By Robyn Burns
Just over a decade has passed since writer and director Julia Kwan was hustling and bustling between classes at Ryerson as a film student.
Now when she bustles, it’s between film festivals such as Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festival. With her first feature film, Eve & the Fire Horse, she tries to convey her idea of a perfect world: “I believe that religions should coexist. Buddha should be able to dance with Jesus,” Kwan explains.
The title character of her film, a nine-year-old named Eve, is a precocious child that finds herself faced with religion — a core issue that Kwan believes has plagued humanity. Eve is faced with the choice of leading a life under the restrictiveness of Christianity or to take the superstitious path of Buddhism.
All the while, the imaginative Eve is unable to understand why the two just can’t work together as one.
Eve & the Fire Horse is a lyrical and lighthearted look into her spiritual journey. Kwan’s concept for her feature has been many years in the making. She first came up with the idea of religion seen through the eyes of a child before graduating from Ryerson in 1993. She was able to finally complete it while living in San Francisco. Kwan compares the film to her own life, and admits her work is equal parts truth and imagination.
As an adolescent, Kwan endured the loss of a beloved grandmother, who, her father explained, was reincarnated as a goldfish. When she was eight, Kwan attended a Christian Sunday school for the first time and was shocked when she was told that her grandmother had gone to Hell because she was a Buddhist.
Kwan eventually took these experiences and used them as life lessons for Eve. Kwan, originally from Vancouver, says she truly discovered film while attending Ryerson’s film program. “I thought Ryerson was wonderful because it promoted film appreciation,” she says. “The best film program is at Ryerson. If you want to do film, do it at Ryerson.”
Her time attending the Canadian Film Centre in 2000 raised interest in her script of Eve & the Fire Horse. She promptly received arts funding for it and set aside creating short films to focus on this feature. The decision to bring Eve to the big screen paid off. It was a 2005 TIFF entrant and will be presented at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The film was the only Canadian feature accepted into the competitive World Cinema Dramatic Section. Kwan also attended the Sundance Film Festival in 2002 with one of her short film pieces. “(There was) zero pressure and no expectations, but this time it’s a bit different.”
She’ll be sharing this memorable moment in her career with many of the cast and crew members who will be in attendance at the festival. “Everybody had so much heart going into this project,” Kwan says. A grant has already been received from the Canada Council for the Arts to assist Kwan in creating her next feature film.
“I want to make films that explore the human condition,” she says. Eve & the Fire Horse opens in Toronto and Vancouver this Friday.