Andrew Cividino’s coming-of-age tale is a good debut

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


Sleeping Giant
Rainbow Cinemas
Opens May 6

One sleepy summer on Lake Superior, two teenagers become friends: Adam (Jackson Martin) is a quiet, brainy kid slowly coming to terms with his sexuality. Riley (Reece Moffett) has a boisterous personality that hides a more soulful nature. Both come from families in turmoil and look at the future with suspicion. There’s a third boy in the mix, Nate (Nick Serino), blissfully unruffled by teenage angst. Once Riley’s closest chum, he’s feeling slighted and that’s turned him into a wild card.

Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant captures the joys and woes of adolescence with ease. The film racked up numerous awards at film festivals and critic circles across Canada, and was part of Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique program last year.

Perhaps more remarkably, here is a local movie that’s reaching wider distribution thanks to sheer quality as opposed to star power. I’ve been told by publicists it’s opening in Saskatchewan on May 6, so you’ll have a chance to judge it for yourself soon enough.

Andrew Cividino doesn’t match the archetypical look of the maverick indie filmmaker. Growing up, Cividino spent his summers on the north shore of Lake Superior, and he incorporated his favourite spots into the Sleeping Giant screenplay. Neatly dressed and courteous, he seems to be taking it all in while carefully planning his next move. I talked to him a couple of weeks ago.

The three teenage leads have limited to no acting experience, yet you managed to get solid performances out of them. How did you do it?

It was my first time doing that and it was intimidating. I was concerned about steering things in the direction I wanted to. We did a very meticulous job of casting, and once we had the right kids and put them in the right situation, it was really a matter of gently guiding things and allowing them to feel comfortable bringing themselves to the characters.

What was the decisive factor that put these three teens ahead of other candidates?

Our casting process was more about interviews than script reading to get a sense of who these people were. Each one of them had something within them that was really close to the soul of the character. Nick brought a fierce, real world intelligence to his character. Reece seemed like someone who could get up to trouble, but also was very empathetic and caring. Jackson conveyed innocence and kindness, but on the cusp of a transition in life.

Nate is Sleeping Giant’s antagonist but he’s as likeable, if not more, than the other kids. Was it by design or is that something Nick Serino brought to the table?

I always saw the film as an ensemble piece, although Nate fills the role of the agent of chaos in a classic coming-of-age ’80s movie. If this was Stand by Me, he would be Kiefer Sutherland. But I think we have to move beyond that in storytelling. I’m fascinated by moral ambiguity — good characters that do bad things and bad characters we can understand.

Did you write the film with a budget in mind?

When I first approach a story, I try to free myself from thinking about financial constraints. That said, I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that my first film ended up being something that could be done with a smaller budget. There aren’t a lot of spaceships or explosions in it. Instead of making a big movie small, I’d rather make a small movie big.

First films tend to be highly autobiographical. Did you draw from your own experience growing up?

I think the movie is 60/40 my own experiences or of those around me. But even the percentage that was fabricated was pulled from people I met or cast members’ suggestions. The setting, the family dynamics, the kid from Southern Ontario that comes to this rural space for the summer and the cliff jumping — all that comes from my own history.

Were you concerned about showing the film to anybody?

Yeah. I’m still close friends with a number of people I grew up on the beach with. I was most nervous to show them, because in a way I was putting our lives on screen. But they really enjoyed it.

How will your experience making Sleeping Giant inform your next project?

The biggest thing I learned is to trust my instincts when I’m doing something creative. Also, to take risks and push the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with. When I look at this film, the moments I’m most proud of are the ones I thought wouldn’t work out.