CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

May 10, 2001 How a filmmaker gets started in a tough business




Ari Grief

Ari Grief (BFA 98)

by Nadine Ishak

Concordia Film Studies graduate Ari Grief (BFA 98) has his hopes pinned on a public phone booth.

The action in Grief’s 90-minute digital film, 681-0638, revolves around a New York City telephone booth and the people who use it. After working on it for more than two years, Grief is submitting his project to the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver film festivals.

“It’s about relationships and communication,” he said, “but it’s also a quirky comedy at a phone booth, and that’s somewhat novel.”

Grief made his first film at Concordia in 1996. When the Film Production program declined his application twice, he enrolled in the Film Studies specialization and took the last spot in a production class. Peter Rist’s Film Aesthetics and Carol Zucker’s Film Directors courses had a significant impact on him.

“I appreciate how much I learned at Concordia, and how much these people really are passionate about the cinema,” Grief said. “I owe a great deal to them.”

Realistic approach

The 29 year-old got the idea for his film while reading filmmaker Francois Truffaut’s book about Alfred Hitchcock. The master of suspense once toyed with the idea of a telephone operator overhearing a sinister plan in a phone booth with the receiver off the hook.
Grief thought that was a brilliant idea for a movie, but he didn’t want to wait for the support of a film board. He wrote the screenplay and put the cast together within a year.

“This is a first feature, and I’ve tried to be pragmatic and realistic about it,” Grief said. “It’s not fancy, and it’s not polished. We didn’t really have a lot of money.”

The film’s total budget was under $10,000. His cousin edited, and a friend from school directed the cameras. They had to make compromises, like renting a camera and shooting on weekends to accommodate the cast and crew, since he couldn’t pay them.

“It was tedious,” he said afterwards. “People started to waver and the energy level fluctuated.”
There were benefits, however, for the core cast of 10. “Small actors are not used to getting juicy parts,” Grief said. “They got great exposure.”

Last August, the Ontario Film Development Corporation selected Grief as a producer intern for the Toronto International Film Festival. He made contacts at the festival, and followed up when the film’s Web site went up.

“They said, ‘Ari, great site! Let me know when it gets into Toronto.’ That’s what they want, someone to legitimize it.”

If the film makes the cut, it will be eligible for the Most Popular Feature/Best Canadian Feature awards. Grief said his goal is to promote it and have as many people see it as possible.
Grief is now wrapping up his graduate studies at Toronto’s York University, as well as working on other film projects, including a coming-of-age tale set in Montreal against the backdrop of a Quebec referendum.

Despite the uncertainty, he feels good about his choice of career. “It combines photography, the visual arts, writing, music—all my interests in the arts,” he said. “I can share it with a lot of people and make a decent living.”