Visiting filmmaker lives and works on the edge

DAWSON CITY Lee Demarbre has worked alongside gangsters, crucified lesbians in Cannes and almost lost his life for the love of his art.

DAWSON CITY

Lee Demarbre has worked alongside gangsters, crucified lesbians in Cannes and almost lost his life for the love of his art.

Ask him how he started in filmmaking and he’ll tell you about a job he had in high school washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant run by the Italian mob.

“They were running prostitutes out of the back,” he said, relaxing on a love seat in Bombay Peggy’s on Sunday afternoon. “The head chef cut off the fingers of his assistant and I was promoted to become the assistant of this madman.”

As soon as Demarbre saved enough to buy his first video camera, he quit the job with his fingers still intact.

 “I wanted that video camera so bad I almost died for it,” he said with a laugh.  “Which brings me to The Dead Sleep Easy — we all almost died making that movie.”

Filmed in January 2007 in Guadalajara, Mexico, it tells the story of a wrestler who turned to a life of crime after killing an opponent in the ring.

Canadian-born Mexican wrestler Ian Hodgkinson a.k.a Vampiro, (who was also briefly the bodyguard for Milli Vanilli), played the lead character.

Along with an actual wrestler playing the lead, real gangsters were cast in the supporting roles.

“One of the producers had never made a film before, so when he read gangster in the script he cast a real live gangster,” said Demarbre. “We didn’t find out until we were on the set with these guys and we saw they were carrying real pistols.”

During the first week of shooting, Demarbre and his crew suffered through a few car accidents, several trips to the emergency room and one of their location scouts was murdered.

But it wasn’t the violence that scared Demarbre.

“I was fearful during that first week that the film wouldn’t get finished and we’d have to go home without a movie,” he said.

“That terrified me because it was the first film I made with someone else’s money.”

The movie that almost got Demarbre killed is the same one that brought the Ottawa filmmaker to the Yukon over the weekend. It kicked off the Dawson City International Short Film Festival on Thursday.

Demarbre has screened at festivals around the world.

 In 2001, he brought his film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter — a story about bloodsuckers that are able to walk in the sun only when clothed in the skin of a lesbian — to the Cannes Film Festival. While in Cannes he crucified a lesbian on the beach – a publicity stunt that earned him a distribution deal in the US.

He was delighted at the crowd of 100 that showed up for his screening in Dawson.

 “You couldn’t get a crowd like that in Toronto — you don’t see audiences like that. People want to watch movies in the privacy of their own homes,” said Demarbre.

 “Literally one in 10 people in Dawson is here watching the festival — that doesn’t happen in any other place in the world,” said festival co-ordinator Dan Sokolowski.

In its ninth year, the festival screened more than 100 films. And there were very few flops in the bunch.   

 “We’ve received a lot more and a lot better submissions,” said Sokolowski. More artists seem to be using the short format, a trend he attributes to the popularity of uploading movies on cellphones.

Friday evening featured the festivals first outdoor screening. As the mercury dipped below minus 20 Celsius a group of about 60 bundled spectators stood on the snow-packed road beside the ODD Gallery watching films projected on the gallery’s outside wall.

“It was some of the coldest weather we’ve had for the festival and people were outside watching movies — it was just awesome,” said Sokolowski. “We tried it and everybody loved it.”

Former Yukoners Rachel Grantham and Richard Laurence’s movie, Smallfilm, took the festival’s Made In Yukon Award.

“This is just a good film and it’s really raised the bar,” said Sokolowski.

And Calgary filmmaker Karen Hines’ six-minute short My Name is Pochsy, a darkly funny film about a woman who works as a mercury packer (yes that means her job is packing mercury), took the festival’s top honour.

 “I feel so lucky to be sitting here in Dawson City in this geographically isolated place and not feeling isolated at all,” she said.

“Filmmaking is really isolating, so coming to a room like this and watching it with so many people is a really good pay-off.”

Meanwhile, Demarbre is off on another adventure. His next film will be a feature-length horror film about a killer filmmaker with adult film star Sasha Grey in the lead.

Just Posted

City of Whitehorse tells taxi passengers who feel unsafe to not travel alone

Suggestion criticized by advocates for placing burden of safety on passengers, not taxi companies

Whitehorse’s new emergency room slated to open in early January

40,000-square-foot building will be more efficient, officials say

Judge finds Whitehorse man not guilty of raping teen in 2015 after second trial

Judge Raymond Wyant found Jackie James Kodwat not guilty of sexual assault.

Whitehorse’s sidewalks are a deathtrap

In the interest of safety and simplicity, the city should just plow the sidewalks

Police, coroner investigating suspicious death in Pelly Crossing

Investigators have ordered an autopsy, which will take place in Vancouver Dec. 18

Two Yukon projects shortlisted for the Arctic Inspiration Prize

Projects from Whitehorse, Carcross up for cash

Lower Post, B.C., man suing Yukon RCMP over assault allegation

Suit alleges man ended up with ‘ended up with bruising on his arms, biceps and chest’

Yukon needs a better plan for long-term care

The government can find solutions if it has the will. Does it have the will?

Hard travel over the Yukon’s winter trails

The overland trip to Dawson City today is a cakewalk compared to a century ago

Globalization infiltrates the Yukon’s recycling bins

You’re going to have to do a better job sorting your junk or else China won’t take it

Driving during the holidays

It’s hectic on the roads at Christmastime

Whitehorse council chambers needs new audio-visual equipment

‘More than 10 people’ watch city’s televised meetings

Most Read