Short film shot in Winnipeg explores barriers to artistic creation – Winnipeg Free Press

In the wings, The Ballad of Gus is a story of firsts: the first time director Brian Barnhart made a film with any kind of funding and the first time leading role Trevor Merasty made any kind of actor on screen – although, according to the 23-year-old who plays the title character, it won’t be the last.

“I was born to be an artist,” says Merasty, who hails from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and grew up in Thompson. “So I really got into it.”

The short, which will premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival this week, follows Merasty’s character, Gus, as he pursues an artistic career while navigating a life entangled in the drug underworld in Winnipeg. .

The story explores the “connection between art and class in Canada and who decides what’s in good taste,” says Barnhart, the film’s director, screenwriter and producer. He draws from his own experience living in a Manitoba group home as a teenager, where many of his roommates had raw artistic talent, but lacked connections and opportunities to break into the art world. .

“I saw what the future looked like for some of these guys living in these group homes and it looked like shit, frankly,” he says. “It was something that I had never really touched on with my own cinema…the story was kind of a lament for these people, forgotten artists who are, you know, on the decline of socio-economic advantage .”

Barnhart, 38, was born in Brandon and moved around a lot as a child. He got into filmmaking in his late teens while living in Winnipeg and started filming punk rock shows in the city before being accepted into Montreal film school. His credits so far include numerous independent music documentaries with niche appeal.

Gus’ story is something he’s been sitting on for over a decade; a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts finally made this vision a reality.

Although Barnhart is grateful for the financial support, going through the grant application process has validated some of the themes of The Ballad of Gus.

“It was the first time we were looking for a scholarship or something like that and it was sometimes very difficult for me – I worked with a scholarship writer and it was difficult, sometimes it was very frustrating”, he said. “I am somewhat literate; I didn’t finish high school, I only have a ninth grade education…but some of the guys I was living with in group homes, imagining them trying to make a career as an artist in this country would be probably next to impossible.”

The 16-minute film follows Gus as he connects with a mentor (played by Stephen Eric McIntryre) at a local art center, filmed at the Graffiti Gallery in Winnipeg. McIntyre’s character sees potential in the young artist’s work and offers his name for a gallery exhibition.

Provided

Winnipeg rapper Tyler Rogers, aka Charlie Fetta, plays drug dealer Felix in director Brian Barnhart’s short, which is screening at the Vancouver Film Festival.

At the same time, Gus is pulled in another, more dangerous direction by a local drug dealer (played Tyler Rogers, aka Winnipeg rapper Charlie Fetta).

The dichotomy between making art and surviving is something the lead actor can relate to. In real life, Merasty pursues a career in music, creating inspirational rap songs for people who, like him, grew up in the foster care system and struggled with mental illness.

“When I was a young kid in Manitoba, there are a lot of trials and tribulations you have to go through and sometimes in life you don’t always get a good hand,” he says. “There are scenes where I can reflect on my life and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been there, I’ve done that.’ It’s almost as if the movie was made about me.

In high school, Merasty was involved in theater and choir, but never imagined he would be cast in a movie. Barnhart discovered the young performer through a rap video he recorded for the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth.

“We were looking for someone who had a vulnerability and didn’t look like they came in and auditioned from the suburbs,” Barnhart said, adding that the casting had a quality that was meant to be. “We’re almost like brothers or something. He’s originally from Thompson and I lived in Thompson for a while… we’re really connected at heart, Trevor and I.

Merasty participated in acting classes and lengthy rehearsals to prepare for the role of Gus.

Provided

Winnipeg actor Stephen Eric McIntryre, left, plays artistic mentor to lead character Trevor Merasty in The Ballad of Gus.

“There were a lot of studies that I had to do and I would ask my friends to help me (to rehearse) scenes,” he says. “It was really a whole new experience and I really enjoyed it.

“I was really nervous because I didn’t want to mess anything up and I pushed myself to be 100% – I wanted it to be perfect.”

The preparation process was also a new experience for Barnhart. With a looming grant, filming, as well as pre- and post-production, was more intense than usual.

“That led me to rewrite the script and tighten up the production as a whole,” he says. “It was a big job, but I’m grateful I did it and it lifted me up as a filmmaker.”

For Barnhart and Merasty, embarking on so many firsts together has been a memorable experience and one they hope to experience again in the not-too-distant future. The Ballad of Gus this is only the beginning.

“I would love to have the character of Gus in a feature film,” Barnhart says. “Now that I have my Gus, I can show everyone my proof of concept.”

The Ballad of Gus

Brian Barnhart is the writer, director and producer of The Ballad of Gus.

The Ballad of Gus is only screened in person at the Vancouver International Film Festival, but Barnhart hopes to make it part of the local film festival circuit so Winnipeg viewers can experience the story live, before it’s shared. fully online in the future.

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Twitter: @evawasney

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Eva Wasney

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