The Little Deputy begins unassumingly enough, in the same place where virtually every ’80s Edmonton story that isn’t about the Oilers begins: West Edmonton Mall.
Through vintage RCA camcorder footage we see shots of the dolphin show, the roller coaster and the skating rink before settling on what Trevor Anderson’s idiosyncratic overdub tells us is “the rarest sight of all:” he and his dad, spending an afternoon together.
“It was one of those relationships where we were fine, if mom was around,” Anderson recalls, sitting in The Common, awaiting the arrival of chicken and waffles. “But if she wasn’t there to lead our activities, it was awkward. But I think a lot of people have that: a lot of people [were] raised by their mothers leading. The Little Deputy was one of those days. It’s just us. Mom’s not here to lead our father-son relationship. Let’s go to the mall, there’s a million distractions, there’s stuff to do.”
That particular mall trek culminated in an old-timey photo the pair took—dad as sheriff, Anderson as deputy—a photo that used to hang on the wall of Anderson’s childhood home. Whenever university friends would pop by, Anderson would explain the side of the story not visible in frame: that the photographer had at first mistaken him as a girl, offered him a sparkling red dress, and that while even then he knew he wanted the photo of him in a dress, he corrected the man, worried of what his father would say.
With that all front-loaded into The Little Deputy’s first few minutes, the short’s latter-half recounts an adult Anderson’s quest to get that photo as originally intended—dress and dad—with a burst of cinematic grandeur: from the handcam footage we’re vaulted into a crisp, cinematic western set in 1880s Edmonton, replete with a long train shot, a bar brawl, a moustachioed cameo by Mayor Don Iveson and all scored by the dustbowl guitar howls of Luke Doucet.
“As soon as I realized we could jump back 100 years in time and do this almost-fantasy sequence about Fort Edmonton in the 1880s, I realized it would be very cinematic,” Anderson says. “It would be a great opportunity to stretch out with production design, and make a movie-movie, a Hollywood-western-looking kinda movie.”
It was shot down in Fort Edmonton Park; graciously, cinematographers Aaron Munson and Peter Wunstorf agreed to split that title credit, each taking one half of the film to lend both segments a totally separate feel.
In doing all of that—and like with many of his films—Anderson’s taken what could’ve remained a good story for friends and given it a far grander, more resonant treatment.
“If I find myself telling the same anecdote, repeatedly in various circumstances, then I know it means that I’m hooked by it,” Anderson says. “Usually that means there’s an audience for it, because if I’m telling it again, it means it’s having an effect on the people I’m talking to.”
“By making it a movie, it does something the story can’t do,” he continues. “So it’s bigger and better and more than just a story I’d tell a friend. It depends on [the format], for its meaning. It’s always gotta be something where it’s not just the story. Because if it was just the story, why not just tell the story and pay your bar tab and go home? It’s gotta be something that becomes more through the process of becoming.”
Now complete, The Little Deputy’s set to take the filmmaker down some particularly happy trails: it’s the second of Anderson’s films accepted to the prodigious Sundance Film Festival (the first being 2011’s The High Level Bridge), one of 60 selections out of more than 8000 submissions. To celebrate that impending festival date, Anderson’s screening The Little Deputy here in town, alongside a trio of other bent-westerns he’s pulling from across the film-festival circuit. There’s Matthew Rankin and Mike Maryniuk’s Cattle Call, a high-energy blend of stop-motion animation and footage (and rapid-fire sounds) of an auctioneer brokering the sale of cattle. The second, Christina Choe’s I am John Wayne, finds a young New Yorker, brooding over the death of his friend, stumble across a horse.
The third, David Lowery’s Pioneer—”one of my all-time favourite short films,” Anderson notes—finds Will Oldham (that’s Bonnie “Prince” Billy, for the music-inclined among you) playing a father calming his four-year-old, woken in the middle of the night, with an epic bedtime story.
In keeping with the western theme, the evening also features Capital City Burlesque, ragtime piano duets and an after party at the Empress featuring OK Corral, Ben Disaster and Jessica Jalbert’s country cover band.
“They’re all prize winners,” Anderson beams, of the films screening alongside his. “They’re all the different filmmakers’ take on a contemporary short western.”
Then it’s off to Sundance. Of his inaugural trip to the Utah festival, Anderson recalls not quite being prepared for the atmosphere he found around him.
“Overwhelming,” he summarizes. “Everyone’s telling you stuff that you know better than to believe, but you find yourself believing anyways. Like, ‘You have one shot at this!’—what ‘this’ is, you don’t know. But it’s ‘A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Narrow window! Brass ring!’ All of those horrible metaphors. So I went there not wanting to miss my chance, but not knowing what that meant.”
What Anderson learned “his chance” seemed to mean was having a full-length feature idea ready to go, and that your short film was only supposed to be a stepping stone towards a bigger thing. For a filmmaker who’s worked almost exclusively in shorts by choice, that’s hardly ideal. So this time around, his priorities have adjusted towards the screenings, to meeting other filmmakers and to a particular type of festival score-keeping.
“I’m collecting, ‘I was in the same bathroom as …’ celebrity sightings,” he says. “So far I’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Snoop Dogg—not all at the same time, unfortunately. This time I’m hoping to add to that list of bathroom-buddy tales.”
This second Sundance trip comes hot on the heels of a huge success in Anderson’s other current artistic endeavour: he drums in the the Wet Secrets, recent winners of the Peak Performance Project and the $100 000 prize that comes with it. Juggling film and music is gonna be, well, a juggling act for Anderson’s next year or so, but it’s a burden he’s happy to find himself facing.
“Ridiculous time, isn’t it?” he laughs. “It’s a good year. It’s been a very nice little run I’ve been having.”
Trevor Anderson now counts some 14 short films/music videos to his name, all of which except The Little Deputy (due to film fest agreements), are currently streaming online on his website, dirtcityfilms.com. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, here are a couple of highlights to start you off.
The High Level Bridge
The short that netted Anderson his first ticket to Sundance, The High Level Bridge recounts the history and some curious facts about Edmonton’s most iconic connector. He also throws his camera—still rolling—off the edge, in tribute to all those who have jumped.
The Man That Got Away
Anderson’s longest film (clocking in at a luxurious 25 minutes) is also a musical: his long-lost uncle’s story of Alberta beginnings to rehab in New York, where he met the legendary Judy Garland.
A “what if?” response to a piece of homophobic fanmail Anderson received.
Floating in the Sky
A the Wet Secrets video which find the band playing doubles tennis like the fate of the heavens and Earth hangs in the balance.
Sat, Jan 17 (7 pm)
The Little Deputy Western Variety Show
Metro Cinema at the Garneau, $12