Paul Gross is swept away by having two members of the Brad Jacobs rink introduce his curling movie as part of a national celebration of Canadian cinema.
Ryan Fry and E.J. Harnden will be in the house when Galaxy Cinemas at Station Mall screens the 2002 comedy Tuesday at 1 p.m. as part of National Canadian Film Day. Admission is free.
The Jacobs team from Sault Ste. Marie won gold in men’s curling at 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in February. Gross saw the Soo Curlers Association-based rink defeat Great Britain 9-3 to clinch gold.
“To have those guys from the Jacobs rink to introduce the film, that’s very exciting,” said Gross in a telephone interview from Toronto. “It was an all-around great Olympics, but I loved the curling.”
Gross directed, starred, co-produced and helped write Men With Brooms. The feature film, with a cast that included Leslie Nielsen, Molly Parker and Polly Shannon was nominated for two Genie Awards.
Men with Brooms was shot in Sudbury, Toronto, Hamilton and Brampton.
Gross, who starred as Const. Benton Fraser in the television series Due South, acknowledges he had never stepped inside a curling rink before filming.
Gross developed a respect for the skill needed to play the game and to stay standing on the ice.
“People just fell down constantly. The crew was falling. The actors were falling,” said Gross. “We had a blooper reel of it that made me just about laugh my head off. It was just one person after another. You would see people standing and then suddenly, boom, they’re on their ass.”
It was co-screenwriter John Krizanc who, spoiler alert, found a rule about what would happen if a curling stone breaks apart during a game.
“Does this give us anything?” Gross recalls Krizanc asking him when they were working on the script.
“Oh yeah,” said Gross. “That’s the climax right there.”
Paul Savage, who won a silver medal in men’s curling at the 1998 Winter Olympics, was the film’s advisor. He didn’t know of the rule’s existence. Curling veterans Gross spoke with never saw a rock crumble.
“And we have it happening twice,” he laughed.
Men with Brooms was Gross’ directing debut. Having so many other responsibilities tied in with the production, including contributing Kiss ‘Til You Weep to its soundtrack, “was a little bit much to bite off all in one fell swoop.”
“But I was ably helped by a lot of really good people around me who would steer me in the right direction when I was seemingly going in the wrong direction,” said Gross. “That was at least two or three times a day.”
The Calgary native is grateful Men with Brooms reunited him with Nielsen. The Airplane! and The Naked Gun star appeared in four episodes of Due South as Sgt. Buck Frobisher between 1994 and 1999.
“I learned a huge amount from him,” said Gross. “In a sense he kind of pioneered that sort of complete deadpan comedy. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to play a scene with him because it was effortless. He was so effortless. He just calmed you down and you became semi-effortless, I guess. It was terribly sad when he died.”
Nielsen, with a 60-year career in film and television, died in 2010. He was 84.
Twelve years after its release, Gross is grateful Men with Brooms “continues to have a kind of life.” He’s stopped by non-curlers who’ve seen, and savoured, his film.
“That’s one of the most wonderful things about doing this,” said Gross. “It doesn’t just go away instantaneously. It seems to have found its way into, if not the hearts, but close to the hearts of an awful lot of people in the country. That’s a really satisfying feeling.”
Gross returned to the director’s chair for First World War drama Passchendaele, released in 2008. That film won five Genies, including best picture.
Passchendaele will be shown in several cities, including Grande Prairie and Lethbridge, as part of National Canadian Film Day.
Other titles screened in 44 communities across the country include C.R.A.Z.Y., Highway 61 and Goin’ Down the Road.
Meatballs, the 1979 comedy from director Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray, includes the late Keith Knight, a Sault native, in its cast as Fink.
Gross hopes the national event will help build awareness of Canadian movies that might not get viewed outside major centres such as Toronto and Vancouver.
“Doing something like this hopefully produces a bit more interest at the grassroots level and we get the films to be more widely accessible,” he said. “These films are about us more specifically than any other films. They’re stories that we have to tell to one another.”
Hyena Road, exploring Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan, is Gross’ next directing, writing and starring project for the big screen. He travelled to the central Asian country with a camera team to shoot footage for the project in 2010 and 2011.
“What we’ve got so far looks pretty amazing,” said Gross. “Our soldiers, I think, are quite extraordinary. They really do represent us with enormous dignity and honour. We really did perform admirably and professionally. Wonderful guys.”
Two Sault natives, Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli and Sgt. John Faught, were killed in action in Afghanistan.
Audience members at Galaxy’s screening of Men with Brooms can keep an eye out for Sault native David Fremlin who appears as a drunk piper.
“He’s fantastic,” said Gross. “Very talented guy and just a monster on the bagpipes.”