Arts and Culture

This film by a West Kelowna-raised director was inspired by wildfire season

'It's a case of life imitating art'

In May 2020, West Kelowna born and raised writer-director J.Brown was laid-off and locked down in a small Vancouver apartment with too much time on his hands.

He faced a choice: make more sourdough, or make a sci-fi film.

Fortunately, for fans of Star Wars and gritty HBO dramas alike, he chose the latter.

The resulting short film, Dragon Fruit, premieres on September 16th as part of Vernon’s The TV Fest, and follows a single mother trying to survive in a violent and dystopian world as she desperately tries to grow a small dragon fruit plant so she can sell it for cash.

The smoky, apocalyptic world the mother and her son live in was inspired by British Columbia’s annual wildfire season – well known to Brown who was born and raised in the local area.

“Just that orange hue that I think everybody here is pretty well accustomed to when the smoke really rolls in and all the light looks kind of weird and it just sort of feels like a sci fi movie,” Brown told Kelowna10. “That seemed like a good jumping off point for a for a sci-fi world to kind of build around. And then it was really shaped by making it through the pandemic.”

Turning that inspiration into a multi-year film production, however, was a Herculean task.

Brown said one member of the cast called it 'The Lord of the Rings of short films'.

“Once the ball started rolling, it just got bigger and more complex, and a 12-page script turned into something much more ambitious,” he explained. “Luckily, people got excited and wanted to help, or I’d still be spray-painting props in my bathroom.”

The team was chock full of Okanagan talent. From the beginning of production, Brown was joined by Jen Araki as producer – friends since they were children at Glenrosa Elementary School.

Araki and her husband, actor Dylan Playfair (Letterkenny, The Mighty Ducks), supported Dragon Fruit through their production company Crystal Mountain Films.

When it came time for music, Brown again leaned on childhood connections, recruiting KSS grad Shawn Penner, as composer.

“The film has very little dialogue, so the music has to do the talking,” he said. “What he came up with is incredible.”

Filming amid pandemic restrictions, budget hurdles, and cast availability was a challenge for the intrepid writer/director.

“It was really hard. Months going by between shoots makes it tough for the actors and crew to stay motivated,” Brown remarked. “But this is a special group, and they kept coming back to help a deranged man with a trunk full of homemade-props and costumes turn a dream into reality.”

It was only by chance that the premiere of the film would be happening right after one of the largest fires in the Okanagan's history.

“I think it's really neat to be able to premiere near where you grew up, and fortunately or unfortunately, it does feel incredibly relevant,” he said. “It's like a case of life imitating art, but doing it way more extreme than the art even does.”

Published 2023-09-16 by Robin Liva

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