Reel Islington: A Canadian film director in London
This Friday (February 28) marks the start of this year’s Reel Islington Film Festival, a must for local movie buffs. On the first day, the festival will screen the submissions to its Short Film Awards under the theme ‘Home is where I want to be…’. In the first of our series about the festival, we met with one of the directors, Alan Powell, who recently relocated to London from Canada
Like many young people, Alan Powell started out with dreams of acting. After picking it up in high school, he “got gigs here and there”, but the success he dreamed of didn’t materialise. “I gave it my best shot for a number of years,” he says. “I was aiming to do feature films and TV, you know. Who doesn’t want that?” When a fellow actor he knew became quite successful, Alan started to rethink what he was doing. “Then I fell in love, got married, and started my own business.”
Alan is now working behind the camera, not in front of it, which is why we meet in the lounge of Directors UK in Covent Garden. At 50 years old, Alan has a youthful energy about him: he is dressed in a brown leather jacket and chinos, and sports a goatee. Born and bred in Toronto, he has had his first success as a filmmaker in recent years. He moved to London from Canada in August after his wife was transferred here. Now, his latest short film is showing at the annual Reel Islington Film Festival, which kicks off this week.
After founding a voice-over agency in 1991 and selling it ten years later, he felt the urge to pick up acting again and got a theatre job but realised he wanted to direct the actors. “That’s when I realised I had to take the step off the stage and behind the camera.”
Since 2003, when he started out as a director, he has released an array of short films and worked on two different TV shows in Canada. Shortly after he founded his second company, Facilitator Films, in 2005, Alan directed Across the Hall, a short film that explores themes of cultural diversity and the longing to ‘fit in’. His biggest success so far, it won four awards in 2007 and 2008, including Best Short Film at MethodFest Independent Film Festival in California.
When talking about his projects, Alan gets visibly excited. A day after we meet, I get an email from him, informing me that ‘Sunday Punch’, the film that’s currently making the festival rounds, was accepted into CineGlobe International Film Festival in Switzerland. “Over 1600 submissions and they only selected 66. Not bad, eh?”
Through his company, he has also produced and directed several projects for clients, most of which are dramatic recreations that are part of educational campaigns to raise awareness on various social issues involving abuse.
The themes of his independent films, which include cultural prejudice, marriage problems and death – he laughs when I list them in that order – prompt me to ask him where the inspiration for so much conflict comes from. “They say you’re supposed to do what you know,” he says.
Because Alan has lived through some of the issues he explores and “came out the other end”, he feels that he can now convey lessons learned “about people expanding their capacity to love and overcoming a conflict within themselves to get there.”
After moving here in August, Alan wants to do at least one short film in London this year. With three grown kids and his production company still in Toronto, he still has to travel back home quite often – for now though, London is home.
The thing he loves most about London is being more at the centre of things than in Toronto. “I’ll go to these conversations, or I’ll go to screenings where the director will come up afterwards and I’m sitting basically 30 feet away from them. You would never get this in Toronto. I’ve seen Paul Greengrass, Steve McQueen in conversation with Danny Boyle – which was kinda cool,” he adds, beaming like a kid. “And that’s cool, man. That’s inspirational for me just to watch.”
Looking into the future, he doesn’t mention dreams of big feature film productions but would rather stick with what he knows. “Working in television more, that’s what I want, that’s what I need. When I did the [Canadian documentary series] Fraud Squad TV, it was a very tight budget, very small crew – but the pressure and the stress and the pace, I love. It’s an addiction.”
The doubts he had about his acting career as a young man seem to be a thing of the past. When Alan talks about his work now, it’s obvious how much he loves what he does. “Nothing makes me feel more alive than doing the emotional stories.”
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