Local filmmaker up for award

With a talking dog and a hand puppet as two of the main characters, a local filmmaker's short was recently nominated for a Leo award, which recognizes achievements in the BC film and television industry.

To say Isaiah Berra created a unique student film may be considered an understatement.

Berra, a longtime Prince George resident, created a short film called Harry, This is Nora during his studies at Capilano University in Vancouver. The title is a nod to the idealistically happily-ever-after films by Nora Ephron like Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail.

The nomination in the Best Student Production category is for the story about a man who speaks through his doppleganger hand puppet as he's trying to figure out why his girlfriend is leaving him. But he's got to get his answers quick because his spaceship leaves at midnight.

Thinking outside the formulaic process has always been encouraged by Berra's mom, Monica, a School District 57 librarian. This film expands on that by portraying a juxtaposition between a classic romantic comedy and other people's less-than-that reality.

"My mom was my librarian at my elementary school and that opened up my world to books and stories and then when I went into high school at PGSS (Prince George secondary school) I discovered Tiger Thakker's film appreciation course in Grade 11 and that opened up my world to movies and I merged the two because I love film and I love stories and screenwriting seemed to be the path that fate would put me on. So I went to Capilano University to focus on screenwriting but the passion totally came from my mom being my librarian all throughout elementary school."

Berra said this is a heavily symbolic film that is his own very personal story.

It took a year and a half to make.

"Stories like these take longer to tell because as I was discovering what the actual film was about, I was also discovering things about myself - some good things, mostly bad things," Berra laughed. "And that's where the film came from - was wanting to make a personal piece that kind of just looked at my own problems and my own fears and tried to confront those and then being a film student it couldn't just be that easy."

He looked at the visual esthetic of the film, which is influenced by cinematic German Expressionism of the 1920s where there's a monster of some kind and the films would be shot very clearly on a stage. German Expressionism exposes inner conflict.

"So in Harry, This Is Nora, Harry's inner conflict is that he does not feel human and that is expressed through the puppet on his arm," Berra said. "The story was really a personal exploration that I went on, which really exhausted me so I don't think I can do one of these things until maybe like every quarter century - so I can maybe finish my life with three or four of these things."

Berra said half the people in the film are from Prince George including Madison Smith, an actor who was raised in Prince George and now resides in Vancouver. Smith is up for two Leo Awards, one for best supporting actor and one for screenwriting for other projects.

Smith makes a brief appearance as 'handsome man' that portrays the stereotype of the tall, dark and handsome leading male of any romantic comedy.

Berra is very grateful that when he reached out to his hometown of Prince George the crowd-funding was 96 per cent home grown with sponsors including local families and businesses.

Berra said he really did put his best into the film.

"Nonetheless I was stunned when I saw it was one of only six student films in the province nominated for a Leo Award," he added. "I think that recognition really mirrors the tremendous cast and crew that we had. The film was produced through Capilano University but it was actually made outside the regular curriculum as part of the Advanced Film Project and that program allowed access to alumni so I had a very talented crew, and as for the cast, we got some excellent professional actors from around Vancouver to be part of the film."

Jericho Reid plays Harry, Erin Morgan is Blue and John Perrotta is Carl the dog.

For the future, as was his past focus, it's all about pursuing a career as a screenwriter.

"I'm not picky about what I write," Berra said. "My philosophy is a day sitting in front of the computer writing any story is better than any other day doing anything else. So for me I'm really just looking forward to screenwriting and story telling in all different genres, stories, characters, conflicts. I will be pursuing the screenwriting path in Vancouver. That's the game plan."