This new film might make you question your relationships — and that's the point

Adam Garnet Jones and Sarah Kolasky's 'Great Great Great' is an intimate exploration of relationships — one that was deeply personal for both of them.

'It seemed like everyone around us was either breaking up or getting married'

Sarah Kolasky and Dan Beirne in Great Great Great. (Canadian Film Fest)

It hasn't even been a year since Adam Garnet Jones' first film Fire Song was making the film festival rounds, garnering considerable attention for being one of the first films by an Indigenous director to depict two-spirited characters. But the clearly hardworking Jones is already back, premiering his second featureGreat Great Great at Toronto's Canadian Film Fest — and the film marks a significant departure from Song.

This time around, Jones teamed up with Sarah Kolasky, with whom he's made a number of short films since they met as students at Ryerson. The duo co-write the script, with Jones directing and Kolasky starring. They wanted to tell an intimate, personal story that focused on character and performance — one that they could make on their own terms by assembling a group of friends and some equipment.

"We had this dreamy idea that it would just be a few people in an apartment doing this loose process-driven improvisational thing, but over time it grew into something a little more structured and resolved," Jones tells CBC Arts.

Like Fire Song, there was a semi-autobiographical element to Great Great Great for both Jones and Kolasky. The story grew indirectly from their own experiences, as both of them had recently ended long-term relationships when they were beginning of the writing process.

The poster for Great Great Great. (Canadian Film Fest)

"It seemed like everyone around us was either breaking up or getting married," Jones says. "The strange thing was that it seemed like, for us and our friends, the decision to break up or get married came not from a sense that our relationships were miserable or fantastic but from a feeling that a commitment one way or another had to be made. For both of us, the feeling of needing to make a final decision on a relationship that was fine — but not great — brought up a lot of interesting questions about what we expect from relationships. How good is good enough? If we're questioning our relationships in that way, does it mean that it's already over? Or is that just a natural way of working things out? And what if we could make a film where someone refused to choose one or the other, but decided to do both?"

And that's exactly what they did. Great Great Great ultimately tells the story of Lauren (played by Kolasky), a woman questioning whether her five-year relationship with Tom (Dan Berine) is good enough for her. And through Lauren, audiences find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of questioning their own situations in the process.

If we're questioning our relationships in that way, does it mean that it's already over? Or is that just a natural way of working things out? And what if we could make a film where someone refused to choose one or the other, but decided to do both?- Adam Garnet Jones

"It's a film about someone who is uncertain about how to move forward with her relationship, and some audiences were uncomfortable sitting with that uncertainty," Jones says. "Throughout the development process and into the editing, there were a number of people who wanted us to clearly identify Lauren's internal issues. We even wrote a draft of the script where we explained and externalized all of the things she is dealing with — but once we had the draft in our hands, we realized it wasn't a film either of us were interested in making." 

Jones also said reactions to the film were gendered in an interesting way. Some said that if the film were about a male character they would not have questioned whether or not Lauren is "likable" enough.

"But since the film is about a woman, the question of likability is one that came up again and again," Jones says. "We had to keep reminding ourselves that this is a film about uncertainty and — to some extent — deceit. We could entertain changing the film in many ways, but altering the character because people were uncomfortable identifying with an 'unlikable' woman was never on the table."

Sarah Kolasky and Dan Beirne in Great Great Great. (Canadian Film Fest)

Ultimately, Jones hopes that people relate to both Lauren and Tom, as both characters show some pretty vulnerable — and yes, unlikable — sides of themselves. 

"They are self-involved, terrified and insecure in ways that many of us can be in our intimate relationships," Jones says. "If people can extend a bit of empathy toward the characters, maybe they can extend some of that to themselves and to the people in their lives."

But Jones also wants people to fight.

"I hope couples and friends watch the film and argue about what they want out of their relationships," he says. "We hide from one another too much, and we have too many assumptions about what our partners expect from our relationships. It would be great if this film could help shake some of that loose — maybe help someone break up, get married or start an affair."

Sounds great, great, great to us.

Great Great Great. Starring Sarah Kolasky and Daniel Beirne.  Directed by Adam Garnet Jones. Screens March 23 at the Canadian Film Fest. www.canfilmfest.ca