The film, although six years in the making, only
came together four weeks ago and there’s still a mountain of financing
paperwork to be signed.

That’s the nature of independent filmmaking, especially in Canada, but on a
sunny Thursday afternoon on set in Golden Ears Provincial Park, the B.C.
production of coming-of-age movie If I Had Wings was in full swing.

The $1.5 million film about a blind high school track runner is very much a
mom-and-pop affair — as described by production manager John Prince — starring
Richard Harmon as the young lead, his sister Jessica as the coach, his father
Allan directing and mother Cynde producing.

The film also stars Craig Bierko (Body of Proof, The Three Stooges), Jaren
Brandt Bartlett (of CBC’s Arctic Air), Lorne Cardinal (Corner Gas), and Jill
Hennessy (known for her roles in Law and Order and Crossing Jordan).

As Cynde’s pet project, it took six years to cobble together the financing, and
to see it progressing means so much to the veteran producer she teared up just
speaking about it.

“It’s no blockbuster animated movie,” said the effusive Cynde, who co-founded
Really Reel Productions with her husband. “You can’t get that funding guarantee
from a distributor.”

“It’s not what they think is going to be a money-maker, although it’s a really
wonderful script.”

The plot centres on the teenage Alex (Harmon), who longs to be a distance
runner despite the fact he’s blind, and who forms an unlikely friendship with a
fellow underdog, the 16-year-old Brad (Bartlett). Brad lives on a reservation
and struggles to escape a cycle of poverty and crime, and the two friends lean
on each other to break down assumptions of their life prospects.

Although the film has a strong First Nations element besides the plot — Cynde
is Mi’kmaq, meaning her children are too — the film was denied
Aboriginal-specific funding. However, it did win a Shaw Rocket Fund grant for
youth programming, which made the project viable.

Then Kim Arnott of Vancouver production house Two 4 The Money Media signed on,
contracts were issued, and the crew was assembled and headed to the Fraser
Valley.

Unlike other sets, where Vancouver might be a stand-in for New York or Chicago,
this film is proudly British Columbian.

The white crew trucks were parked along Alouette Lake’s South Beach for the
second day of shooting on location; this time, for a scene during which Alex
outruns his father with dramatic results. Other scenes will be filmed in
downtown Vancouver next week.

“We’ve lived here for 20 years and worked here for 20 years, and we’re on the
adamant side that we’re going to stay B.C.-oriented,” said Allan, who was born
in upstate New York. “We give very little thought to what’s happening on the
other side of the Alberta border.”

Although movies run in the family, it’s the first project in which Leo
Award-winner Harmon has been directed by his father.

He also stars in the sci-fi show Continuum, which is shot in Vancouver and just
renewed for a third season. Though that role is darker, it wasn’t hard to
relate to his character Alex, said Harmon, 21, who estimated he has 50 film and
television credits to his name.

“Blindness is just a physical aspect of Alex. It’s not who he is,” he said. “I
think we’ve all wanted to prove to people and break through what holds you back.”

“Early in my career, it was, ‘Oh your dad’s a director. That must be something
to do with (my success).’ And I worked tirelessly to shatter that illusion and
show this is what I want to do. I think that’s where we draw some
similarities.”

If the budget and shooting schedule are modest, clever marketing could propel
this film forward: American Idol 2009 finalist Scott MacIntyre, who is also
blind, was recruited to write the words and music to the theme song. It will
play during the final dramatic shot that uses a heli-cam for a sweeping shot of
Mount Blanshard’s twin peaks.

MacIntyre flew in from Nashville the previous night to watch the scene being
filmed.

The movie, he said, “really struck a chord with me.”

“When people look at me, or when they look at this character Alex in the film,
their first realization is there’s a lot of things a blind person can’t do. I
can’t drive, I can’t play baseball, I can’t see when my wife is smiling at me,”
he said, sitting at a picnic table in the park. “But I had this longing to play
music. It was kind of a crazy thing at first.”

MacIntyre, despite being born visually impaired with what he calls limited
“pinhole” vision, began to play piano by ear at age three and entered college
to study music at 14, later earning a master’s degree in performance from Royal
Holloway, University of London and the Royal College of Music, before
performing around the world.

“I just never stopped believing in the dream. It’s very similar to the
character Alex, who has a dream of running. He has a dream of having wings
metaphorically.”

The final piece of the puzzle fell in place when Jill Hennessy was cast as
Alex’s over-protective mother.

Hennessy was born in Edmonton and lived all over Canada including White Rock
and Cranbrook, but now resides in New York City with her husband and two young
sons, and divides her time between music and movies.

She rushed to B.C. on short notice — though she managed to find time to hike
Grouse Mountain. (Grind time: 43 minutes.)

Hennessy said she understood her character immediately.

“I think any parent can relate to that terrifying feeling of love and concern
and feeling of having absolutely no control over so many aspects of your
child’s life and letting go,” she said. “Sometimes there’s this art of dancing
between the lines of projecting a parent’s own insecurities and history onto
the child and actually isolating what the real dangers are.”

If I Had Wings wraps filming next week and producers hope to show it on the
film festival circuit including the imagineNATIVE festival in Toronto this
fall.

by Zoe McKnight