October 2, 2019

VIFF 2019 | Must See BC – 'Ash' Burns Drama and Empathy

"I thought about everything that you have given and taken."
VIFF 2019Ash (originally titled I'm Not A Bad Person), Violent filmmaker and We Are the City drummer Andrew Huculiak's sophomore indie feature, is a tricky film to discuss. Inspired by real-life events surrounding Peachland journalist Dave Preston, the father of Huculiak's close friend growing up, the film uses the structure of annual summer wildfires in the Okanagan to dramatize the story of a man's secret compulsion revealed to his close-knit community.

Filmed over various raging wildfire seasons and beautifully photographed by cinematographer Joseph Schweers, Ash's dramatic setting and background of engulfing heat are much more interesting, artistic, and metaphorical than the ensuing small-town drama that unfolds. Starring American character actor Tim Guinee as Stan, a dogged local reporter who chases forest fires, Ash focuses almost solely on his unrelenting conviction to the community before the messy details of his personal life and some truly heinous accusations are unfairly exposed.

The subdued script co-written by Huculiak, Cayne McKenzie, Joseph Schweers, and Josh Huculiak, feels patient yet uneven once the turn of what the film's really about starts to be revealed in pieces. It's an inconsistent, sometimes frustrating dramatization of a confusing (but very real) circumstance that may have needed more clarity or awareness of the actual events to put into the proper context.

Andrew Huculiak 'Ash' | VIFF 2019 | Playhouse Theatre
Q&A with cast and crew led by Huculiak and VIFF Associate Director of Program Curtis Woloschuk
Along with his collaborators, Huculiak may have been to close to the sensitive material, having grown up in the Peachland community being dramatized, and being overly familiar with the real people and circumstances the characters and story are based on. Nonetheless, the subject matter and central performances from a simmering Guinnee and exasperated Chelah Horsdal (as Stan's supportive but suffering wife) are undeniably powerful despite the sometimes unclear motivations.

Huculiak's immense talent and strong artistic sensibilities are obvious, but the closely personal and very complex subject matter doesn't quite make for a fully satisfying story about the characters and situation presented. Ash is often a beautiful, lyrical film exploring the limits of empathy among neighbours. However, the deeply psychologically underpinnings of Stan's affliction required more depth based on their serious nature.

Ash premiered at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Sea to Sky and BC Spotlight streams at the Vancouver Playhouse.

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