It's a compelling premise. A 41 year old pharmacist, married with two teenagers, wonders if her life was meant for something more. When an anonymous letter arrives, offering her the chance to change things, she has to make a decision.
Sean Garrity's latest film, Blood Pressure, follows the series of choices she makes, prompted by an unknown observer who wants to help her realize her potential.
Garrity says the idea came out of a writer's group in Winnipeg, courtesy of Bill Fugler who runs the Neighbourhood Bookstore and Cafe in Wolseley, while Garrity then added the bits and pieces it needed to translate to the big screen.
The Winnipeg filmmaker had planned to shoot in his hometown, till a last minute career opportunity for his wife found the couple moving to Toronto for two years.
Rather than sitting on the project, Garrity found himself trying to recreate the look and feeling of Winnipeg in a much bigger city - a change that was something of an eye-opener. "It's a very jaded city, Americans have been shooting there since the '80s, that hasn't happened in Winnipeg," he says. "In Toronto if you want to plug in a light or put a car in front of someone's house, it's 'that'll be a thousand bucks.' After six weeks of shooting you're exhausted by it, they look at movies like they're ATMs."
Nicole (Michelle Giroux) reads a letter from an anonymous observer (Sean Garrity)
Garrity says it's just easier to make films in familiar neighbourhoods, with local actors like Gord Tanner or Sarah Constible who he can imagine taking on a role. In a different city, actors had to be auditioned, locations had to be scouted and in some cases, re-scouted.
"When we were doing location scouting in Toronto, we were looking at Leslieville, kind of your hipster area where houses go for $600,000. So we went there and it's these little, tiny duplexes and two bedroom houses," Garrity says.
Trying to find the type of house his fictional actuary and pharmacist couple would call home in a market like Winnipeg led the team farther afield, into Richmond Hill. A surreal suburb Garrity says became almost like another character in the film, reinforcing his lead's sense of alienation and isolation.
Calling it a place where "nobody knows their neighbours" Garrity shares a story of watching a homeowner in the neighbourhood get in his car, drive six doors to the communal mailbox to pickup mail, get back in the car and drive the six houses back to his own garage. For him, that experience captured what the neighbourhood was all about.
"So she finds herself in this giant, cavernous home in a sidewalk-less suburb with a
family that doesn't acknowledge her existence. In her case it's like a bit of
disillusionment, a place designed to anticipate our every need, a perfect
paradise. But in the end, the promise of it is very alienating," he says.
Garrity hopes this desire to peer into the unknown is something many people can relate to. "I think that in our lives, we have these kinds of doors that open to these possibilities and most of us are titillated by it. I wanted to explore how disillusioned my character would have to be to make that choice."Blood Pressure premieres at Cinematheque on February 22.