Director Jim Cliffe uses déjà vu to pen first feature
We’ve all felt it at one time. It usually comes as a visionary flash or feeling that triggers a memory of something that has transpired before.
It was déjà vu that instigated former Vernon resident Jim Cliffe into action. Instead of letting the feeling rest to dissipate into his memory banks, he started writing, and eventually fleshed out a story idea for a script with his wife and writing partner Melodie Krieger.
That was six years ago, and now that story has turned into Cliffe’s first full-length, live action directorial effort, Donovan’s Echo.
“The original idea came from my own experiences of déjà vu that I sometimes get,” said Cliffe.” I thought there might be an idea here. We all experience it, that familiarity, the patterns, so I came with it to my wife and we went with it.”
The film, which stars Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood, is premiering in select cities across Canada, including Kelowna, this week, and follows Glover’s character Donovan after he returns home to discover events from his past are repeating.
Plagued by the idea of déjà vu, Donovan is convinced his young neighbour and her mother will be killed on the 30th anniversary of his wife and daughter’s death. Struggling to unlock the pattern, Donovan tries to convince his brother-in-law, Finnley (Greenwood), to help prevent a similar tragedy.
When his facts don’t add up, Donovan’s sanity is questioned.
Cliffe’s own story of how the film came to be is part dream, but mostly reality; that of finding financial backing, but being allowed the creative control to be able to direct his vision here in B.C.
Cliffe, 39, who is from Sorrento and was schooled in Salmon Arm, came to Vernon in the mid-’90s to study animation at Okanagan University College (now Okanagan College.)
“Growing up I always had the desire to get into movies, and I fueled my creativity through animation to fulfil my career,” he said.
It was at the Vernon OUC campus where Cliffe got his first foray into filmmaking, making an animated commercial for TV station CHBC. After moving to Kelowna some years later, he, with help from his former instructor Raymond Bailey and students at OUC, directed the short animated film, Tomorrow’s Memoir.
The film ended up winning the 2005 Best Comics- Oriented Film award at San Diego’s famed Comic-Con.
“It was my first attempt and it helped me work towards my film career, ” said Cliffe, who while in Kelowna joined independent film societies and took another film course at UBC Okanagan.
The logical next step was to make a feature, and so Cliffe turned to Krieger, whom he had met while both worked for internet company Bridges Transitions –– he as a graphic designer and she as a copy writer.
“We spent most of 2006 writing, evenings and weekends, whenever we could find free time,” said Cliffe.
After writing their script, Krieger and Cliffe send it off to various competitions and ended up placing in the top three for one based in L.A., and also placing high in another competition.
“I heard from L.A. from people who wanted to develop the script, but the challenge was I wanted to direct it. I had a background in art and had done story boarding for film, and I thought it would be easy to finance the film,” said Cliffe. “I initially wrote Donovan’s Echo like I had all the money in the world. With a film of this size, I wanted multi locations and a flash-back scene.”
Cliffe ended up going back to some old friends he had met while in Kelowna, including Trent Carlson, of Anagram Films, whom he had worked with on zombie feature Fido, which was filmed in and around Vernon. He also made contact with a former coworker, Lance Priebe, whom Cliffe had met in the late-’90s and had remained friends with.
Priebe would go on to become one of the three Kelowna entrepreneurs to develop Club Penguin, a virtual game for children that in 2007 sold to Disney for a reported $700 million US.
“We both were let go from the same company at the same time. He wanted to create games, and I wanted to create films,” explained Cliffe.
Andria Spring also came on board to co-produce the film with Carlson.
“It magically came together. We were able to get all our financing and production done in Canada, as well as distribution with a company out of Toronto,” said Cliffe. “Trent also knew a casting agent in L.A., who put a list of names out to us and one stood out.”
That was Glover, best known for his roles in The Colour Purple and the Lethal Weapon movies.
“We could so easily see him play into this world,” said Cliffe, who after hearing that Glover was attached, was soon after able to cast Canadian film and TV star Greenwood.
Donovan’s Echo went into production in late-2010, shooting on location around Maple Ridge and Fort Langley.
“It was pretty exhausting. We had an ambitious 20-day shoot,” said Cliffe. “Danny basically carries the movie in that the audience experiences what he does. They are in his shoes. It has a supernatural sub-plot, and they are marketing it as a thriller, but I think it is more of a drama with heart.”
Cliffe and Krieger are hoping for the same kind of déja vu moment they’ve had with Donovan’s Echo as they develop their next screen play.
The film has so far enjoyed a successful festival run, opening the Calgary International Film Festival, where Greenwood attended, as well as in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, and the Pan-African Film Festival in L.A.
“We feel very fortunate on how this has turned out and have to thank our producers and crew who did a fantastic job. A director is really as good as his team,” said Cliffe.
Krieger and Cliffe will be present to introduce the film and will conduct a Q&A session at its Kelowna screening in the Paramount Theatre on Bernard Avenue, both Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit www.donovansecho.com.