Martine Blue, on persistence and the making of "Hunting Pignut"

Martine Blue on set
Martine Blue on set

By Candice Walsh

Martine Blue, local filmmaker, has two films in the 27th annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival – Hunting Pignut, a gutter punk feature, and The Perfect Family, a comedic short featuring a parrot-woman hybrid.

I caught up with her to talk about her life as a filmmaker.

Interviewer: Can you tell me in your own words what Hunting Pignut is about?

Martine: It’s about a young teenage misfit named Bernice from around the bay. When her estranged father dies, a group of gutter punks turn up at his wake and steals his ashes. She runs away in search of her father’s ashes and to find her place in the world -- to find her sense of community, and to discover her sense of family.

I: And for those of us who don’t know what “gutter punk” means, how would you describe that?

M: Oh that’s a good question. It’s that kind of basic punk idealism, but it goes a step beyond all that. Punk tends to be concerned with the style of the music, while gutter punk is more of an ideology of freedom and sometimes hedonism, and living on the fringes of society. It’s about not conforming to society’s rules.

I: A lot of this story was inspired from your own background, is that right?

M: Yes, for sure. I lived as a squatter and a traveller and without money for about seven years. I lived at C-Squat in New York and also travelled extensively around the world, and squatted in Europe. I also hitchhiked and hopped trains.

I:(Laughs) That sounds really exciting, actually.

M: (Laughs) I don’t know if it was exciting at the time. Sometimes when you don’t have a place to stay for the night and you’re looking for hours for a place to stay… I remember being in Spain and trying every door of every building so I could go up and sleep on the roof. The roof seemed like the safest place. I think I was in Barcelona. And after a couple of hours of just walking around the city with my dog looking for a place to sleep, at one point I thought it might just be easier to get a job.

I:(Laughs) That’s fair.

M: Also, you know, eating out of the garbage -- you have to make sure the stuff’s not expired and there’s nothing dumped on it, nothing toxic. I guess you could say you’re cheating your time one way or another.

I: So Hunting Pignut draws from those experiences. That’s really interesting; I hope you write a memoir someday.

M: I might, I just might.

I:So with Hunting Pignut, why was St. John’s such a good setting to film this movie?

M: Well, a part of it was just economics. Of course, it’s cheapest for us, being an all Newfoundland crew – well, almost an all Newfoundland crew. But I was really happy to show a unique side to St. John’s that people don’t ordinarily see. We shot in a lot of alleyways, and we created a squat. We found a lot of places that were just as beautiful as the regular scenic vistas of St. John’s, but shown in a different light. The underbelly of it. At the same time I was careful to make sure that all the alleys were very picturesque, with lots of colourful graffiti. The film’s actually very colourful.

Hunting Pignut
Hunting Pignut

I: I noticed!

M: When Bernice is in the bay, there’s sort of more a muted palette. But once she gets to St. John’s, her life comes alive, and so I picked a lot of locations that had very bright, colourful graffiti.

I: That’s awesome. You don’t really think of St. John’s as an edgy kind of graffiti-filled city, but looking at some of the clips from the film I’m like, “Where is this?”

M: (Laughs) We shot a bunch of it at Red Cliff actually. It’s so beautiful. We were so lucky to shoot there. I mean, for both my purposes and also what I consider to be beautiful. I like the decrepit aesthetic. Finding an old army radio station was like finding a pot of gold. We also created a squat at the old fire station on Duckworth Street. Our art director Xavier Georges and his team did an incredible job -- I can’t wait for the art department to see their work.

I: You also have a short film in the Festival this year, The Perfect Family. What inspired you to create this story? It’s quite different from Hunting Pignut.

M: I got the inspiration from a black and white Sears photo. You know, those placeholder photos you see in photo frames, with perfect families in them? I had a photo frame that someone gave me and I hadn’t put a picture in it for a few years, so this beautiful picture frame was sitting on my desk with a picture of this other family. The character of Bird Mom in The Perfect Family is based on my parrot, Bird Brain, who passed away. But he’s in it at the very end. There’s a little video clip of Bird Brain.

I: Do you have any advice or suggestions for emerging women filmmakers, especially in Newfoundland?

M: Persistence is the key. You’re going to go through a lot of rejection during different phases of your career. You just have to believe in yourself. It’s daunting for sure, and that was something I faced over the years, and I had to battle with that in lots of ways. Things like not getting grants, not getting into all the film festivals you want, not getting every opportunity you apply for and hope for. Persistence is what you need in the long haul game for sure.

I: I’m a writer so I understand that side of things.

M: Oh my god, yeah. It’s hard for any artist.

I: Yeah, and from what I’ve read, you worked on the script for Hunting Pignut for quite some time.

M: Yeah, I started it back in 2010, so this is six years. I haven’t been working on it straight for six years, but quite a lot. I took it to PEI’s Screenwriter’s Bootcamp. I took it through Inspired Scripts in Halifax (now called the Script Development Program). I developed it with Paul Pope for about a year, and we started getting into financing and that kind of stuff. I was still rewriting it even as we were shooting -- as things changed, as locations changed. I was writing each night. And then in editing, because I was cutting, I felt like I was still rewriting.

I: Editing is painful.

M: It’s challenging for sure. It’s really gratifying when it comes together. I remember spending three days on some scenes, and I never expected that because I’ve edited my own shorts in the past and it seemed so much easier because I didn’t have the same amount of footage. But I’m happy with the result.

I: Was there any point when you were just like, maybe I should just stop doing this, or put it aside?

M: No, never. I’m really happy that I’m really happy with this film, because as a filmmaker you’re not always happy with your work. I’ve had some films that I didn’t love, but I actually love both of these very much and they’re both very personal to me. My cinematography teacher once said that as soon as you finish shooting your film, it becomes part of your history because you learn so much from your shooting that you wish you could apply it to your film. I feel blessed that I actually love this one and I’m happy to jam it down people’s throats. (Laughs )

Hunting Pignut
Hunting Pignut

I: You’ve had had really good coverage, especially for Hunting Pignut, all across Canada. Do you have anything else to add about the process?

M: The St. John's International Women's Film Festival was a huge support. I pitched the film to Anne Frank from Telefilm about two years ago at Scene and Heard, and that’s when she fell in love with the project. I made up a big look-book and showed her the world and the characters in the world of the bay, and she loved it. That’s where the ball really started rolling for Hunting Pignut. So I have to thank the women’s film fest for having those kinds of events where we can further our projects. They work.

I: I’m really happy to hear that.

M: I can’t thank the Festival enough. The Festival is fantastic for the opportunities it gives to women and also to men. It’s so supportive –  and the Festival itself is one of my very favourites. It’s amazing for not just networking and watching films, but actually learning. We don’t get a lot of that here because of our location. It’s an incredible event.

Both The Perfect Family and Hunting Pignut are screening at the LSPU Hall on Saturday, October 22, at 9:30PM. Tickets can be purchased at the LSPU Hall Box Office.