Graham Foy on the Journey to Venice for Teen Drama The Maiden

“The Maiden,” Graham Foy’s finely tuned story of adolescent mythmaking, togetherness and grief, has its world premiere Tuesday in Venice Days before heading to Toronto, but the film’s impressive international journey actually began in Cannes two years ago.

Based in Toronto since 2008, Foy grew up in suburban Calgary where “Maiden” is set, spent teenage summers near the graffiti-covered railroad bridge and ragged ravine, where much of the film was shot, and, like one of the characters, was an avid skateboarder.

He had been tapping away at the “Maiden” script — which draws from his experiences but is not autobiographical — for several years when his short “August 22, This Year” was selected for the 2020 Cannes’ Critics’ Week.

“It was the year the pandemic shut down Cannes, so we couldn’t go, but the festival did a lot for the filmmakers,” said Foy, who spoke to Variety from Venice last week, in advance of the festival.

“The short filmmakers were invited to participate in Cannes’ Next Step development program, which helps short filmmakers make that jump to features,” he continued. “It was amazing to have that kind of access to people who do the same thing as you but don’t know your work. The feedback was extremely candid and honest.”

After working up another draft of “Maiden,” Foy was then invited to a residency at Moulin d’Andé in Normandy, which he attended with the film’s producers — his F Films’ partner and wife Daiva Žalnieriunas, and MDFF’s Dan Montgomery (“Anne at 13,000 Ft.”). The script was worked through again. “I felt strongly that the structure had settled,“ Foy recalled. “We returned to Toronto and drove to Calgary to start prepping.”

Casting Calgary actors Jackson Sluiter, Marcel Jiménez and Hayley Ness — all making their professional screen debuts — allowed Foy to see the characters of “Maiden” come to life so he could refine the dialogue. “All three contributed little pieces of who they are,” he said. “Jackson, who plays Kyle, knows the skateboarding culture of Calgary, which I grew up in, and has an amazing set of catchphrases.”

Foy’s alignment with Toronto-based MDFF, which Montgomery established with director Kazik Radwanski in 2009, puts “Maiden” on a slate of notable, handmade, director-driven narratives and features that have screened at top festivals. MDFF is releasing the film in Canada.

“They also run this series that screens arthouse cinema from all over the world—often films that were made with very little,” Foy said. “I was inspired by that and by MDFF’s films, which informed our ethos to create something ambitious with limited resources.”

In addition to financial support from Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch program, “Maiden” also received support from Canada Council for the Arts and private donations.

Foy enjoyed the collaborative vibe of the tight crew, which included cinematographer Kelly Jeffrey, whom Foy has been working with since film school. Their decision to shoot in 16mm and the film’s many night scenes precipitated numerous conversations about light.

“We couldn’t drive a car into places like the ravine where we were filming, so we had to carry in all the equipment on foot,” Foy explained. “We decided to shoot day-for-night because of its simplicity, but also because it created this strange, otherworldly atmosphere, which we were all excited to capture.

“Through the writing process and also through production, a big part of my philosophy was to try to let go as much as possible from needing the film to be perfect, and to embrace the film for what it was, and let the film be itself and bring its own energy,” he said.

And that philosophy seems to be working. Just prior to its Venice premiere, “The Maiden” won the TRT First Cut + award for works-in-progress at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Hengameh Panahi and Charlotte Mickie are repping the film for Celluloid Dreams, which has world sales rights.

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