Directed by Lev Lewis (The Intestine) and Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas (co-directors of Amy George and The Oxbow Cure), SPICE IT UP is about a young filmmaker making her first film done as a tongue-in-cheek odyssey about the discouraging obstacles encountered by independent filmmakers.
Film student Rene (Jennifer Hardy), struggles to complete her thesis project — a piece of straight-faced, GoPro-shot absurdity about seven female friends who try to enlist in the Canadian army after they fail to graduate from high school. To her discouragement, she finds her work dismissed or ignored by everyone she shares it with, including her own professor (Adam Nayman – Toronto’s film critic who happens to also teach film at Ryerson University, Toronto as depicted in the film), whose notes are less than inspiring. Jumping between the ensemble-based film-within-a-film about friendship and teamwork, and the framing story of the lonely plight of its creator.
SPICE IT UP definitely has a documentary filmmaker’s look about it. It feels that the film is directed by the protagonist Rene, while in reality the film is directed by three different people.
This is a film within a film. Famous directors in the past have made films about their experiences in filmmaking resulting in their best works. Francois Truffaut directed and played a film director himself in the Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Film LA NUIT AMERICAINE (English title: DAY FOR NIGHT), Federico Fellini directed bis masterpiece 81/2 with Marcello Mastroianni playing a young film director while the most recent ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is Quentin Tarrantino’s excursion on the filmmaking process during the hippie era. It seems odd that the directors’ early film would tackle such a project that involves all the intricacies of creating a film – all of which comes with experience while making many, many films. It is clear that SPICE IT UP turns out a little simple in its outlook on how to create a film. Unlike the Masters’ works in filmmaking, all the information about making a good film appears to be textbook material, as advised by the Adam Nayman character in one scene where he, playing a film processor gives Rene advice on her film – create a stronger lead character instead of using 7 actors; engage a stronger narrative etc. These words are echoed by a film editor who offers identical advice to Rene. “Do you want me to got down and get dirty?” the editor asks Rene at one point whether he has permission to snip up her film. In short, Rene is advised to SPICE IT (her film) UP!
The answer to the last question would be a definite no, if one asks the opinion of the audience watching this film. SPICE IT UP is Rene’s own film despite flaws and all and destroying it would seem nothing short of criminal.
SPICE IT UP ends up a quiet little film that would turn out more intriguing to cineastes. This kind of small Canadian film would not have a release if it were not be for the TIFF Bell Lightbox and its programmers who give little films like SPICE IT UP a decent chance.
The film has its surprises and flaws. One surprise is Rene’s professor who appears again at the end. Nayman is hilarious as the pompous professor dishing out advice to Rene without realizing that he had watched the wrong film. The part of Rene discovering her past unfortunately leads nowhere and serves as a distraction.
There is a Q&A (you already missed it!!) moderated by the said Adam Nayman in the film on Friday, August 16 at 8:30pm with the film’s three directors at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.