October 2017 | Profile by Jane Ledwell
By the time October arrives, Adam Perry’s seventeen-and-a-half minute short film, A Blessing from the Sea, a “violent thriller” filmed on PEI’s west coast (near Tignish) with mainly Island talent, will have debuted as the closer of the short-film gala at FIN: The Atlantic International Film Festival.
“The film ends on a tense moment, a tense scene” Adam says intently, conjuring a sense of foreboding despite the sunlit comfort of his back deck, kids playing happily in the yard.
With the film he and producers Jenna MacMillan and Jason Arsenault dedicated thirteen months of intense care to, he wants to leave audiences asking for more—more of the story, more of his work as a writer/director, more of PEI.
A Blessing from the Sea is a story of found money leading to secrecy, fear, and violence. “The story is very strictly set in PEI,” Adam says. Unlike many Island stories, though, it’s “a dark thriller.” Adam says, “There’s so much beauty and joy exploited for tourism here.” To red cliffs and seascapes, Adam’s story adds element not part of the tourist picture: “turmoil,” he notes, and threat: “small towns on the collapse, people leaving for out west…”
Reflectively, he says, “Environment is what drives your actions. They say ‘write what you know,’ and I know this place. I know first-hand the hardships people face, the sacrifices they’d make for a bunch of money. A Blessing from the Sea scratches the surface of a much bigger story.”
For Adam, that “bigger story” is not only the bigger story of the secrets PEI contains, but also, specifically, a feature-length film from the same found-money narrative. He wrote a feature-length script, A Small Fortune, after his first child was born, and, the filmmaker says, “life slowed right down. I thought, if I’m going to stay at home taking care of this baby, I’m going to spend my days as a writer.”
The script unexpectedly won prestigious awards, and A Blessing from the Sea is a proof-of-concept to secure the support for Adam to make the feature. “I have to prove I have a great sense of this world I’m creating,” he says. “The found money story has been told countless times, but I want a fresh perspective on the story.”
Adam has created material that matches the length of a feature film before, web series like Profile PEI and Jiggers. But his paid work for several years was in food-focused productions, with chef Michael Smith. “I learned so much from travel and cooking shows, but (with food shots,) I couldn’t tell the stories I wanted to tell,” Adam says. With this first product from his own imagination since 2009, he is “exercising new knowledge and skill sets on a film of my own.”
He continues, “There are so many talented artists here on PEI. Filmmaking is the most expensive (artistic medium) because it is the most collaborative… If you can’t find money, you have to sacrifice (whole) departments.”
In a province with no film or TV tax credit, “Island filmmakers are experts in that field, making excellent, excellent work without funding,” Adam says. “I think with this film, people will see what we’re capable of with money.”
But even with some money, budgets were tight enough that making up a day of shooting lost to dampness in the camera cost the entire post-production budget. “Part of the sacrifices I’ve made in order to make this movie, I’ve had to give up work—paying work, contracts. Those are the strikes that hurt. You know you’re going to make something you love, and you know you’re only going to go home with about $1,500 for thirteen months’ work.”
Adam builds the suspense: “There’s a lot riding on this for me—a lot of doubt,” he says. “I can only make another film if it’s bigger than this film. If I direct a film, it’s got to be at least on a par with this film.”
Says Adam Perry. “It’s a very important film to me—to show the rest of the Maritimes what we’re capable of here in PEI… I like to say it’s my favourite movie.”