Fifth Town Films
The founders and creative force behind Prince Edward County’s Fifth Town Films have forged an identity as filmmakers unafraid to dig deeper, to create atmosphere and that can be both intellectually challenging but also highlight evocative.
Tess Girard and Ryan J. Noth have developed films and videos that have the ability to move the mind, as well as the soul and the spirit, regardless of whether it’s work commissioned by others, or their own diverse, powerful passion projects.
Located in a picturesque former carriage house, Fifth Town is a collaboration between two artists who, individually, have very distinctive approaches and backgrounds, but who have come together over the past five years to create a common vision – one that is both bold, but also accessible to those who love to be more than simply entertained when they watch a film.
Interestingly, neither Girard nor Noth were hell bent on becoming filmmakers from an early age, but both appreciate the many ways a creative individual can use film to express themselves artistically.
“I have a background in painting and photography and music so I wanted to do something that combined all those things, and film seemed to be a good way to do that, as well as telling a good story. I grew up with no TV and in a town with only one movie theatre, so I had a little exposure to film but what I really had through my mother and her artist friends was the chance to watch a lot of NFB [National Film Board of Canada] documentaries and animation, things like that,” said Girard, who eventually went to study film and video production at Toronto’s York University.
“I came at it more from literature. When I went to Queen’s for film studies it kind of opened up a whole new world for me. I think before that I had watched three movies during my entire time in high school. But then at Queen’s I got focused on film and it just became a new, modern kind of literature as a way to explore stories,” said Noth.
Film involves so many variables, each one of which can impact how the subject matter, characters or settings are perceived by the audience. Camera coverage, lighting, sound, editing, writing, set design, special visual effects and other factors allow filmmakers a dizzying array of ways to evoke emotion, open hearts and minds and tell truly unique stories, they both assert.
“Our approach, and the way we got into, it speaks to the way we make films because we make artistic kinds of films and we make something that’s a bit more about moving a story forward and having all the elements come together. And at the same time I think it’s really important to know all the crafts [involved in making films] so you know what goes into them and you can speak those languages when you do hire other artisans to work on your work. But also, in this day and age, the money is such that you need to be able to pick up your own boom pole or your own camera, or sit down with Final Cut Pro and be able to do it all yourself,” said Girard.
“I think the curse of filmmaking is that if you want, you can try to make a film all by yourself but it’s probably not advisable. You have to collaborate and you have to realize just how many details go into crafting something at a high quality and not something that’s just pushed out there for the sake of meeting a deadline,” said Noth.
The pair were working separately in Toronto in various parts of the film industry when they crossed paths on a project by noted Canadian director/cinematographer Peter Mettler, for whom Girard worked for seven years.
“I was working on a project called A Simple Rhythm [released in 2011, and featured at Hot Docs, The Vancouver Film Festival, Buenos Aires International Film Festival] at that point and needed an editor and he seemed like a really great fit and so our collaboration kind of evolved from there both artistically and personally. About a year later we moved to Prince Edward County and that’s when Fifth Town Films began,” Girard said, with Noth picking up the story of why the couple chose to move to their current location in Cherry Valley.
“We were both working in film but not necessarily on each other’s projects and that’s part of the reason we wanted to move to The County was to focus on helping each other. We wanted to make that leap out of Toronto and the film company was created to allow us to do our own independent projects. We took the name because Fifth Town Cheese was closing and we thought we should keep the Fifth Town name alive, although they came back a year later.
“We started doing some projects and getting some jobs from Toronto that were significantly higher budget in more the advertising realm, although for not-for-profit groups. Those allowed us to practise our skills in managing large groups of people and directing big scenes and actors. But it also allowed us to live and work in The County and pursue some of the smaller films that we wanted to make that are more landscape based or short films that are more philosophical.”
The move to Prince Edward County was seemingly validated almost immediately when the newly minted Fifth Town Films was accepted to create a special Heritage Minute short to be run across multiple broadcast mediums throughout Canada.
“We wanted to move to the country and The County is such a great place for that. It seemed like there was a lot of opportunity here. We bought a place pretty quickly and almost instantly we felt scared that being here would mean we wouldn’t be able to find work, but it was a big risk we were willing to take because our own work was most important to us,” Girard explained.
“At one point we saw that the Heritage Minute people were accepting proposals, with the deadline basically being the day we moved int. So we were sitting with boxes all around us and typing with no internet, our proposals for Heritage Minute, which we ended up getting, and that was our first big contract out here.”
The Heritage Minute was on Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak, and it’s been onwards and upwards for fifth town ever since. Over the past five years, Girard and Noth have generated an impressive and prodigious array of films to great acclaim. Highlights include a BravoFactual short called Old Growth which premiered at TIFF and was rated one of Canada’s top 10 shorts for 2012, Beyond the Horizon (TIFF 2015), and A Tomb With A View (2014 TIFF, Vancouver, Hamburg).
And they continue to be in demand from other producers looking to have their unique take on various film and video projects. Part of the reason is actually their location outside of Toronto.
“Because we live in such a beautiful area and because our overheads are smaller we’re able to approach things in a smaller way. We’re able to take bigger risks and we’re able to keep budgets down, which makes us attractive to big name clients,” said Noth, who added that conversely being located outside the main body of the Canadian film industry does have its drawbacks including, initially, lacking broadband internet.
“Capital and funding are always issues. It’s not the same industry is used to be so people aren’t funding these kinds of documentaries any more, they are funding more reality-based television things that are often character based. So you may have won a bunch of awards at film festivals, but is a broadcaster going to buy it? The other issue we had when we first moved here was the internet, so the lack of that infrastructure around here was a change, but we found a way around it,” said Girard, adding that they just managed to get high-speed fibre on a permanent basis earlier this year.
“I had a short film at Hot Docs that I had to deliver this spring and I was uploading the final film in real time, which was amazing; whereas if it had been two weeks before, I would have had to drive the project to Toronto.”
Both Girard and Noth also appreciate the spirit of collaboration and a willingness to help amongst the burgeoning group of filmmakers and technicians within the Bay of Quinte Region.
“I think there is a real misguided tendency for people to write off a rural area, so it’s really wonderful to see that yes, in fact something is happening here. I know to a certain degree we are always going to be kind of isolated from one another because of the nature of the work, but at the same time there have been some instances where it’s been helpful to reach out to people because more people you know and the better your network and the better resources you can tap into,” said Girard.
As for current project at the time of the writing of this piece, Noth is excited about a work of film fiction that he and Girard are knee deep in pre=production on.
“I have written a fiction feature that I am hoping to shoot this coming winter. Some of it is set in Prince Edward County, but most of it is set on the 401. It’s a modern story. My last three shorts have all been non-fiction. I have done fiction before, but this is my first time doing it for a while. It’s a story I have always wanted to make and now that we’re kind of settler out here and have a bunch of our own gear and resources, we can put them to use without much expense. So we’re trying to do something that’s low budget, resourceful efficient and hopeful good too,” he said.
For more information on the work of Fifth Town Films, including upcoming projects, visit www.fifthtownfilms.com.