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CIFF 2021: ‘Drinkwater’ and a conversation with director Stephen Campanelli

By Rachneet Randhawa, October 28 2021—

Drinkwater is a coming of age film premiering at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) this year centring around Mike Drinkwater — an awkward teenager in small-town British Columbia and his everyday struggles. It follows his trouble fitting in alongside the antics of his offbeat father, Hank, who spends more time living in his delusional world than paying attention to his son.

The overall plot focuses on Mike’s meeting with a new girl Wallace, which challenges him to new feats like taking on an annual cross country race to qualifying for a scholarship to university. This also parallels the atypical scenarios in teenage rom-coms like crushing on your first highschool sweetheart and unrequited love, awkward school dances, the classic rivalry with a high school jocks and lastly, figuring out the next big steps after high school graduation. The film captures the nostalgia of the ’80s and is all about a Canadiana theme with mention of a Wayne Gretzky rookie card and a full-on Tim Hortons drive through sequences  — it doesn’t get more eh Canada than this.

The Gauntlet sat down for an interview with the cast and crew including Director Stephen Campanelli and lead actors Daniel Doheny and Louriza Tronco to learn more.

Campanelli was originally a cameraman for 30 years, the majority of which was for Clint Eastwood. 

“I get along really well with actors and I just love the art of acting and said, if I can be able to help and direct a movie and have my vision being transferred onto the screen and be able to work with great talents, such as Daniel, I’m just thrilled.” 

Doheny got his start as an actor after theatre school in which he took on multiple roles for television and film including doing Netflix movies. Tronco also launched her acting career after musical theatre school and had been doing singing, dancing and community theatre since highschool. The inspiration for the film came from an idea that emerged 40 years ago from real-life individuals and their student film and is loosely based on their adventures exploiting awkwardness which cultivated the on-screen characters, including Mike Drinkwater. 

The producer of the film, Graham Fraser, is also a former hockey player and owns the junior hockey league the Penticton Vees. This explains the inspiration for the numerous hockey scenes in the film including cameos by NHL players Scott Niedermeyer and Duncan Keith. 

“There’s action, there’s  comedy, there’s a love story, there’s a bit of everything. So I think people will really enjoy it, especially the hockey stuff,” said Campanelli. 

Overall the film is a story of resilience and believing in yourself and a lot of the themes focus on pushing someone to be the best they can be and as great as they can be. In Tronco’s perspective another life lesson is one of friendship. 

“The importance of finding a friendship and somebody else that could help uplift you and each other and keeping each other accountable to that as well, is really important,” she says. “It’s okay to not be okay. And there’s always going to be a light in the tunnel and to really value friendships and people can really uplift you at a hard time.” 

The most difficult aspect of making the film for Campanelli was the time crunch and shooting during COVID as they only had a total of 16 days to make the film. Normally,  a standard film production takes slightly longer. Doheny mentioned that they filmed six days a week nonstop with little breaks in which he had only one day off and had to deal with getting ill.

For Tronco, the toughest was learning to bike such as gear shifting in the hilly terrains of British Columbia for many of the scenes. But despite it all, it was well worth it as all agreed the enjoyable parts included being part of an amazing cast and crew that got along well. 

“Whether it be the time and the money, we just didn’t have a lot of both, but we’d still made a film that we’re all so proud of that looks way beyond our budget and way beyond our means of the 16 days of shooting,” said Campanelli. 

Based on how he originally envisioned the film as the director, it turned out better than he expected. 

“It turned out, in the end, to be even more magical, more beautiful, more just performance-based […] So I’m very proud of that. I’ve directed four features now, and this is one of my favourites,” said Campenelli. 

“It’s very important to have that chemistry and bond,” said Campenelli about the chemistry between the cast., “We had that between the cast and the crew everyone really gel together and knew we were making something special.”

 There was a lot of improvisation too, especially from Doheny. 

“What Daniel brought extra to his character was the improv, where we were literally crying behind the monitors because it was so funny and so original, that he just elevated the dialogue in the film so much. And that’s the importance of hiring really good actors is to let them own the role, take the role and become the role,” says Campanelli. 

Tronco added that it was the flexibility and lack of micro-managing the director gave that allowed them as actors to flourish. 

“He really encouraged the space for us to play and let the actors go with their intuition. And he shaped the scenes based on our intuition. It really feels free[ing] as an actor,” she says. “As a director that just brings a different flavour of storytelling — his eye automatically goes to the camera. It was just, honestly, very freeing.” 

As for the technique, Campanelli mentioned that it’s the art of storytelling that is key, and explains the method to the madness for the creative process. 

“My job is to take those words and turn them into a visual medium and describe to the audience what I just read on a screen,” says Campanelli. “And then you have to have that vision to come out. And you have to have a cast that is willing to do that vision and understand the story points going through. Like you’re building a building — you have to be an architect, you have to have a blueprint, you have to know where A to B is going. And then as a character, you have to know where that character is going. You can’t have that character peak too soon, because there’s something else coming up.” 

As for acting pointers, Doheny expressed that every actor has a different technique and a different method. 

“I think one of the most important things that an actor can do is be easy to work with and be somebody who other people actually want to work with,” he said. 

When asked how the Canadian film industry is for new and aspiring actors including youth looking to get involved, Doheny said that it depends on location and context. Some parting advice that Dohney gave is not to  wait for the opportunity but rather create it. 

“If you’re brave enough to put yourself out there and actually commit to it, you can make a movie, you can make an entire movie on your phone, and it would still look good. So if they want to do it, don’t get away without anybody’s permission. Just do it.” 

Troncos imparted a quote by actress Octavia Spencer and added that, “if you’re working hard and your heart’s in the right place, and storytelling is what you’re interested in, just keep going and stay in your lane.” 

Drinkwater had its world premiere at CIFF 2021 that ran from Sept. 22 to Oct. 2 and was the winner of the 2021 Telus Audience Choice Award for Best Canadian Narrative. Be sure to check out the film which is a definite love letter to Canada when you get the chance.

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