It’s hard to believe, but 20 years have passed since a ground-breaking film production at Red Deer College was created and unveiled to local audiences, only to ultimately reach audiences around the world.
Marking that occasion, which also helped to pave the way for RDC’s current Motion Picture Arts Program, are two screenings of Naked Frailties. Both events runs Jan. 27th and Jan. 28th at the Welikoklad Event Centre starting at 7 p.m.
The film is not rated, but there is a violence and language warning.
Sitting down with Larry Reese, Don Armstrong and Harley Hay (the three creative forces behind bringing the film to fruition) is an absolute blast. The guys have such a strong connection, and listening to them reminisce about the initial vision for Naked Frailties – through to its shooting and promotion – is a terrific experience.
All three are thrilled with the aspect of the anniversary screenings as well.
The compelling story, written by Reese and Armstrong, essentially follows the twists and turns of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The poster at the time described it this way, “The ghosts of Macbeth escape Shakespeare’s play in the chilling two-hour dramatic film, Naked Frailties. A college production of the Bard’s famous tragedy spirals out of control when an ambitious young drama student realizes real-life events are beginning to parallel the play.”
As Reese recalls, “Don and I wrote the script, and we went through the play scene by scene by scene. We tried to see what parallels there would be in a modern day institution.”
Indeed. Brimming with plenty of raw tension, fierce competition and unflinching dramatic force, the movie turned out to be far more than a local project. Naked Frailties went on to earn nominations for five Rosie Awards at the 1999 Alberta Film & Television Awards, including Best Dramatic Production Over 60 Minutes Reese, producer); Best Lead Performance – Female (Reagan Dale Neis); Best Lead Performance – Male (Travis Woloshyn); Best Scriptwriter – Dramatic (Reese/Armstrong), and Best Art Director (Walter Foster).
Editor Lenka Svab was also nominated for a 1999 Leo Award (B.C.)
Ultimately, the film was distributed to over 50 countries.
“We shot it in January and February of 1997,” recalls Armstrong, who also served as director of photography on the project. Reese directed the film and Hay was part of the camera operating crew as well.
The film premiered April 24th, 1998 at the RDC Mainstage and later had a theatrical run in June at the then Uptown Cinema Centre (now the Welikoklad Event Centre).
“Larry and I had been doing theatre for a long time together,” explained Armstrong of the duo’s involvement at RDC as instructors. “We were teaching theatre – I have a degree in film and Larry has been in films, but we were both teaching theatre.”
Reese agreed, recalling that he was surprised at the time to learn that Armstrong had a degree in film. And that partly got the wheels turning about developing their own movie at RDC.
“I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if we got a film program going,” he added.
Armstrong also noted at the time, several theatre graduates had also gone onto work in the film industry.
“They were telling us, ‘You guys should develop a film program’. There wasn’t much in the way of a drama-based program in the province at the time – you had to go to Toronto or Vancouver.”
A workshop was one of the first steps, which went on to become an optional credit course.
“The industry in Alberta was also really starting to pick up, so we thought we should do something about this. So we proposed putting together a film program to the College. That’s a multi-year process – it takes a long time to get the approvals and the curriculum.”
Reese said another proposal to the College in terms of producing Naked Frailties, was that it would be part of that year’s curriculum as well. That also helped open the door to more financial backing for the project. And thus was born Rah Productions – standing for ‘Reese, Armstrong and Hay’.
As mentioned, shooting took place in early 1997 with lead actors Neis and Woloshyn.
Others quickly came onboard to help in a number of roles – what began as a $17,000 production investment with the College grew to about a $100,000 production thanks to other investors coming onboard, too.
Besides its world premiere and subsequent theatrical runs, the film has been played on TV multiple times over the years – often around Halloween, said Reese.
As to Neis’ being the perfect ‘Lady Macbeth-type’ character – Reese said she brought all the intensity and grit needed – and then some – to an audition. “She had a drive and a passion, and she really believed in what she could do.”
The award-winning film itself was shot around RDC, and in a few place around Red Deer including the Cronquist House and what is now Artistry in Gold downtown (back then it was a coffee shop).
“It’s one thing to make a film here in Red Deer and show it in-house – it’s another thing to make a film here, show it in-house and then take it out to the big, wide world,” said Reese. “And to have the big, wide world pay money to see it and to buy it.”
“The neat thing about the film also is that it’s sort of timeless,” he said. “It’s doesn’t appeal to the broadest of audiences, and it has a very particular style. And in a way, it does help if you know the play well. It will be interesting (at the screenings) for people who haven’t seen it in all these times past – to see what they think. I think it will be fun to see again for us,” he added. “I can’t believe it’s been 20 years.”