Andrea Dorfman plunks down into a chair, brushes wisps of still-wet-from-the-shower hair back from her forehead, wrestles a few stray possessions back into her knapsack, kicks her bike helmet under the table.
"I feel like an extra in somebody else's film," she says, reaching for coffee. "Except the lo-fi version."
If this were a film, it would be about a bright young director from Halifax who makes two short movies that are much acclaimed, and then her first feature. Weeks before the world's second-most-important film festival opens in Toronto, she finds out her movie has been accepted to screen there -- will premiere there, in fact.
Which is great, except she doesn't even have a 35-millimetre print of the film, which she made on a shoestring budget, and days before said screening she's careening around the city on her bike, film canisters rattling in her backpack, pulling over to the sidewalk when her cellphone rings. Which it does, a lot. In the middle of said festival, she would have to fly out to the West Coast, don a crimson frock and serve as bridesmaid for one of her closest friends, then fly immediately back to Toronto and resume efforts on that 35mm print.
Dorfman, 31, is the director of Parsley Days. The buzz around the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival landed her a distribution deal with Toronto-based Mongrel Media which should have it in Canadian theatres next spring. Tonight, the film gets a sold-out screening on home ground, at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax; it played at the New York Independent Film Project yesterday.
Parsley Days is a quirky, funny movie about a breakup: Kate (Megan Dunlop) is a bike-maintenance instructor who has realized she is no longer in love with Ollie (Michael Leblanc), her oh-so-perfect boyfriend of five years. Ollie is a contraceptive counsellor who is totally devoted to her, who wears, in fact, a pendant reading "I love Kate" around his neck. Ollie's so lovely that everyone Kate knows thinks she is nuts to leave him. Even her lesbian friends want to date him.
And to make matters worse, Kate's pregnant. When she finds out she will have to wait weeks for a clinic abortion, she goes on a parsley regimen prescribed by an herbalist friend to end the pregnancy.
"I never thought it would get into the Toronto festival," Dorfman says, sounding awed and exhausted all at once. "Under this thick layer of anxiety and fear is euphoria and exhilaration." In an interview two days before the film's premiere, she was distracted, still worried about that print. "It's not like I have a postproduction supervisor or an assistant," she said with a wry smile.
Dorfman made her dramatic debut with a short called Swerve (1998), a road trip story about a lesbian love triangle. The same year she made Nine (1998), a docudrama exploring a year in the life of a nine-year-old girl with separation anxiety. Those films earned her the Most Promising New Director award at the 1998 Atlantic Film Festival.
Parsley Days was shot in 11 days in the north end of Halifax last summer and "surreptitiously" edited in a not-in-use facility. The opening shot shows a safety pin being plunged into a row of condoms. "I think a relationship is a lot like a condom," Kate says in a voice-over. "You look out at the world and from behind your transparent shield you feel safe and snug. Your relationship is strong, yours is the one that won't break."
Dorfman, 31, wrote the script as a thinly veiled autobiography of an achy breakup of her own. "I really did wonder, maybe I would never fall in love or be loved like that again."
The parsley subplot was inspired by a friend of Dorfman's who got pregnant a few years ago and tried to end the pregnancy with a diet of green garnish (parsley, in case you're wondering, is said to be so acidic that it alters the body's pH balance to the point that a fertilized embryo will not implant in the uterus).
"I wanted to make a movie that was not about 'should I, shouldn't I?' " she said. "That was really important to me, because there are women who just get pregnant, and sure there is pain and they wonder what it would be like to have the baby, but they make that decision [to have an abortion]really easily."
Dorfman has financed her films -- "it's an incredibly expensive creative indulgence" -- with work as a camera assistant and as a cinematographer on other people's films and music videos. Her lush and colourful camera work is already a hallmark in the burgeoning indie-film community in Halifax.
"Colour is a character in this film," she says. Even as she talks about the wedding, from which she has flown back hours before, it is the light she raves about, that and the contrast of the colours of the bridesmaids' dresses against the mountains.
Dorfman got her first Super-8 camera from her father at age 12 and fell in love with the technical aspect of filmmaking. "I love that there is this technical side to telling a story with characters," she said. "Plus, the creative stuff -- I love the human psychology of making a film." Dorfman flew back from New York to Halifax this morning, that precious 35mm print clutched to her chest. Parsley Days goes to festivals in Vancouver and Sudbury in the next few months, and there are also rumours that it may be screened at Sundance and Berlin. Now maybe Dorfman can hire an assistant to hold the backpack.