It doesn’t really matter what else Moira Sauer gets for her birthday this year because she’s already been given a fantastic gift.
This year she’s spending her birthday in Norway at the Tromso International Film Festival.
Her short film, The Provider, is actually screening on her birthday.
Not bad for a first-time filmmaker who knew “diddly squat” about working in the medium.
That’s not to say that Sauer is a novice when it comes to the performing arts, but film has never been her thing.
Theatre is her real passion.
For the past 12 years, Sauer has been a member of Superior Concept Monsters, the official puppeteers of the New York City Halloween Parade. She’s also the co-artistic director of Whitehorse’s Sour Brides Theatre, a company she founded in 2004 with Celia McBride.
“I love live stage performance,” she said.” I’ve never wanted to dig into the screen stuff.”
But dig into it she did. And when she did, she struck gold.
With more than 50,000 attendees, the Tromso festival is the largest in Norway.
But Sauer “only found out after the fact that it’s quite prestigious.”
And The Provider keeps on giving.
The Vancouver Woman in Film Festival also recently accepted the movie as part of its official selection.
It’s all the more impressive considering the entire film was written, shot and edited over one weekend.
The Provider was produced as part of Cold Snap, a 48-hour filmmaking challenge.
Sauer was goaded into entering the competition by local filmmaker Neil MacDonald, who organized the festival.
They met on the set of MacDonald’s horror short Fragments, which co-stars Sauer.
“I spent three days coughing up blood for him,” she said.
The two stayed in touch after Fragments wrapped and it was MacDonald who insisted she take a crack at making a film of her own.
She resisted, citing her lack of filmmaking experience, but MacDonald told her that all she needed to know how to do was tell a story.
“He totally twisted my rubber arm,” said Sauer.
She entered the competition at the last possible moment.
The sign-up sheet required she list all the members of her team so she signed up four of her friends without their knowledge.
“I only informed them the week before,” said Sauer.
“I was like, ‘Oh by the way, we’re making a film. I hope you’re not doing anything on Saturday.’”
That Friday each team got an inspiration package that included a line of text, a prop and a location, all of which had to be included in its film.
The location Sauer ended up with was the S.S. Klondike, which was, “kind of totally perfect.”
Going into the competition she already had a bit of an idea of what she wanted to do.
“I thought, what do I have at my disposal, what do I have that’s unique, that would be interesting – oh yeah a yard full of crazy huskies.”
Sauer helps take care of a friend’s sled dog team.
She also knew it was going to be a silent film.
“Having done Fragments with Neil, I was aware that sound would be a nightmare and I didn’t have any gear,” said Sauer. “I was very fortunate with what I pulled because it ended up being of an older looking genre.
“Everything just kind of fell together in a weird way.”
Sauer describes The Provider as a love story with a twist.
“Because who wants to watch just a plain old love story.”
She based it on something that she knew was true about the North – the need to ship up single men.
“I’ve bemoaned the lack of eligible bachelors in this town and I’ve got numerous girlfriends that feel the exact same way.”
The short won best film and the people’s choice award at Cold Snap.
Though it only took two days to complete, it wasn’t some insane, sleep-deprived stressful chore, said Sauer.
“We went in with no ego and no expectations and just had a lot of fun,” she said. “I think part of that was because none of us knew what the hell we were doing so there was nothing at stake.
“Taking all that pressure away, it was just kind of a wild thing to undertake on a weekend and allowed us to really enjoy ourselves.”
Sauer has plans to make two more films with a similar theme and style, which she describes as “northern gothic.”
In the meantime, she’s curious to see how well The Provider does overseas.
She hopes the fact there’s no dialogue will help it reach a broader audience.
“I tried to tell most of the story visually and only put in title cards where it’s actually necessary, so all I need to do is translate 11 title cards and it can play in any language everywhere,” she said.
By making the trip to Norway, Sauer hopes to get a better sense of the European market.
“I’ve lived for numerous years in Dublin and done puppetry work in Italy,” she said. “Europe’s always where my hearts been.”
Her dream has been to work in Germany.
“I always thought it would be through my puppetry, but if it ends up being film stuff I won’t say no.”
Contact Josh Kerr at