Haliburton hospitality provides backdrop for filmmaker’s work
By Sue Tiffin
Published Dec. 4, 2018
Zach Silverstein remembers a childhood spent in part on Kushog Lake, where his family had a cottage until 2009.
“Many of my best childhood memories took place in Haliburton – suiting up in tall boots and a safari hat, binoculars in hand to go frog hunting, going jogging on the road, swimming in the lake,” said Silverstein.
That exploration as a child has led to photography and film work inspired in part by nature as an adult, and has brought scenes of Haliburton to the annual Montreal World Film Festival when Silverstein’s most recent film, Three Quests, was shown as part of the student film festival this past summer.
Three Quests is what he calls a Buddhist fantasy film.
“It was created as my thesis film at Ryerson,” he said, “and it definitely felt like a culmination of my time and experiences studying film, and was an incredibly cathartic experience. It began with the goal of creating a film which would explore spirituality, human ambition, and immerse the viewer in a magical world.”
Silverstein said he used the project as an opportunity to research and learn more about Buddhism, and working with a script from his friend Zach Wortzman, created what he called his most demanding production to date, working through “impossible conditions.”
“We shot at the Dharma Centre of Canada in Kinmount during one of the absolute coldest weeks of 2017,” he said. “We chose the Dharma Centre because we wanted to create some real conditions for our actors to immerse themselves in, so a real Buddhist centre was an obvious choice. They were the most welcoming and hospitable hosts we could wish for, and generously donated their facilities in exchange for promotional content.”
It wasn’t just at the Dharma Centre of Canada where Silverstein connected with hospitality in the area.
“One of my favourite parts of shooting in Haliburton is that I seem to find so many people who are willing and happy to help,” said Silverstein. “Growing up and living in a city like Toronto, you do meet the occasional person or organization who’s willing, but I think because there’s so much production going on in Toronto, the market is super-saturated and people get pretty tired of requests from young filmmakers. In a place like Haliburton, I think it’s quite the opposite, and maybe there’s a real novelty to being involved in the creation of a movie.”
For a setting in Three Quests, Silverstein needed to find a location that resembled a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. While at the cottage, his mom was getting a massage from Cathy Killoch, who in conversation mentioned the Dharma Centre in Kinmount in response to Silverstein’s hunt.
“Throughout my years making movies and facing challenges with each production, I’ve learned the best way to find solutions is often to talk to friends and strangers about your problems,” said Silverstein. “Somebody’s nephew’s-best-friend’s-evil-twin may hold the solution, and people are usually excited to offer the connection.”
A “vast open mountain scene” was shot at Sir Sam’s. Country Bakery on Hwy 118 in Algonquin Highlands has also offered their space to Silverstein for filming.
In the young filmmaker’s feature-length film, The Benz, Paul Wilson let the filmmaker and his crew use his Lipsy Lake property for overnight shoots. Local real estate broker Ted Vasey volunteered to act, and Silverstein recalled a memorable moment in West Guilford.
“In perhaps my most ridiculous set-up to date, John from the West Guilford scrapyard and the Haliburton fire department were an incredible help,” said Silverstein. “John allowed us to film on his scrapyard, choose an old beat-up car, and the fire department came to set it ablaze for our grand-finale of the movie. They were all incredibly generous. The fire department didn’t charge us a thing, which was lucky for us since we had no money.”
At one point during filming, which the fire department used as a training exercise, someone at Tim Hortons in Haliburton delivered coffee and doughnuts to the cast, crew and firefighters as they worked.
Besides the quick help from a “mind-blowing number of people who are willing to lend a hand or let our crews shoot on their properties,” Silverstein said the natural setting is a bonus for visual artists.
“I’m definitely drawn to the nature in Haliburton,” he said. “More and more my films have taken on a fascination with the beauty and surrealism of nature. The feeling of magic and mysticism you can feel when spending time in the woods. When working on very low budgets and tight timelines as I am, we need to find creative ways to add production value to our films without blowing the bank. An easy way to do this is to shoot in naturally beautiful locations which don’t require any fabrication or modification.”
Silverstein’s photography work has been featured in National Geographic, and his films, some which have won awards, have been included in the Toronto Student Film Festival, Toronto Youth Shorts, Youngcuts and Zoom Film Festival as his childhood hobby has become a focus as an adult.
“Since a very young age, I’ve been making films,” he said. “My mother taught me how to film on our family tape-recorder camcorder, and to edit in Adobe Premiere, probably around the age of eight. For a while I was inseparable from that camcorder, carrying it around all the time to shoot. As a kid I thought I would be a magician. Eventually I started recording my tricks on camera, since some could only work from certain angles or with certain timing. From there I began experimenting with cinematic illusions by using hidden cuts, or putting footage in reverse. I think today what still fascinates me about cinema is the illusory quality of it— how I can create a world and immerse you in it, even though if you saw a shot from a different angle you’d realize the whole world is fabricated.”
To watch some of Silverstein’s films, visit zachsilverstein.com.