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Interview: Sarah Gadon and Matthew Hannam on the Meaning Behind Their Short Film, ‘Paseo’

December 13, 2018Ben MK

The holidays are traditionally a time for coming together with family and friends. But if you find yourself alone in a foreign country, the season can take on an entirely different feeling.

That's the driving theme behind Paseo, the directorial debut from film editor Matthew Hannam, in which Sarah Gadon plays a woman whose loneliness and isolation manifests itself in thought-provoking and unnerving ways while traveling alone in Spain. I sat down with the pair at this year's Toronto International Film Festival to chat about their short, which has recently been named one of Canada's Top Ten Films of 2018.

From what I gather, the title of the short means something akin to "walk" in Spanish — can you tell me more about how the film originated and what it means to each of you?

Hannam: "Paseo" is not really a translatable word. I don't remember where I learned it, but it means more to take a long, contemplative stroll. Like where you get lost a little bit. I was looking for titles and that's what came to me. I think it was culturally appropriate, and also I'm really interested in words that can't be translated.

Gadon: And to answer the second part of your question, Matt and I had worked together before in the past. And we've also both worked with Nicolas Bolduc, who shot the film. We all were itching to do something experimental together, and to go on another journey, the three of us. And I think that ties into the title as well.

Obviously the features at TIFF get the lion's share of the attention, but the short film format is where many feature filmmakers get their start. Can you tell me more about the journey you've been on to bring this film to TIFF?

Hannam: Yeah, it was unduly long. I think we shot this nearly three years ago. We shot it over Christmas break a long time ago. I started to cut two movies right away, and I spent the fall last year editing this. I sent it to TIFF, and obviously being from Toronto I've had a lot of movies here, and I was excited that they liked it. It took a long time to get it made, and we posted it in a lot of different cities, wherever we were living, so it was sort of rough. But in a way, in the end, I'm just glad to be showing it here.

Gadon: [It's] the true definition of a passion project. And TIFF has been a big festival for the both of us. We've both shown our most important work here, we've grown as artists both here. And so to have them include our first film is an honor.

Do you approach acting in a short film like this differently than you approach a feature? Since you have limited screen time to flesh out your character?

Gadon: Yeah, your time to portray your character is much less short. But because we live together and we had been thinking about this project over a number of years, I had time to think about the character for a long time and have it sit with me. Which is a luxury that you usually have on a feature film. But in terms of charting a character throughout a story and a narrative, it's very similar work. It's just you're not doing it for as long a period of time.

And it probably didn't hurt to shoot in Barcelona, as it adds to the authenticity of the film and you're immersed in the actual locale. Can you tell me a bit about your experience filming there?

Gadon: Well, we got the grant to make the short film. And myself and Matt and [executive producer] Migo [Angel Faura] were all working on other projects and kept missing the opportunity to make the short until finally bravoFACT said, "You have to make the short by the end of the year or else we're going to take the money back." And so the only time that we were available was after Christmas, before New Year's, and so that became the time that we would go to Barcelona to make the film. But we've been talking about how that bleakness of that time of year in such a warm city feels very odd and really adds to the tone of the film.

Hannam: For me, I really love cities and I love environmental films. I love going someplace I haven't been before and seeing it through a certain prism. And so for me, it wasn't really a choice. Not like I don't love Toronto, but I wasn't inspired to make a movie here. And when I do see movies here, I just see them as more perfunctory, because I see it every day. So I think that a big drive for me was to find a way to go make a movie somewhere, and we kicked around cities — at one point we were maybe going to do it in Paris — but we had spent a lot of time in Barcelona. And I love that city and wanted to photograph it, so that was always part of the deal.

Is that the reason why the short is mainly set at night? To emphasize the contrast between the beauty of the city and that bleakness inherent in the subject matter?

Hannam: The movie is, for both of us, a little bit about how it feels to work when you're out of town. It's a great question, I never thought of that. But I think that a great deal of my time when I'm away is between work and bed. Mostly, my life after hours is focused about [things] like, "Where am I going to eat dinner?" That's sort of my main thought.

Gadon: Yeah, and for me, all of my anxieties and feelings of loneliness and melancholy when I'm away working by myself happen at night.

What did you pick up along the way from being an editor on feature projects, like Enemy, that you really applied and took to heart in directing this film?

Hannam: Mostly that there's no secret to it. You just have to do it. The filmmakers that I have had a chance to work with are all mentors to me, and I think that what I learned about working with Denis [Villeneuve] or all the [other] filmmakers was that we're all figuring it out. And the actual thing it takes to be a director is to be the one who's willing to jump over the edge and just go for it, and just ask everyone to help. The thing that I didn't realize — as an editor, and as an actor to a certain degree — [is that] you're waiting for work to be made for you that you're gonna like doing. And you're choosing projects, if you're lucky enough to be choosing, or trying to get work. And so for me, the thing that I really learned was that all those people are the ones who are willing to say, "Hey, will you help me make my idea?" It was the hardest thing to do.

What do you want viewers to take away from Paseo?

Gadon: I want viewers to lose themselves in the movie. I think that all of my favorite movies, when I watch, I'm able to have this experience of losing myself within the world in the film. And to be able to achieve that in a short would be amazing. That's what I would love.

Hannam: I think the thing that I thought about the most while I was making it was just how a certain scenario can be ported into anybody's life. When you're alone and off the leash, it's a little bit like you should stop worrying about it and just experience the world a little bit.

Paseo screens as part of TIFF's Canada's Top Ten Shorts Programme this January.

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