Calgary film explores drug culture

By Sean Sullivan

Producer Ritika Anand and her husband, director Shailender Vyas, are only interested in producing films about social issues.

Their last film, Lost, which was released in 2009 and won an Award of Excellence from the Canada International Film Festival in 2010, was a 60-minute documentary drama about how southeast Asian immigrants to Canada run into problems with the Canadian justice system because of cultural differences. Their latest film, Three Colours And A Canvas — their feature-length debut — premieres at the Globe Theatre on March 13 and tackles issues surrounding drug culture.

Set and filmed in Calgary, the film follows four young adults who shirk responsibility and consequence to live day to day, partying and experimenting with drugs.

“We were inspired to tell the story of addiction in the way that we have,” Anand says, “a non-judgemental way, putting forward four different possibilities of where you could land with choices like this.”

On top of producing the film, Anand plays the character of Rosa who dabbles with weed and enjoys being alone. She soon runs into Cassie (Starlise Waschuk), Herc (Matthew McKinney) and Manwinder (Manwinder Gill) who all become friends.

“All of these people come into her life and they colour it,” Anand says. “They give her direction on how to coexist in a world full of people, make friends and live a life.”

Over the course of the film, the four friends struggle with escalating drug use while their lives begin to spiral out of control.

“We’ve seen some of our friends back home in India, as well as here, go down that path,” Anand says, “and have seen what a choice like that can make of your life and where it could land you.”

While doing research for the film, Vyas, who wrote the script, spent a year volunteering at a friend’s convenience store and making friends with people who were homeless or affected by drugs. Anand says it brought him insight into how to write the script and bring greater realism to the film.

“The knowledge of how people in that culture sustain [themselves] is what he really picked up from working there and meeting people right here in Canada,” Anand says. “It’s very much a Canadian inspired story.”

The Cecil Hotel

Much of the film is about getting to know and love the characters. One of those characters is Rosa’s apartment, filmed inside Calgary’s old Cecil Hotel. Rosa’s apartment changes with the characters, reflecting the path the characters go down with drugs, getting dirtier and emptier throughout the film.

It’s fitting that a film about drug culture and addiction is filmed within a historical epicentre for drug use in Calgary. However, Anand says it wasn’t a connection they had thought about at first. It was a coincidence that they ended up filming there.

Anand and Vyas spent a year and a half searching for the right location to film Rosa’s apartment. They had approached the City of Calgary and Calgary Economic Development for help but were still unable to find a place that met their needs.

Finally the Calgary Housing Company suggested they look into using the Cecil Hotel. But getting permission to film in the hotel proved difficult. They required a No Objection Certificate from the city in order to film inside the hotel, which they received only a week before they were scheduled to begin filming and only received the keys three days before.

The crew worked overtime for three days to build the set for the apartment, installing laminate flooring, fake brick walls and a fake window. When Anand and Vyas saw the completed set for the first time it was perfect.

“We finally had it,” Anand says.

Then they finished filming in 18 days.


Anand says one of the challenges in producing a Canadian film about drug addiction is adapting to the different expectations of Canadian audiences.

Anand and Vyas have a background in the Bollywood film industry.

“Our way of making scripts, especially [Vyas] writing scripts and arranging stories, is very different than what we were used to there,” Anand says.

Although one of those difficulties is the different cultures and languages — translating characters developed from experiences in India into characters who are relatable to a Canadian audience — Anand says the most striking difference is the humour.

“There’s a huge difference,” Anand says. “They look for different things.”

While about 60 per cent of Three Colours And A Canvas is fairly light and humorous, they had to develop a rawness, a realism for the film that would hit home with Canadian audiences.

“It would be a lot more dramatized [in India],” Anand says.

Part of that realism was also visual, as they played with different locations in Calgary and with different colours to try and reproduce an old 35-millimetre film camera look on an Red Epic digital cinema camera.

They chose a number of famous locations in Calgary to shoot, which Anand says are nostalgic when seen on film.

“It makes you sit back and think, ‘I take this city for granted but this is where we belong and this is how beautiful it can look,’ ” Anand says.

Three Colours And A Canvas premieres on March 13 at the Globe Cinema with 10 additional screenings running from March 14–20.

Ten per cent of proceeds from Calgary screenings will be donated to the University of Calgary Distress Centre on Campus.

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