Artist Spotlight: “Canary Suicides”

Reporting from Austin, TX native Angelino, Shireen Alihaji, gets to know a bold and brassy group of filmmakers, who drove 1,400 miles from the “Adopt A Highway” sippy-cup signs of Los Angeles to “Don’t Mess with Texas” welcome warnings en route to SXSW 2011.

It’s a stereotypically sunny Austin afternoon; blue sky, fresh breeze, birds going tweet tweet twe-WAIT. One little birdie, in particular, sings a fearless tune about all the bird doo doo he plans on shit storming, one windsheid at a time. Ok ok, maybe I’ve gotten myself far too deep into this analogy, but if you take a stroll though the Austin Convention Center you should see at least one Canary Suicides movie poster and may even hear someone ask “Canary what?”  Well, allow me to explain in my best movie phone voice impersonation:  It’s the charming little tale of cute fuzzy yellow birdies… chirp… chirp chirp… that off themselves… chirp… chirp… KA-CH… in more than one way… BOOM. Tee hee.  Yep, now you know what I’m talking about.

Valerian Zamel: My name is Jessica, I used to be a woman.
Tony Oberstar: You need a tape recorder.
Natalia Provatas: Umm… I’m Natalia.


The Canary Suicides team consists of a laugh out loud trio with humor that does not fall a feather short in their short. With a runtime of 5 minutes, the film stood out amongst their peers, many of which played the let’s see how outlandish we can get without offending anyone… um yea, about that. The true wild card of premiere night happened to have one hell of a beak, echoing the oldest piece of advice recorded to date: less is more. Afterall, the film was made in one Downtown L.A. evening after receiving permission from artwalk artist, Catherine Coan, who handmade the canary cages that inspired the film.

Zamel: We shoot shorts for 2-5 grand and we get in for something we made for 40 dollars in 4 hours.
Oberstar: And we ate chinse food for those 4 hours, which was only thing we spent money on.

How’d you hear the news?

Provatas: I was at my desk and had been avoiding paying credit card bills. I got a 512 area code and thought, “fuck another creditor.” Claudette (shorts program coordinator) had called and said, “call me back.” I thought it was a mistake… but she said we love your movie and we want you. That’s  it. Oh, and we sent her cookies because we were so happy.
Zamel: I was on a Costco run for work doing the quintessential P.A. thing.
Oberstar: I found out on Chatroulette.

What was your first reaction?

Oberstar: Boner.
Zamel: Pressure, measuring up…
Oberstar: Then I high-fived myself.
Zamel: Fuck, I have to be a real filmmaker now.
Provatas: Figurative boner because we were rejected from so many places, so it was awesome that we finally made it into a great festival.

If Cookies and boners summed up their acceptance reaction, you may wonder how opening night went…

Provatas: Nerve-wracking because we didn’t think it woud play. The announcer made a mistake (announcing CS first). Our film was the last one to screen. After waiting and waiting and waiting…
Oberstar: I thought, “Who do I punch for forgetting my movie after a 24 drive?”
Zamel: I thought, “Who do I politely ask to talk to about this?”
Oberstar: This is Texas; shoot first and ask later.

And when it did play?

Zamel: Relieved.
Oberstar: I was keeping an ear open for people laughing. If there’s no laughter, then we didn’t do our job.
Zamel: We’d seen it (the film) a couple times before, so the laughter was a countdown for us. We knew when we’d get the 1st, 2nd and 3rd laugh and they arrived at the right place! There’s always one rowdy laugher and seems like he was at all our screenings.
Provatas: Then when we noticed our Facebook fan page went up one new, like from 91 to 92.

How’d you celebrate?

Provatas: Got shitfaced.
Zamel: Went to sleep.
Oberstar: Bikinis Bar and Grill and hit on older women… 5 years(ish older).
There homecoming was eventful to say the least. Sixth street on the first night of SXSW happens to be one  of the focal points of the festival; also referred to as “Mardi Gras” meets “insane asylum” by the trio. But before we throw on beads and join the madness, you may want to get a little glimpse at some of pearls discovered on their journey.

Have you any “a-ha” moments during this trip?

Zamel: This revolutionized my approach to networking. Before the not so great banter got in the way, but it’s so easy here like “Hi… hi… what do you do?” It’s more of a friendly approach, as opposed to, “What can you do for me?” Maybe that’s an L.A. thing?
Provatas: The pretense in L.A. if you’re going to approach anyone, you need to have something to offer. It’s hard.
Oberstar: I hate that word; networking. I don’t even want use that word.
Provatas: Tony wrote an article about that called “etiquette.”
Oberstar: Just getting to experience this with my friends because I’m not into the “networking” thing. When it comes to talking to people, I’d rather make them a friend than a contact.

Any “oh hell no” moments?

Provatas: Yea, we met a pimp. Fun part of staying at Motel 6 is you meet your neighbor pimps from Dallas.

What about the drive?

Provatas: Very adventurous… until you get tired.
Zamel: I drove a a lot at night so I couldn’t enjoy it. It was a test of our stamina, but at some point you can’t do it anymore… you have to stop.
Oberstar: Texas felt like forever but it was fun going through border patrol.
Provatas: It’s exciting cuz you only see it on T.V. at the same time I felt like they were going to tell me I’m really from Ugoslavia. I felt really “illegal.”
Oberstar: I think next time I would fly for sure.

So, how does this festival compare to other OG’s such as Sundance?

Provatas: They have a pulse on younger, hipper things happening in entertainment.
Oberstar: SXSW falls into the category of Sundance etc. with the presitge, but it doesn’t feel like a festival.  It feels like a Carnival.
Zamel: Also it’s fucking cold in Sudance. You really can shine here more. At Sundance you get burried in the snow and the pressure of all the big movies. I appreciate the features at SXSW. They take risks. Independent features at Sundance shy away with films starring Jennifer Anniston. Here, people pick up a camera and make a feature for the the fuck of and “they” got in!
Provatas: This festival feels more including. It’s easier to get into places and talk to people. Sundance is very exclusive. You have to be invited to party.

And so they did, with the rest of the estimated 200,000 expected to attend. Some with badges, some without. For the most part,  it wasn’t a prerequisite to celebrate and did we ever… without invitation.

Canary Suicides was first screened at Hollyshorts Film Festival 2010, where it won the Audience Award.  After SXSW 2011, the journey continues as the film traveled to Ohio for the Cleveland International Film Festival and most recently BleedFest, where it won the Film Radar Award.

For more information visit Canary Suicides: The Movie on Facebook!


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