[Exclusive] Criss Gidas writes about her new boxing drama, Canvas

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Criss Gidas

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Criss Gidas is a passionate writer, director, and producer based on the Gold Coast.

Born in Melbourne, Criss was raised to Greek immigrant parents and holds dual citizenship. After studying and working in both London and across Australia, Criss was selected to be a part of the AFTRS/Screen Queensland Talent Camp in 2017 and her narrative feature script Tag, You’re It was selected by Mean Gatineau (TWC/Hopscotch Feature’s) as apart of Screen Queensland’s Creative Consultations.

It was also selected for the Stowe Story Labs Retreat with the support of Screen Queensland. The proof of concept short of Tag, You’re It was screened at Pinewood Studios, London in 2018.

Criss has also won best director at the Oregon Short Film Festival and Indie Short Film Fest and was nominated at IndieX Film Festival, both based in Los Angeles, for the short proof of concept film Wireless. Her short film I’ll Be There was also selected for the Gold Coast Film Festival in 2018.

Here, Criss writes exclusively for Cinema Australia about the making of her new film, Canvas, which follows ex-military boxer and PTSD sufferer, Tobias (Jacob Turner), who seeks redemption in a local charity match to save his estranged father’s gym.

Canvas is written, directed and produced by Criss Gidas and stars Jacob Turner, Korey Williams, Kylie Riddle, Chris Bridgewater, Michael Deed, Annaliese McGuire, Daniel Reader and Winnie Mzembe.

Canvas

“I wanted to pursue a film about trauma and mental health in men, especially soldiers whether they are still in active duty or veterans.”


Article by Criss Gidas

Canvas is an entirely self-funded, independent debut feature film made entirely on the Gold Coast in the height of a pandemic. The film was made by a small army of individuals who fell in love with the story and were dedicated to translating it onto the screen. The film is a gritty, realist drama that follows Tobias (Jacob Turner) who wasn’t always the way he is. He slides into a self-imposed silence after the trauma he went through serving in the army and family troubles growing up including the suicide of his adopted brother Donovan (Michael Deed). The only solace Tobias has is in the boxing gym run by his estranged and alcoholic father Rowan (Korey Williams). When the gym is threatened with closure, Tobias must face his fears and seek to reconcile with his father along with his own past.

Writing and directing a film like Canvas was a challenge in itself to see how I could create a world that showcased a character who remains voluntarily silent for the majority of the film because of what he’d been through. In essence, I wanted to pursue a film about the trauma and mental health in men, especially soldiers whether they are still in active duty or veterans. It’s a topic that’s not discussed as it’s too much of a taboo topic and heavily stigmatised in society – whether or not you’ve seen war.

While this may be a film based around sport, it’s one with a lot of heart. It centre’s around a story of family and opening up to people so you can heal. Canvas portrays a reflection of society itself. Men, especially those who have served, are perceived in a certain way and upon returning home to civilian life, there’s often a struggle to process the stark contrast of what’s been experienced.

Canvas

Development for the film began in late 2019 with a short form screenplay that expanded over time as more time was spent with the story and the characters within. The core idea it always surrounded was a character who was so locked into their own mindset, there was nothing that could save them from themselves. No matter how much they, or others, tried.

Tobias has essentially cut himself off from the outside world and has only isolated himself more to the point his rage is out of control. By putting a character like this into the purely action based environment of boxing, with Tobias only really knowing how to use his hands, it would help audiences confront an issue of when they may have been in a situation where they may have invalidated themselves for the sake of others. The casting of Jacob Turner, who played Tobias, was essential to the success of the translation of Tobias from script to screen. He was someone I approached from the very beginning due to being an army veteran who was a wealth of information in regards to the development of the character and accuracy of the experience of an enlisted solider and veteran portrayed on screen.

This was also a common factor amongst all those who were involved in the film as they had some connection with the story or the the characters that they were portraying in and were able to elevate the film to another level. Like Jacob, both myself and actress Kylie Riddle (who played Kassandra Kallis) have family who served in the military and drew on that experience for the film to ground it all in reality.

With this in mind, the creative decision was made to capture the story entirely in black and white to encapsulate the definitive black and white mindset of the protagonist. The film not only showcases the black and white mentality of the protagonist but the very locked in mindset with the 4:3 aspect ratio and the protagonist’s horizon’s only broadening within the boxing ring itself heading out to a 21:9/2.35:1 crop. The film is reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004), Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior (2011), and the television series Kingdom (2014-2017).

Mark Desiatov

Canvas was captured brilliantly by Gold Coast based cinematographer Mark Desiatov. His approach to shooting Canvas was to let the characters breathe in the space and not give the visual language many boundaries, rather to let the darker, intense moments be dark and intense – and for the uplifting moments to uplift the audience. In essence, it was to let the character’s breathe. The ease of working with Mark was fantastic as he understood the script straight away and knew how to capture the story in the most visual way possible that would keep the audience engaged throughout.

With the return of another fantastic score by Gold Coast based musician/composer Joshua Beattie, the visual’s of the film were taken to another level and not in an overly domineering way that the score could’ve so easily gone. Joshua has worked on every single one of my films as a composer and continues to dominate with his musical production skills aided by his unique ability to understand what’s needed to elevate the story being told. This was all tied together with the sound design by Shanan Withers from Hound Sound with the audience drawn further into the film until the final seconds.

The film has been an absolute journey to be on and I am thankful to be a part of it.

The world premiere of Canvas will screen at the Gold Coast Film Festival on April 28. Details here

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