The entirely Alberta-made The Ties That Bind promises audiences a complex thriller, set to the backdrop of the great depression and the political populism of the William “Bible Bill” Aberhart Social Credit Government.
The film, the first full feature by long-time member of Calgary’s film community James Reckseidler, is set to open at the Calgary International Film Festival on Sept. 27.
It tells the story of a man blackmailed, who returns home to Delburne, Alberta to avoid political scandal in Edmonton, only to find personal scandals brewing at home, testing the limits of loyalty against greed and desperation.
“As Alberta filmmakers, we hear a lot about telling our stories and sometimes I think there’s kind of a pride thing around celebrating who we are, and that’s all always a positive, wonderful thing,” said Reckseidler.
“We also have such a unique history of little pockets of where Alberta really has been just Alberta. Certainly in the Depression, Alberta really was the only jurisdiction… that tried this economic extreme philosophy of putting money in people’s pockets, and was going to get them socially activated and kickstart the economy.”
He said that a populist backdrop was an intriguing setting to create a film against and to give some context to characters making the kind of complex decisions that audiences expect from the genre.
Audiences invited into a different era of Alberta’s history
The challenge, said Reckseidler, was to invite audiences into the world of the 1930s Alberta in a way that was authentic—and in a way that they had never seen before.
“Thankfully, my hometown [of Delburne], I’d written the locations to be up there and I knew that they existed. There is an outdoor hockey rink, the main streets, things like that just makes it a little bit more manageable because it’s an ambitious script,” he said.
“There’s no question period generally means that you got to strip away all the modern… but sticking with what we knew worked for the project, and then bringing those people that we thought were a great complement to that story.”
He said that he was proud that the film, produced on a $1 million budget, was able to use an entirely Albertan cast and crew to create a feature that looks and feels like a far higher-budget film.
“Our job, I think, is to thrill and delight, or make people feel things a little bit differently for a while. Then they can talk about it afterward, and people are talking about the movie afterward, and we’ve shocked or delighted them, or we’ve challenged them in some way, then I think we’ve done our job,” Reckseidler said.
The film standing on its own as not just an Albertan-made film, but as a film that people enjoy and tell their friends about, is what Reckseidler said he hopes audiences leave the theatre with.
The cast features Ryan Northcott (Mystery, Alaska; Heartland), Lonni Olson (Black Summer; Fargo), Rae Farrer (Burn Your Maps; Realization), along with veteran Canadian actor Nathanial Arcand (Killers of the Flower Moon; North of 60).
A place for indies in Alberta
The Ties that Bind producer Joel Goundry, who previously produced the television series Caregivers in the Wild and Being There, said that producing the film was the culmination of what they knew was possible as independent filmmakers in Alberta.
“We created a well-crafted story, both artistic and wildly creative, and brought it to life in the most independent way. If there is a film that demonstrates that Alberta is a world player in film and media, through our producers, writers, talent, and crews—this is the film,” he said.
Reckseidler said that the feature showed what was possible on a budget in the province’s film industry, and something that would be of interest to markets in Europe.
“Independent films, and the independent producing community here, is robust and vibrant, and we maybe don’t always know that’s true. I think this has been a great year, I’m really excited about this particular year at CIFF,” he said.
“We have seven, locally made by local producers and directors projects that just seem to be standing out of this festival. How exciting is that, that the independent side of this business is here doing great work, and now we get to see the results of how much talent is available in this in this community.”
Brian Owens, CIFF’s Artistic Director, said that films like The Ties That Bind are an important part of the ecosystem for film production in the province, especially at the mid-range indie budget level.
“You want those giant productions to be here in the area, but it’s really those mid-range slightly higher budget independent films that’s really where I think the talents are developed where the jobs are created and where you create and build the community,” Owens said.
“The super-low indie can be done with a really tiny crew, but those larger ones need more people, and as more people work together the stronger those relationships get, and the more likely they are to work together later. Then that ball just keeps rolling.”