Not just another teen movie

By Nicole Kobie

When Robert Cuffley’s publicist set up our interview at a coffee house in Kensington, he described the local director as bohemian with dark, mussed hair. I laughed–sounds like the typical independent filmmaker. However, I stopped laughing when I entered the shop, as that described nearly half the patrons. Luckily, he flagged me down so all was not lost.

Contrary to appearance, Cuffley is atypical, and his debut feature film is hardly a common effort. Turning Paige is already a multiple award winning film and, more importantly, it’s good. A co-written effort between the SAIT-trained Cuffley and Jason Long, it tells the story of the relationship between teenage Paige and her father, when the return of her estranged brother forces them to face tragic events from their collective past.

“The original idea was kind of boring; we just wanted to put a brother and a sister at extreme odds,” Cuffley says, looking over his shoulder as though he’s expecting someone. He doesn’t seem nervous at all, but calmly fidgets the entire interview. “But how do you do this? Did he borrow her socks one day, and not return them, or is it something deeper than that?”

Each character–father, son, daughter–remember the circumstances differently. Stuck in denial, it takes nothing less than violent confrontations for the truth to escape. Paige struggles to understand, and faces her emotions by writing cryptic short stories.

Was writing Turning Paige Cuffley’s way of exorcising personal demons?

“Sometimes I say it is [semi-autobiographical]…but no, it’s not,” he deadpans, shifting in his seat. “It’s largely fiction. I’m happy when people ask that, because that means it didn’t seem fake or contrived.”

Realism is Turning Paige’s strong point, something rare in movies with adolescent leads. While it features its share of high school angst, this is no ordinary teen movie. There are no halter tops, no elaborate keg parties and no Britney Spears.

With that, the actress who plays Paige, Katherine Isabelle, though beautiful, wasn’t chosen for her face but for her acting skills.

“We didn’t want to play up the babeness, we wanted to play it down. I mean, she looks pretty crappy through the whole movie.”

In any movie that so intensely focuses on so few characters, the acting strength is vital. Isabelle is captivatingly sullen as Paige and Nicholas Campbell’s a scene stealer as her father. While all the actors are surprisingly skilled for such a low budget Canadian effort, the standout is Brendan Fletcher as Paige’s boyfriend. He seems familiar, and at first a little psychotic. However, perceptions of characters are not permanent in Turning Paige. What you think at the beginning is not how you’ll feel in the end.

“The strongest part of the movie is the characters, and that just makes the stakes rise for me,” says Cuffley, running his finger along a groove in the table. “If I do something wrong with the choices they make, it’s like I’m letting people down.”

In most movies, it’s usually not the characters, but the ending that’s the letdown.

“It’s so easy to bash Hollywood, but if this were their movie, the ending would be so different. It is optimistic, but they would make it way more so, so I’d want to stick my finger down my throat and barf, essentially,” he explains, making a face before looking over his shoulder again.

This time, I look up too. We’re probably the only two present who have seen Turning Paige, but Cuffley doesn’t wish for a bigger budget to draw a larger audience. He enjoyed the creative freedom the small budget offered.

“I’m thankful of this because it could end up being the time I had everything my way.”

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