Seeing her film directorial debut come to fruition has been an incredibly meaningful and richly creative chapter in Red Deer College instructor Lori Ravensborg’s life.
A screening for The Long Road is set for May 5 in RDC’s Margaret Parsons Theatre at 7 p.m.
Ravensborg wrote and produced the film, which not only marked her directorial debut but was also a major component of her Master’s Thesis.
The film explores choices people face at the end of life, and how these choices can bring families together and pull them apart.
“The work was very emotional and difficult in nature,” she notes of the 27-minute film.
The story follows an Alberta farmer, Harold Rate, who loses his wife of 41 years following a stroke.
His children, Rob, Sarah and Becca along with Sarah’s lesbian partner Megan and Rob’s adult daughter Marigold, come together at the family acreage bringing not only their grief but also emotional baggage stemming from their history.
Ravensborg said the idea for the film surfaced after a conversation with her mother in 2010 about facing end of life issues.
“The idea for writing the script came from something my mother said randomly one day while I was cutting broccoli in her kitchen about letting her go if she became incapacitated. This statement caused a lot of thought. How would my family, or any family deal with that? How would children of a parent deal with that wish? What kind of difficult decisions would it place on a spouse?”
Ravensborg developed a script for a cast of six which included the husband, his three children, a grandchild and a partner of the oldest daughter.
After the script was completed, it was time to cast the picture. Ravensborg contacted her friend Rhonda Fisekci, a casting director, to help out. Casting sessions were held in Red Deer and Calgary, and Ravensborg saw 42 actors for the six roles.
Ultimately three actors were selected from the Sylvan Lake area and the other three are Calgary-based.
From the start, bringing these artists together and forming a family unit – in a relatively short period of time – unfolded quite naturally.
“I told them there would be a rehearsal day, which was a week before we started shooting. And then we would have a five-day shoot.”
That rehearsal day was critical to connecting cast members and building the family dynamic. “The rehearsal day was overwhelming, humbling, scary, exciting – everyone came in and met each other for the first time. Before we did the reading, I talked about what my hope was, how I was trying to encourage them and create an environment where they could actually find out more about their characters and build some relationships with the others.”
To that end, a number of activities were planned including lots of discussions and heading out for a hike to spend time together and shoot some photos.
They also visited the shoot’s location so they could develop a sense of home prior to filming.
A family photograph for the film also meant finding someone to be ‘mom’ – that role went to Tanya Ryga. Ravensborg didn’t only have Ryga pose for a picture and then leave; she had the cast spend time with her as well so they could connect to a real person and add depth to their feelings about the character.
“I also had them each do a historical story about something that was either a difficult experience with mom or a really great memory. They all shared those stories with her in front of the rest of the family. I really believe that single day had the greatest effect,” she said. “Everybody ‘got it’ by the end of the day. They knew who they were and how they felt. It also allowed me to hit the ground running when we started shooting.”
Ravensborg’s crew consisted of industry professionals including cinematographer Don Armstrong, actor John Treleaven and production manager James Wilson.
She also worked with newer professional actors Shannon Strumecki, Rob Hay, Kim Faires, Tamara Werden and Rivera Reese.
Many of the cast and crew are graduates of the RDC Motion Picture Arts Program. Ravensborg also recruited current students to help with the film as well.
Ultimately, it’s been a delightful, inspiring experience. She said she hopes viewers walk away affected by the weight of the performances and that the project as a whole promotes conversations about ‘end of life’ issues.
Down the road, she’d like to direct a feature length film. “For me, it was a real gift of an experience. I absolutely adored it. I couldn’t believe how much I loved it.”
Admission to the screening is free. Following the film there will be a reception and a cash bar.