When life hands you lemons, make a documentary

In Arts & Life /

By Alfea Donato

When then third-year film student Justin Friesen first pitched his documentary idea in class, his professor rejected it because of narrative concerns. Little did either of them know that Friesen’s documentary, Let’s Make Lemonade, would go on to become an award-winning film.

“I think [the prof] didn’t quite understand it,” said Friesen. “He had a particular notion of what a documentary should be and mine didn’t follow his notion.”

However, by the time the professor voiced his opinion Friesen was almost done shooting so he decided to show it in class anyway.

“He still wasn’t happy with it after seeing it,” said Friesen. “But my classmates liked it and my peers in higher years went on to vote the doc for [a film festival].”

Still, on the documentary’s Internet movie database (IMDb) page, Friesen added a note of thanks to professor Douglas Arrowsmith (who taught third-year documentary film production at Ryerson at the time), as is tradition between film students and professors. But Arrowsmith wanted no connection to the movie and asked Friesen to remove the mention.

“Can you please take me off your IMDb credit listing for your film,” said the professor in an email to Friesen. “It’s not an appropriate listing and I was surprised to find it now cross-listed on my own IMDb page. Your film (which you are understandably proud of) is not part of my pedigree. Please make the change ASAP and confirm.”

Regardless, the documentary has done pretty well for a film that wasn’t supposed to be made.

Let’s Make Lemonade was announced as the winner of the 2012 Air Canada enRoute Film Festival and People’s Choice and Achievement in Documentary last Wednesday.

Before that, it won second runner up best documentary in Ryerson’s Maximum Exposure festival and will be shown on Air Canada flights until December.

Calling himself “a documentary filmmaker by mistake,” Friesen will be headed to the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France in February of next year and has been given a trip for two to anywhere in North America.

“The adversity the film went through sweetened the deal,” said Friesen.

The documentary follows Toronto’s 14-member Balkan-Klezmergypsy party-punk-super band, as the Lemon Bucket Orkestra calls itself.

The band is known for crashing parties and starting impromptu concerts in the street.

“There’s a part of the film where they talk about why busking is important to bands,” Friesen said.

“It’s a democratizing of music. That philosophy of bringing music to the streets… they held true to their hearts.”

Friesen remembers one of his first encounters with the band at Trinity Bellwoods Park, where he was with a friend whose film they scored. He was unaware that Lemon Bucket Orkestra was planning another spontaneous show.

“Girls started getting up and dancing… people were whooping and cheering,” said Friesen. “That was the moment I lost it. Everyone has these predispositions… they never thought in a million years they could dance to a gypsy song. But… you can, you’re just not letting yourself.”

The band certainly has the lighthearted attitude mastered – even their name’s origin is flippant. At an open-mic concert, the MC asked what their name was and frontrunner Mark Marcyzk said “fuck it.” But when they were announced onstage, the MC called them Bucket so the band adopted the name.

That spontaneity was exactly what drove Friesen to feature the band in his documentary.

“I’m interested in heavy-handed intellectual concepts, but only if it helps bring joy to the world,” he said. “There’s a tendency to talk about heavy subjects. I tend to focus on things that make life a little more enjoyable.”

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