Cape Breton film gets 'overwhelming' reaction at Berlin film festival

A film created entirely in Cape Breton is making a splash on European screens, appearing in four sold-out shows at the Berlin International Film Festival.

'Werewolf' is about a couple struggling with methadone treatment while living in a small town

Cape Breton-made film 'Werewolf' screens to a sold-out audience at the Berlin International Film Festival. (Submitted by Ashley McKenzie)

A film created entirely in Cape Breton is making a splash with European audiences, selling out four shows at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Werewolf is the first feature-length film by writer-director Ashley McKenzie and producer Nelson MacDonald. It depicts a couple struggling with methadone treatment and its impact on their lives while living in a small town.

McKenzie found the overseas experience difficult to put into words.

"Overwhelming — sense of emotions and gratitude and satisfaction, seeing the film reach an audience like that," she said.

'Sincere' response from audiences

McKenzie said the Berlin festival is one of the most well-attended festivals in the world. 

"The audiences all stayed for the question and answer periods," she said. "And the responses were very sincere, positive and genuine."

From left to right: Two members of a French film distribution company pose with Ashley McKenzie (third from left), Nelson MacDonald, Scott Moore, and actor Breagh MacNeil in Berlin. (Submitted by Ashley McKenzie)

McKenzie said she wrote the script over several years. It's inspired in part by two people she and MacDonald saw pushing a lawn mower up a really steep street one summer's day.  

In the film, the couple go door-to-door mowing lawns for money.

Q&A 'was really special'

McKenzie, MacDonald, cinematographer Scott Moore and the two lead actors, Breagh MacNeil and Andrew Gillis were able to attend the festival. 

All five participated in the question and answer session after each screening.

"It was really satisfying to see them also get to engage with the audience," said McKenzie. "Yeah, it was really special."

She said at one of the screenings she teared up after a question regarding the harsh reality of the film. 

"It is really overwhelming in a really positive way to see it reach an audience," said McKenzie. "And for people to connect with it and share their feelings about it."

Film's composer recognized

McKenzie and MacDonald created many award-winning short films prior to Werewolf, including Rhonda's Party and 4 Quarters. 

Hitting European screens was definitely a new milestone in their careers.

Ashley McKenzie, right, stands with the Giuseppe Becce Special Award for the film's composer, Youth Haunts. (Submitted by Ashley McKenzie)

"A long time in the making for Nelson and I," said McKenzie. "For sure our dream would be to premiere at some of the top festivals in the world and so far we've been able to do that, so we're pretty happy."

While in Berlin, McKenzie received an award on behalf of the film's composer, Devin Morrison, whose professional moniker is Youth Haunts.

"Nelson and I are always just so happy when the people we work with, who we think are so talented, get recognized."

Halifax screening in March

The film has also received four Canadian Screen Award nominations.

Last fall, it premiered in Canada at the Toronto International Film Festival, followed soon after by a screening at the Atlantic Film Festival. 

Werewolf is set to be screened at the Carbon Arc Cinema in Halifax on March 3.