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Venus, award-winning film opens in Toronto & Vancouver theatres on May 18

April 30 2018

April 30, 2018 (Toronto) – VENUS, Eisha Marjara's comedic, heartwarming drama about a modern family in which genders, generations and cultures collide, will open at the Cineplex Yonge-Dundas Theatre, Toronto and at the Vancity Theatre, Vancouver on May 18, 2018.

VENUS tells the tale of Sid (Debargo Sanyal), a South Asian transitioning woman whose life is turned upside down when Ralph (Jamie Mayers), the “white” 14 year-old biological son she never knew she had, shows up unexpectedly at her door. Shot in Montreal, the upbeat film also deals with the hardship of transition and how it affects family and friends. VENUS has won numerous awards on the international film circuit, including most recently two awards at the 2018 Kiel Transgender Film Festival in Germany for Best Trans Performance (Debargo Sanyal) and Best Actor non-trans role (Jamie Mayers), as well as Best Narrative Feature at the 2018 Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose.

Sid is under pressure to marry a nice Indian girl and raise a family. His East Indian mother (Vancouver’s Zeena Daruwalla) yearns to have grandchildren. Her dreams are about to come true, but not in the way she ever imagined. When Sid comes out as a woman, a 14 year old boy named Ralph shows up at her door announcing that Sid is his parent. Although surprised to discover that his biological dad is now a woman, Ralph thinks having a transgender parent is pretty cool. But he hasn't told his mother and stepfather that he’s tracked down his biological father. And then there is Sid’s boyfriend Daniel (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), who has yet to tell his family of his relationship with Sid. Daniel is nowhere near ready to accept Ralph as a stepson and complicate his life further. Sid's coming out creates a snowball effect that forces everyone out of the closet.

VENUS is written and directed by Montreal-based Eisha Marjara, who first drew attention with the witty and satirical The Incredible Shrinking Woman. But it was her feature NFB docudrama Desperately Seeking Helen (2000), described as “one of the most auspicious film debuts on the Canadian scene,” that established her as a ground-breaking filmmaker. Her German-Canadian The Tourist (2006) was nominated as best short at the Female Eye Film Festival and her transgender drama House For Sale (2012) received multiple awards at various festivals. VENUS is Marjara’s first fiction feature and her second film featuring a transgender subject.


Now on Facebook: Chateau Laurier is a 10-minute, perfect Canadian drama with familiar themes

Globe and Mail

April 16 2018

By John Doyle, Television Critic

There’s a certain kind of Canadian TV content that people like. There’s no denying it. The content is period-piece drama with a dose of comedy.

There’s always an emphasis on costumes and matters of social class and money. Pinafores might well be featured. There’s usually a grumpy old person whose heart is melted by, you know, the sweetness and energy of youth. Somebody falls in love. Or maybe there’s a long-standing attraction that goes unspoken.

Listen, you can probably name a slew of shows just based on those clues.

Extrapolating meaning from this phenomenon is going on a fool’s errand. What’s it mean? You might be tempted to ask. Well, there’s not much to it except a characteristically Canadian deference to old-timey things, a peculiar nostalgia tinged with a very British twist on history. To those who would assert the phenomenon says something about Canadian archetypes and our value system I’d say, lighten up. That’s for another day, another column longer than this one. Possibly it demands an entire weekend conference of analysis and critique.

People like what they like. And if you like Murdoch Mysteries, Frankie Drake Mysteries and that species of content, you’ll know it has all disappeared from CBC’s main channel as the NHL playoffs take over the schedule. It’s the way it is.

But I urge you check out a tiny, perfect example of the Canadian genre in question. You can find it on Facebook, of all places. Heaven only knows what meaningful data Facebook will acquire from your perusal of this gem of the genre. But let’s leave that aside, along with the extrapolation of dangerous meaning.

Chateau Laurier is it, and it is about 10 minutes long. That’s correct, there are three episodes with two or three minutes of action in each. Don’t, just don’t, write to me about wasting your time. We’re talking 10 minutes here.

Set in the famous Ottawa hotel, but filmed in Toronto – it looks like the Fairmont Royal York – events are set in or about 1912. A young woman, Hattie Bracebridge (Kate Ross) is brought to the hotel on the eve of her arranged marriage to one Vivian Mutchmor (Luke Humphrey). Her chaperone, Mrs. Bracebridge (Fiona Reid), tells Hattie to quit her complaining and face up to the marriage. Hattie wanders off and has a little romantic adventure. Then, there’s a twist.

It’s all terribly charming. Kate Ross is excellent, a total scene-stealer as Hattie. “I’m about to be married off to some old prat,” she tells someone “downstairs” at the fancy hotel. Fiona Reid has done this kind of role about a thousand times and is good at it. It’s a pleasure to see the late Bruce Gray (in his last role) as the elder Mr. Mutchmor, and Kent Staines does what he, too, has probably done countless times, as an older chap at the hotel who tries to sort things out.

Here’s the thing about Chateau Laurier – it’s already been viewed more than a million times, in the space of a few weeks. I’m telling, you Canadians adore this category of content. Addicted is what they are.

Made by James Stewart and co-written by Staines with Emily Weedon, this tiny, impeccable slice of Canadiana looks like a calling card for a possible primetime series. If so, it sure looks like what Canadian producers and broadcasters will finance and air. Watch it, enjoy it and deduce your own meaning.

Globe and Mail article

Chateau Laurier hits the 1 million mark

Playback Online

March 29 2018

By Regan Reid

Geneva Film Co’s James Stewart may have found his next online hit.

The director and producer behind the 2015 animated stop-motion short film Foxed!, which garnered more than five million views on Facebook alone, released the web series Chateau Laurier on the social platform earlier this month.

The turn-of-the-20th-century drama, set in the historic Ottawa hotel, follows a budding romance between two restless young people. It stars Fiona Reid (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Kate Ross (Alias Grace), Luke Humphrey (Stratford’s Shakespeare in Love) and the late Bruce Gray (Traders), in his final role.

The series is produced and directed by Stewart, who co-created the series with co-writers and co-producers Kent Staines (Prom Queen) and Emily Weedon (15 Kinds of Casual Sex). It was produced with the assistance of BravoFACT.

Since launching on March 13, Chateau Laurier (3 x 3 minutes) has been viewed more than 1 million times, with each episode averaging more than 350,000 views and its Facebook page amassing more than 40,000 followers in its first week.

Stewart told Playback Daily that his success with Foxed! on Facebook led the production team to debut the series on the platform.

“Foxed! did really well on Vimeo with 100,000 views. But when we put it on Facebook, for free, it had more than 5 million views. I learned from that that the share-ability of Facebook is very, very easy,” he said, adding that he believes there’s less online trolling and a more positive community on Facebook than on other platforms like YouTube.

Stewart said after cast and crew shared the Facebook page with their respective friends, the series “took off.” While he doesn’t profess to know the inside workings of Facebook’s algorithm, Stewart noted that the shorter, three-minute format is ideal for Facebook in particular, as the episodes are easier to digest on mobile. In 2016, Facebook reported it had passed more than one billion mobile-only monthly users and more than one billion daily active mobile users.

For Stewart, the web series will ideally serve as an audience-builder for an eventual primetime drama, which the producers are looking to pitch to linear broadcasters and SVODs. “Being able to say [to a network or SVOD] that we already have 400,000 fans is amazing,” he said.

In the meantime, the producers are working to secure funding for more webisodes to continue the series.

Playback Online article

Web series based on the Chateau Laurier premieres on Facebook

Ottawa Citizen

March 28 2018

A web series premiered in March based on Ottawa's Chateau Laurier Hotel.

Holly Menchetti, Ottawa Citizen

Published on: March 28, 2018 | Last Updated: March 29, 2018 11:58 AM EDT

A web miniseries based on Ottawa’s own Chateau Laurier premiered on Facebook in March and has so far attracted more than 45,000 followers. The three videos in the series combined have been viewed more than a million times.

The web series was filmed in Toronto, but is set at the Chateau Laurier hotel circa 1912. It is about an arranged marriage between two young people. Season 1 has three episodes— running about three minutes each — and is produced and directed by James Stewart, who grew up in the capital.

“I love dramatic storytelling and Ottawa, so it’s the perfect combination of the two,” Stewart said in a phone interview.

Stewart attended Carleton University for film studies and moved to Toronto after graduating.

“I started to work my way up,” said Stewart. Eventually, he began working with short films, commercials, animation, 3D projects and more.

The Chateau Laurier web series (which is can be viewed on the Chateau Laurier — The Web Series Facebook page) was inspired by Stewart’s upbringing in Ottawa. He’s always had an interest in the history of the city, but also with the hotel itself. He believes inside the Chateau Laurier, there are many stories waiting to be told, as well as many interesting guests and personalities who have visited the hotel.

“The Prime Minister, politicians and wealthy people stay at the Chateau Laurier,” he said. “There’s always intriguing drama going on in there.”

He says the feel of the show is somewhat similar to that of Downton Abbey and The Crown. The cast and crew paid a lot of attention to the costume, interior design, dialogue, hair and makeup throughout the filming in order to capture the atmosphere of the time period the show takes place in.

Stewart said he and his crew are excited about the response the web series —which was actually filmed in one day in 2016 — has so far received. He said he would love to continue the show and tell more stories from the Chateau Laurier.

The web series stars Fiona Reid, Kate Ross, Luke Humphrey, Kent Staines, Fraser Elsdon and the late Bruce Gray. Ken Staines and Emily Weedon are co-writers and co-producers.

Ottawa Citizen article

New Original Web Series CHATEAU LAURIER makes strong debut

March 26 2018

New Original Web Series CHATEAU LAURIER Makes Debut with 300,000 Views and 40,000 Followers in First Week

Stellar cast features Fiona Reid, Kate Ross, Luke Humphrey and the late Bruce Gray

Monday, March 26, 2018 (Toronto) – The first season of the new web series CHATEAU LAURIER made its debut with 300,000 views and 40,000 followers on Facebook in its first week, it was announced today by producer/director, James Stewart. Featuring a stellar Canadian cast, including Fiona Reid (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Kate Ross (Alias Grace), Luke Humphrey (Stratford’s Shakespeare in Love), and the late Bruce Gray (Traders) in his last role, the first season of the web series launched on March 13, 2018 with 3 episodes of 3 minutes each.