Q&A: Director Albert Shin answers questions about his film ‘Disappearance at Clifton Hill’ featuring cult horror and all round film directing legend David Cronenberg. The film released this week is a neo noir, who dunnit and is currently trending at number one on digitala.
What were your inspirations for Clifton Hill?
The original inspiration was based on something I experienced in my own life, when I witnessed what I thought was a kidnapping as a child during a fishing trip near Niagara Falls. And in terms of cinematic inspirations, I thoughts a lot about Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder.
How important was the location setting of the film on a personal and cinematic level?
The location was everything to me. This film is inspired by my family’s time in Niagara Falls and this visceral memory of seeing this potential kidnapping there. Even though it’s a dark noir mystery, this was my love letter to Niagara Falls and setting it there and filming it there was absolutely the only way I wanted to make it.
Do you think it will have a positive impact on tourism?
I sure hope so! My objective was to make Niagara Falls feel more mysterious and dangerous and imprint a certain allure to the whole place. There was a lot of resistance from some of the powers that be over concerns of casting the town in a negative light, but I’ve heard from so many locals that loved seeing their city on the big screen as a cinematic universe.
There were lots of quirky things in the script and the characters. How do you develop these?
Much of the quirky or strangeness was organically built as a reflection of the actual town. Certainly a heightened version, but Niagara Falls is a strange place – it’s a border town and a seasonal tourist town with the slogan, “the Honeymoon Capital of the World”. The city is a literal hall of mirrors in many ways, and I wanted to manifest that ethos in the characters and in the world-building.
How did you come about casting David Cronenberg as the local eccentric?
It was very serendipitous. We were having a hard time casting that part, which required certain elements that were in short supply. Firstly, the character needed to be quite advanced in age, and I wanted whoever to play him to bring an inherent persona to the role that the audience would immediately recognize. As we got closer and closer to production and still hadn’t cast the role, David’s name came up and out of desperation, thinking there was no way he’d be interested, we sent him the script. To my complete shock and elation, he immediately said yes! Moral of the story—nothing ventured, nothing gained.
It was immaculately shot and scored. How did you use the cinematography and music to get the right atmosphere?
Firstly, it helps when you have such incredible collaborators like Catherine Lutes, who was my DOP. I was lucky to have her. She’s so talented and has such a specific and beautiful eye, it was really more about letting her stretch her wings and play in this noir space that we trying to create. And our composers, Alex and Leland really unlocked the code to the film with their score. I was in search of a particular signature sound, which sort-of represented our hero Abby’s subconscious. That’s a hard idea to articulate into music and they just got it. Their score is bold, strange and original and it certainly feels different than a lot of music scores out there, and I think it really elevates the film.
You write, produce and direct. How do you manage all 3 and which do you prefer?
I manage all of these things to varying degrees of success, but everything is in service of directing. That’s my happy place and why I do anything else. I write and produce so that I can give myself a better chance of somehow getting back to a film set to tell stories with talented actors and collaborators.
Film: Disappearance at Clifton Hill
Director: Albert Shin
Cast: Tuppence Middleton, David Cronenberg
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Runtime: 140 mins