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Local filmmaker John Graham premieres student-assisted short film Sincerus at Arts Court theatre

Max Szyc | Fulcrum Staff

FOR YEARS, SAW Video has been at the centre of a thriving filmmaking community in Ottawa. On Jan. 18, the community will be showing off its latest works at Resolution 2013, an annual screening of members’ works that is held at the Arts Court theatre.

Ottawa filmmaker John Graham is one such member and is incredibly excited to screen his latest short film project, Sincerus.

The film is possibly Graham’s most ambitious offering yet. The hypnotic narrative tells the story of a young man who lost his vision in a childhood accident. Constantly weaving through his daily life and his bizarre dreams, the events of Sincerus are wide open for interpretation.

Though the film’s soundtrack is provided by Danish composer Claus Gahrn, the crew and cast are all from Ottawa.

Two of Graham’s short films have been featured at previous Resolution screenings: Hidden Cities in 2010 and Move in 2012. All of his works are notable for being shot in Ottawa and featuring the talents of Ottawa residents.

Graham grew up in Montreal but moved to Ottawa to begin a career in architecture. He returned to Montreal to continue his studies and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from Concordia University in 1994 before receiving a master of fine arts from the University of Oregon in 1999. This marked Graham’s shift into the world of visual art as he established himself as a serious artist in numerous art exhibitions and shows throughout Canada and internationally.

Despite his many accomplishments, Graham wanted to do more. And because his interests could be more dynamically expressed through film, trying his hand at movie-making just felt right. Influenced by a diverse range of experimental filmmakers including the likes of Federico Fellini and Terrence Malick, Graham’s productions are primarily an investigation into the mysteries of dreams, with an emphasis placed on surrealism.

“The language of dream life profoundly fascinates me,” says Graham. “I am attracted to surrealism for many of its creative and elusive qualities. Surrealism offers exotic interpretative representations of the subconscious world.”

Before the filming of Sincerus began in the summer of 2011, Graham sent out casting calls that attracted many students to the project, including volunteers from the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Algonquin College.

Melissa Presz was one such U of O student who worked on the film. A fourth-year communications student, Presz was referred to Graham through Lois Siegel, a professor who teaches video production at the university and worked on Sincerus as a casting assistant. Presz was eager to work on the film.

“When I got the crew call information for Sincerus, I thought it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss out on,” says Presz.

The filming process gave her the opportunity to expand her talents behind the camera and to perform a variety of tasks.

“My official title was production assistant, but I ended up in many different roles such as lighting assistant, boom operator, grip, stage hand, set decorator, and pretty much anything that John or [producer] Paul [Sutcliffe] needed,” says Presz.

Graham would like to spend the next year promoting Sincerus and hopes to submit it to upcoming international film festivals. He has also started planning a potential feature-length film.

To prospective filmmakers in Ottawa, Graham recommends watching diverse films from different countries, volunteering for local film projects, and joining film co-ops such as SAW Video.

Presz offers similar advice: don’t pass on any opportunities, network with others, and keep in touch with them.

“As a production assistant, ‘no’ shouldn’t be in your vocabulary,” she says.

Graham’s avant-garde works are sure to inspire a host of wildly different reactions, and one might hope his dedication will prompt more aspiring filmmakers in Ottawa to get behind the camera.

For more information, visit the film’s website at


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