Mar 25, 2021

GOS LucianBy Adam Benish

GOS tells stories of immigration and generations

At the end of summer 2020, amid all the restrictions, we were able to shoot our film, Generations on Sail. GOS will be traveling to sailing organizations and on the film festival circuit this season to cities around the world, as it ventures to enter festivals at home and abroad including Toronto, Warsaw, New York, Cannes and more.

I was completely captivated the first time I stepped onto a sailboat, and I also realised that it would be the perfect setting for a film. I wasn’t inspired by just my personal experiences with sailing but also by the tales my father-in-law would tell me about everything he experienced as a young sailor in Poland. And I also knew I wanted to tell a story about a generation gap between Polish immigrants and their grandchildren, and so I decided to adapt the story to put the two characters on a sailboat. With Covid-19 in full swing I saw this as an opportunity to film something with a very small crew: myself, a sound mixer, a cinematographer and two actors.

Filming on the WaterOur first day of shooting on the lake the water was not on our side and we had a lot of choppiness to deal with. If ever I questioned casting my father-in-law to play the sailor then on this day all my doubts disappeared. If you want to talk about a performance, try asking a 75 year-old man who has never acted before to memorize a page of dialogue and deliver it to a person he has never met before with the emotional depth that she is playing his granddaughter. Then tell this same man to do it on some vicious chop while he is also captaining the boat that houses six crew members, all of who’s safety he is responsible for. Yet my father-in-law gave an amazing performance and kept us safe.

For the next day of filming everyone gathered at Toronto Harbour and this day had something a bit more special to it as we had a second boat for the shoot. Family friends John and Cat donated their time and access to their boat to help me complete my vision. We put the camera team on the second boat shooting the main boat as it sailed out around Toronto Harbour.
With a crew and cast on the boat we began traveling back to Oakville on the final day of filming, on our way shooting more of our story. As we approached the Burlington Lift Bridge we lined up the shot and waited for the bridge to lift on the hour. We approached with a minute to spare and as we reached the bridge nothing happened. We looped back around and lined up our approach and again, nothing. After ten minutes I started to doubt this would happen, we turned back and then finally the sirens rang. It turns out that in film a lot of terminology is taken from sailing and I have said “all hands on deck” before but in this moment it couldn’t have been more real. Camera started to roll, actors jumped into costume, we literally had one shot at this and we had to take it. We shot everything we could and grabbed so many amazing moments. I remembered only a month prior sailing under the lift bridge and thinking how we had the ability to move such a massive structure simply because we wanted to sail into Lake Ontario. I was able to capture that same expression in the eyes of our young actor Marysa who looked on the same lift bridge with as much awe as I’m sure I did not so long ago After a few moments in Lake Ontario we decided we had everything we needed and didn’t need to challenge the lake anymore. The chop was rising and my cast and crew had given me everything I asked for and more.

A BenishWhat I learned making this film in this environment was that you must respect the water as much as the art of filmmaking, and that fate can be such a funny thing, such as leading me to shoot this film in this way. I wanted to tell this story and I knew I needed to keep it loose, I knew I couldn’t lock myself into a shot or a scene because who knew what would happen out on the water. With all of my experience as an assistant director and filmmaker I knew in order to shoot this film on the water I had to throw caution to the wind and just roll a camera.

Adam Benish is a Toronto filmaker

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