When Canadian actress Alison Balnar first stepped on stage, it was to play the classic role of Dorothy in Wizard of Oz. At the time, she was ten years old, with big dreams and a life ahead of her. Now, she is a part of a film headed to the Cannes Short Film Corner.
Balnar believes that going to Cannes will give the film, 60 Eight, the recognition it deserves.
“It’s one of the most prestigious international film festivals and will provide a great platform for a fantastic film,” she said. “I feel that the filmmaker, Raja, and the film itself are very worthy of this platform.”
60 Eight follows the life of John, who at the age of eight gets stuck in a lengthy comatose/minimally conscious state. It exposes the life and relationships surrounding John. Balnar plays the role of Sarah, John’s best friend. Sarah is captured at three different ages since the film focuses on the 52 years that John is in a coma. Balnar portrays Sarah at the age of 18.
“It feels great to be involved with a project with such a touching story,” said Balnar. “Raja was a terrific person to work with and was the driving force behind finding and using the vulnerability that was required to portray Sarah.”
The film was written and directed by Raja Pothineni, and stars Matt Jayson, Reginald Span, Lucas Zaffari, Laine Hannon and Denah Angel.
Balnar was extremely dedicated to an accurate portrayal of Sarah right from the beginning, said director Raja Pothineni.
“It was great working with Alison. In the very first meeting, we talked about how 60 eight was going to be a film that tried to portray the lives of its characters as authentically as possible, and the work that would need to go in to be able to pull that off,” said Pothineni. “Right from the start, I could see that Alison was dedicated in bringing her character to life and her talent lets her play complex characters while hiding the effort it takes to create them.”
Pothineni also said that Balnar’s attitude and commitment allowed for a smoother production.
“During the shoot, her commitment to the moment and her fellow actors meant that I had to give very minimal direction, and on the edit table, I was very glad to find her maintain her rhythm across shots and takes,” he said.
For Balnar however, the film is about the story it tells and the life lessons that are conveyed.
“I think that this film is filled with many valuable lessons and Raja does a beautiful job in capturing them,” said Balnar. “One lesson that resonates with me is the power of love. John is consistently loved throughout his life even though he is put in extraordinary circumstances. I think that this film reminds the audience of this force of love and puts life into perspective.”
Playing the character of Sarah has given Balnar the chance show audiences her versatility by playing a very vulnerable character.
“As an actress, each role and character is unique. It requires you to look into different emotions and experiences and translate them to find parts of the character,” she said. “When you combine my exploration of the character with the director’s openness to my interpretation, it gives me total freedom to perform. As an actress, that is a great gift.”
The role did not come without it’s difficulties. Her character is in an extraordinary circumstance that needed to be displayed effectively on screen, and Balnar stepped up the the task.
“A challenge I had with the character, Sarah, was finding the right colours in my performance that captured exactly how she felt,” she said. “It was a matter of how to authentically capture what her character was feeling given these extraordinary circumstances. I needed to find a balance of both strength and weakness within her and have that translate on camera.”
Although Balnar is only portraying the character of Sarah for a portion of the film, she is able to capture her story and the character’s feelings in a way she feels many will be able to relate to.
“When I play Sarah, she is 18 years old and moving to college. She needs to let go of John and accept his fate in order to move forward with her life. Sarah of course takes care of herself and lets go of her dedicated visits to John in the hospital. It’s her struggle of coming to that decision and moving forward with life that I can relate to. Sarah is growing up and facing decisions that will ultimately affect her life for the better or worse,” she said. “I think this is a struggle that is not only relatable to me, but so many other millennials.”
60 Eight premieres May 16 at the Cannes Short Film Corner.