Rookie of the year

Canadian filmmaker Jason Buxton racked up a collection of trophies for his first feature

Chester, Nova Scotia-based filmmaker Jason Buxton made his feature film debut last year with Blackbird, the story of a troubled teen who is wrongly accused of planning a Columbine-esque high school shooting spree.

After writing and directing three short films, 42 year-old Buxton was eager to create a feature, but he had one little problem.

“I realized I didn’t know how to write a full-length film,” he admits. “I didn’t understand dramatic construction.”

Evidently, Buxton figured it out, and Blackbird would go on to be named the Best Canadian First Feature at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival in September.

The film also earned Buxton three awards at the Atlantic Film Festival (Best Feature, Director and Screenplay), a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 2013 Canadian Screen Awards and the 2013 Claude Jutra Award, an annual prize presented by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television to first-time feature filmmakers.

Despite Blackbird’s success, Buxton says creating the film was a trying struggle.

“We had, like many feature films, especially first-time feature films in Canada, a pretty tight budget,” he says. “I had written a very ambitious script, so we were faced with what a lot of people are faced with in that scenario, which is about 20 shooting days.

“We had a script with about 100 scenes, many different locations and about 40 speaking parts and many of those speaking parts are obviously young people and some of them are non-actors or actors with very little experience, so those were the biggest challenges with making this film.”

Social media is still in its infancy and young people are learning that the ramifications of expressing oneself online are starting to manifest.

Jason Buxton, Blackbirdwriter/director

Buxton says he spent a few years researching the process of creating a feature-length film and in that time he noticed a lot of media coverage on bullying, especially the recent phenomenon of cyberbullying.

“For me, I was interested in it from the perspective of an alienated youth who can turn to social media as an outlet… Social media is still in its infancy and young people are learning that the ramifications of expressing themselves online are starting to manifest.”

Buxton had originally wanted to make Blackbird into a documentary but changed his mind along the way.

“As it got further into the phenomenon [cyberbullying] I realized it was well-suited for fiction, and fiction was my background,” he says. “So it sort of made sense.”

It might not be a doc, but Buxton still did a lot of real-life research for the film by talking with at-risk youths. He also spoke with teens who had served in juvenile prisons and with 18 and 19 year-olds who had spent time in adult penitentiaries.

While Blackbird isn’t exactly a personal film for Buxton, it might be for others. He says the audience can expect to be “taken on an emotional rollercoaster.”

“Be prepared for your expectations to be unsettled a little bit but at the same time be very satisfied with some redemption. I don’t sugarcoat it. It’s a pretty intense movie, especially in a large group such as a theatre. You feel the energy in the room sort of get weighted down.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 10, 2013)

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