Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta explores recurring theme in latest film I’ll Follow You Down

Richie Mehta speaks with media at a press conference to announce the line-up of Canadian films that will be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, in Toronto on August 7, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan

KATHERINE MONK
CANADA.COM

Richie Mehta says he’s not particularly obsessed with father-son dynamics, even though all three of the Toronto director’s feature films focus on the boy-mentor bond.

His Genie-nominated debut Amal chronicled a poor Indian rickshaw driver’s unexpected windfall from a rich old man. Siddharth, the story of a zipper repairman whose son is kidnapped for slave labour, came next. And now, Mehta is on the phone from Toronto, talking about his current feature I’ll Follow You Down, the story of a physicist (Rufus Sewell) whose work separates him from his son (Haley Joel Osment).

Q: Tell me about the origins of this story.

A: In the year 2000, I was waiting for a friend to come off the plane from Budapest. An hour went by and he didn’t get off the plane. I asked people what happened, where he was, but they can’t tell you anything. An old lady in her 70s was there too and she was freaking out. I thought what if her husband doesn’t come back? Then I did research and discovered this happens hundreds of times a year. Men disappear on business trips and never come back. At the same time, I was exploring how much of our reality is based on what people decide to tell us – whether they know it or not. It’s no wonder why the partners of people who’ve had extra-marital affairs often fall into depression for years: Their whole reality is shattered. This was an experience I’ve had with family members where I saw that happen.

Q: Any particular memory?

A: I went to see Jurassic Park with my parents and it was a weird moment. It was after they told me they were getting a divorce, but before they were separated. It was essentially the last thing we did as a family, and there’s a line in the movie delivered by Richard Attenborough – one of my favourite filmmakers: ‘I don’t hold people responsible for their mistakes but I ask that they pay for them.’ That line struck a chord with my parents. I could feel it. I thought to myself: it will take a long time before they realize the implications of their actions. That theme always stuck with me.

Production still from Richie Mehta’s film I’LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN. Submitted photo/eOne films.

Q: The plot takes us into particle physics and some pretty hefty science. How did you want to portray it?

A: I started with the last scene in the film and the idea that if you knew the consequences of your actions, would you still do the same thing? The science I wanted to get out of the way and not show too much so I could focus on the philosophical implications of corrections … and cause and effect.

Q: There seems to be something in the zeitgeist with all these time-warping movies coming out in clumps. What’s happening?

A: It’s funny because I started writing in 2000. I had no idea it would take so long to get this made. But I think what we’re seeing is questioning. People are starting to look at the decisions we’ve made as the human race. Time lines are an interesting way of exploring those choices, and the moral implications of those choices. That’s what Gabriel (Sewell’s) character is about. He’s an idealist. And I am, too.

Q: Idealists seem to have a hard time these days. People worship pragmatism.

A: One of the things that drove me to make this film is how many times have we heard: ‘I don’t support this company or its practices but it’s the cheapest way to get where I want to go?’ People are sacrificing the moral good for the current good of their family. And to me, this is like saying I’m not going to storm the beach on D-Day because I am probably going to die. This generation has focused so much on family, but not everyone else. And that’s what this movie is about because we are watching someone try and do both, with dire consequences.

Q: Tell me about casting.

A: The characters are challenging … and there’s a lot of dark material. We needed a good reason to stick around. I hadn’t seen Haley in a long time, and it was entirely the casting director’s decision, but when I met him I was amazed at how intelligent he was. He can tell you about the Algerian civil war. He knows about meteor showers. He’s been doing experimental theatre for years, which is why we haven’t seen him, but he is that guy – smart with a very well developed sense of self. Gillian (Anderson)? Well, I loved X-Files and I wanted her to put her in a science-fiction environment where she has nothing to do with the science fiction.

Q: All your movies deal with fathers and sons, it seems. What’s going on with you?

A: It’s weird, but I actually don’t have a complicated relationship with my father. I just think we know our parents better than anyone else. Our brains were forming as we got to know them, so in an observational sense, they are in our fabric. So trying to explore how we know each other, as people, begins there.

I’ll Follow You Down opens in select cities Friday June 20.

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