to touring and began to travel town to town on bicycles for performances, towing everything they need in trailers.

Now, thanks in large part to a significant Canada Council Digital Now grant, the company has adapted its stage performance of "Sweat" to premiere as a feature film.

"Sweat" is an a cappella opera by Juliet Palmer and Anna Chatterton that toured in 2017, it was made to bring awareness to unsafe work conditions and in particular the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh which killed 1,134 workers after they had previously been advocating for a safer workplace.

The film iteration is being produced by Koniuk, who is also a singer in the production, and brings along a number of performers from the onstage version.

Kingston Film Office Film Commissioner Alex Jansen said the production looked at shooting entirely in Hamilton, instead spending just two days there filming in an abandoned warehouse, but incentives and opportunities in Kingston brought over 90% of the production here.

Jansen said that the Film Office's goal is to continue to attract productions that stay for longer and ultimately help grow Kingston's built in, local working film industry.

"A lot of what we've gotten in the past would be like, we get the big studio productions... but they come, they shoot, they leave," Jansen said.

"We're trying to look at how we can support production from start to finish entirely within the area, get community involved in training and crewing up and kind of building a crew."

On the production of "Sweat", industry professionals are working in key, everyday roles, and students in applicable programs like St. Lawrence College's Hairstyling have been able to be included.

The film's main creative roles include Jennifer Nichols as director, Ash Tailor as director of photography and Geoff Sirett as music director.

Outside of those leading roles and cast members, the majority of working hands on this production have been Kingston based, with a mix of students, Film Office interns and local industry professionals.

Koniuk said of a 22 person crew working on the film day to day, typically 9 local bodies are involved.

For herself and the rest of the crew working in Kingston for the first time, the capability of Kingston's film industry and the excitement to welcome productions have been clearly displayed.

"I'm from Toronto so noticing... things are just easier here," Koniuk said.

"There's just room here for creation... It feels like in Kingston there's space to explore and create and it's not oversaturated with arts groups here."

The film's director and choreographer Jennifer Nichols says there's already a lot of experience in film here in Kingston, but remarked that even those fresh to the industry clearly show they have strong guidance in place.

She expects with the relatively low number of hands on deck and the amount everyone has been required to do to make the production a success, many will be walking away with revamped skillsets.

"Everyone is wearing many hats, and everyone has been very generous in terms of their time, and their attention, and their bandwidth," Nichols said.

"Everyone's sort of expanded what they're willing to offer and capable of offering and I think a lot people are going to walk away from this with new skill sets and just the experience to be more confident going into the next production."

Nichols said adapting the opera for film has certainly not been without challenges, but it also opens up a world of opportunities for storytelling within the production.

She says working with a 360 degree view rather than just a stage front perspective, alongside getting to tap into the abilities of colleagues like Tailor, really helps to "open everything up".

"It makes it much more intimate, it makes the narrative much more layered," said Nichols.

"If I could adapt every stage production that I've done for film I would love to do so because it just digs a little bit deeper into the narrative and then you get more into the internal workings of the characters."

Braden Dragomir, who operates Untold Storytelling and worked on "Sweat" as a key gaffer and camera op, has been playing a big role in helping that adaptation go smoothly.

The narrative, feature film format is a bit of a departure from his typical documentary or branded content work with Untold Storytelling, but he says that he hasn't had to make much of an adjustment from his process for the role he's in.

Dragomir said it's exciting to see more film production coming to Kingston, and that he expects productions staying for longer and completing more of the process in town will go a long way towards organically growing a Kingston industry that he feels is quickly catching up to other Ontario markets.

"I don't think we're that far behind what Hamilton, and what Barrie and what Northern Ontario are doing," said Dragomir.

"The film office has been putting in a ton of time growing the amount of productions that are coming to town, and now from our perspective the next phase of that is more locals working on more of those productions and productions staying longer than just a few scenes but filming end to end."

In fact, this week Dragomir and a crew of roughly 75% Kingston locals began work on another production that will be 100% shot in Kingston.

"Sweat" officially wrapped last Friday, and is expected to be released digitally in September or October of this year.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News

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