Michael Springate (Writer)

Michael Springate (Writer)

We asked Michael what were the roots of the screenplay:

Autobiographically, the roots stem from my living in Rosemount in east end Montreal as part of the post World War Two immigration from Europe, and from friendships I had with members within the Ukrainian diaspora. While the best man at my first wedding was named Jaroslaw, I hasten to add that the character in the film was not written after him.

More particularly, my first notes towards the work were written during my visit in 1992 to Kiev and Odessa, just after the Ukrainian declaration of independence and during the financial meltdown and social chaos of that period. I was there visiting a theatre company invited to perform in Winnipeg at the Prairie Theatre Exchange, where I was then Artistic Director.

In Ukraine, it was a time equally full of hope and despair, in a society where no-one was quite sure which aspects of official history would, or could, be maintained. That struggle among interpretations is still visible on both sides of the “orange revolution”, where differing versions of the past are entangled with issues of power sharing in the present.

Is there a specific reason why the two secondary characters are Korean and Pakistani?

Korea, like Ukraine, has suffered a century of official history built upon the suppression of facts. This is not well known in our society, but accepted widely in Korea itself. The Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), as all occupations, was predicated on building a false historical consciousness among the occupied, but less well known is how many facts regarding the civil war (1950-1953) and the on-going struggle for democracy were suppressed by the following authoritarian governments. Interestingly, when the film was shown in Pusan, South Korea’s second largest city, an elderly, male member of that audience said that it was his story which was being told…

As an aside, the American-Korean John Yoo is one of the chief legal architects in President Bush's doctrine of unlimited ‘unitary’ executive power and disregard of the Geneva Conventions on torture and the treatment of prisoners. Yoo is , I think, part of the unintended consequences (blowback) of the American support for the authoritariansim of President Park in South Korea. Korean conservatism has helped to shape American conservatism.

As to Aashir from Pakistan, it seemed worthwhile to choose a sympathetic Muslim character to help offset the incredible anti-Muslim racism now rampant in our society, as well as to underline how global the displacement of populations really is.

The encounter of these characters is more than just possible in Vancouver, for on our streets East Europe meets East Asia as a matter of course. Which is our good fortune.

Are all your considerations political?

Strange you ask that, because when I answered the first two questions I felt as if I were neglecting something important.. the pain that each of the characters feels, and the joy of which they are capable.

I think, at an emotional level, the roots of the screenplay lie in a profound sense of loss. Where does that begin? Perhaps the dissolution of the family unit… which is the critical factor in Jarolslaw’s and Katya’s emotional development.

I love my characters. Each of them. I really do. I live with them for a long time and learn to respect them, to listen.

What is the relevance of the film to Canada?

Well, it’s about Canada today, although not everyone sees that, preferring to think that Canada is different than the people who live in it.

But I want to mention, too, that the United States and Canada are both moving in the direction of that social pathology, evident in Ukraine and Korea, which comes from not being able to speak historical truths in public, and not being able to rely on public figures to question suspect untruths. While Ukraine and Korea are countries struggling to move away from that condition, we in North America are increasingly falling into it.

Are you happy with the film?

In general, yes, very happy. But perhaps, from a writers point of view, it remains a bit oblique. It is not that anything that happens on screen lacks consideration, rather that pieces are missing that should have been shown. I do like the balance of spoken/unspoken which the film achieves, but feel that too much is left unspoken by several characters. I take that as my responsibility, and will have to work harder, in future projects, to discover how characters can speak their mind while staying within believable relationships. I want to maintain the personal and intimate that Carolyn, the actors and designers captured so beatuifully, yet not lose any sense of narrative fullness.

What are your primary concerns as a writer?

I write because I like to do the research, and I research because I have questions that don’t seem to go away, and that aren’t easily satisfied. The writing I do is the trace of the struggle to address the questions I ask.

The questions themselves mutate with time and experience. After Acts of Imagination I started to write Freeport, Texas, and after that, to write kut. There is a certain momentum now, a progression of intertwined themes and voices.

For reasons I have never understood, I prefer to write dialogue over prose. Always have. I like the way intention and context are always there to shape the spoken, to give it only a momentary reality.

Speaking socially, I am very interested in “second tier” nations, such as Canada, Ukraine and Korea, trying to forge distinct paths while living beside large imperial powers. Those three countries mentioned are also “divided countries”, and the competing nationalisms that divide also interest me. I have become deeply interested in how the militarism of the American empire is affecting the evolution of Christianity, and I pay a great deal of attention to Confucian and Buddhist thought and history.

I have always written poetry, and still do. I can spend hours (days, months, years) on trying to get certain lines right. The exactness of expression, not primarily as an aesthetic unit, but as a reflection of experience, holds me.

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Michael Springate was the founding Artistic Director of the Painted Bird Ensemble in Montreal, active during the 1970's. The company, composed of actors, dancers, musicians and visual artists, investigated new ways of creating theatrical narrative within formal musical structures. The company was widely praised for such works as  Scat, Twelve Tones, Improvisation in Sonata Form #1 and #2, and Fugue.

He was invited to join the theatre faculty at Concordia University, first teaching performance within the dance department under Elizabeth Langley, but later teaching acting at all levels within the theatre department, as well as offering a special studio course in the work of the Polish writer, Witkiewiscz.

In 1984 he became the Artistic Director of Playwrights Workshop Montreal, where he initiated the program New Music New Text, as well as Playwrights' Retrospective, an annual series of readings and conversations investigating the work of an individual Canadian playwright. It was during his tenure that such now well-known writers as Thomson Highway, Connie Gault, Kent Stetson and Don Druick developed their early work in Montreal.

He became the Assistant Head of the Theatre Section at the Canada Council prior to becoming the Artistic Director of Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg. While there he initiated the first Canadian visits by the Traverse Theatre of Scotland and The Odessa Music and Drama Theatre of Ukraine. He also developed new works by Margaret Sweatman, Carol Shields, Patrick Friesen, Ian Ross and Bill Harrar, among others. His production of "The Stone Angel" broke attendance records at the theatre and was invited to a sold out run at The National Arts Centre in Ottawa. He started a Second Stage series called Theatre With Bite, and opened the theatre to the work of younger artists and groups.

As a director he continued to work closely with composers, collaborating with Glenn Buhr, Michael Matthews, Daniel Koulack and Greg Lowe. He was invited to be part of the New Music Festival of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, collaborating with jazz pianist Marilyn Lerner and bass clarinet Lori Freedman on a presentation of his cycle of Geese Sonnets.  He also performed the piece "Coming Together" by Frederic Rzewski with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Glenn Buhr. His piece, the Consolation of Philosophy, a re-interpretation of the work of that name by Boethius (480-520 CE), was presented as an oratorio at the Toronto New Music Gallery in a composition by Helen Hall.

He then became Artistic Director of Factory Theatre in Toronto, and in his first and only season there, presented new works by Andrew Moodie and Tom Walmsley, both of which were nominated for best new Canadian play.

After working briefly in a publicly traded company in film production and distribution, he produced with director Carolyn Combs a number of socially conscious documentaries, including The Art and Ability Series and Protest and Prayer. He also wrote the screenplay for and produced Acts of Imagination, starring Stephanie Hayes and Billy Marchenski, which had its Canadian premiere in 2006 at the Toronto International Film Festival, and its Asian premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival.

As a playwright, Michael continues his work on a series of "history plays": Historical Bliss, Dog and Crow, Kareena, Freeport Texas and, most recently, Küt.

In October 2006 he was invited to present a paper entitled "Symptoms of a Crises in English Culture" at the PEN International Writer's Conference in Seoul, South Korea.

He studied visual arts at The Montreal Museum School of Fine Arts, and has an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University, where he has recently taught directing, acting, and playmaking.

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Official Selections:

The Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto, Canada
September 2009

The Calgary International Film Festival

Calgary, Canada
September 2006

The Vancouver International Film Festival

Vancouver, Canada
October 2006

The Edmonton International Film Festival

Edmonton, Canada
October 2006

The Pusan International Film Festival

Pusan, Korea
October 2006

Moving Pictures Canadian Films on Tour

British Columbia, Canada
January 2007

Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival

Victoria, Canada
February 2007

Dartmouth Festival, Favel Theatre

Dartmouth, UK
March 2007

St. Donats Arts Festival

Wales, UK
March 2007

Aarhus Festival of Independent Arts

Aarhus, Denmark
April 2007

Post Revolution Blues Film Festival

Chicago, United States
August 2007

Aarhus Festival of Independent Arts

Aarhus, Denmark
April 2007

Ukrainian Zabava

Toronto, Canada
August 2007

North West Film Forum, Local Sightings

Seattle, United States
October 2007

Molodist International Film Festival

Kyiv, Unkraine
October 2007

Women in Film Festival

Vancouver, Canada
March 2008

Women in Film Festival

Vancouver, Canada
March 2008

Canadian Theatrical Release

November, 2007
The Royal Cinema, Toronto
The Cinematheque, Winnipeg,
Metro Cinema, Edmonton,

Canadian Broadcast

2007 - 2009