Having spent her formative high-school years in Newfoundland and Labrador, Sofia Banzhaf is well acquainted with the beauty and damn near impossible to replicate charm of Atlantic Canada.
It is a reality that the rising actress and author has spent much of her recent career promoting through the award-winning drama Closet Monster (directed by NL’s own Stephen Dunn) and the Thom Fitzgerald led Splinters, which made its worldwide premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, before kickstarting the Atlantic International Film Festival in Halifax.
“It’s a thrill that I can do that,” Banzhaf tells The Herald on the ability to share pieces of Atlantic Canada to the masses. “I love that we can tell Atlantic Canadian stories, because I feel like there’s a real need for them and I’m really excited that there are all of these unique voices emerging and that we have a platform like this to tell them.”
Splinters, adapted by Fitzgerald from the acclaimed stage play by Lee-Anne Poole, sees Banzhaf star as Belle, who returns to her rural Nova Scotia home for her father’s funeral. Having caused her mother Nancy considerable consternation when she came out as a lesbian teen, Belle is now desperate to keep secret from her mother that she’s been in a relationship with a man for the last two years.
It’s tumultuous – at times uncomfortably so – and speaks to large sweeping themes and conversations on family, grief, sexuality, identity, the call of home and so many more shades of grey that require multiple viewing to properly digest.
“I loved the script,” Banzhaf admits. “Lee-Anne Poole, who wrote the stage play is an incredibly gifted writer. She based the play on her life. I’m happy that it remains as authentic and real as I think she intended.
“I read it a lot and I really like the fact that it takes place over just three days or so. It also ended up being one of the biggest challenges for me as an actor. When you’re shooting over three or four weeks, but the story is only three days long, you’re constantly trying to remind yourself of where you’re at in the emotional journey. In other projects you show up at a different day and you’re wearing a different outfit and it’s easier to find your place. With this it required so much precision in terms of what the scenes demanded on that day from me. I drew a very big map of the emotional journey. I think that was the biggest challenge. I talked with Thom about that a lot. It was the fun part, but also the challenge.”
Banzhaf stars alongside a talented cast that includes Bailey Maughan (Outlander, Mr. D), Callum Dunphy (Sex & Violence, Forgive Me), and the incomparable Shelley Thompson (The Trailer Park Boys, Labyrinth), who commands scene after scene with her layered performance as grieving widow and conservative mother, Nancy.
“I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with Shelley Thompson,” Banzhaf shares. “She’s an incredibly generous actor. When you prepare for a role you just don’t know how it’s going to play out, you only learn that as soon as you get on set and meet the people that you’re working with. Shelley and I, we had no time to get to know each other at all. We had a table read and started shooting immediately and there were long days so there was almost no time to get to know each other in between takes. I felt very lucky that her and I just clicked. She brought so much to the table that I felt for me, it was a real gift. It was very easy for me to react to her.
“Certainly Belle is reactive and she’s trying not to be, but as we all know when we go home for the holidays we try our best to remain our matured selves, but often that’s tricky because we feel like we’re regressing as soon as we’re back in the house. I think that’s something Belle struggles with.”
On the films’ TIFF premiere, Banzhaf again expresses excitement to be able to share a predominately Atlantic Canadian story at one of the preeminent film festivals in the world. She’s nothing if not proud of her home away from home.
“It’s been really incredible, a whirlwind. It’s so exciting. I’ve had a couple of pinch me moments where I was in the room with people that I really, really admire. It’s such an honour to be at such a prestigious festival with an Atlantic Canadian movie. It’s a real thrill for me.
“There are so many beautiful shots of Nova Scotia in this film that were so easy to get,” she adds. “We just drove for 10 minutes outside of base-camp and would be overlooking this incredible valley. It was fun that it didn’t feel like we were trying very hard to highlight that. It’s the same with Closet Monster where it just displays Newfoundland in such a gorgeous way, although that wasn’t very hard.”
For more on Splinters at the Atlantic International Film Festival visit the official festival website here. Stay tuned to The Herald for our full and extensive interview with Sofia Banzhaf.