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March 2008

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more on Poor Boy's Game

Poor Boy’s Game takes a bow at Toronto festival
Director Virgo says movie is a love letter to Halifax

Clement Virgo, director of Poor Boy’s Game, right, works with actor Rossif Sutherland, on the set of the movie last summer in Halifax. The film premiered Tuesday at the Toronto International Film Festival and gets its Atlantic Canadian debut on Saturday at the Atlantic Film Festival.(CP)

TORONTO – Clement Virgo is home in Toronto with a Nova Scotia film, and the pre-premiere jitters are showing.

The Toronto-based director is bringing Poor Boy’s Game, his exploration of racial tensions in Halifax, to Toronto International Film Festival for its North American bow ahead of its release at the Atlantic Film Festival on Saturday and its commercial debut in Canadian theatres on Oct. 5.

"All my films have played in Toronto, and there’s always anxiety," Virgo, who shot his latest movie in Spryfield and Halifax last summer, insists.

"You’re hoping the film gets into Toronto, because if it does, you feel like a legitimate filmmaker," he said as he downed some coffee and breakfast ahead of the film’s red carpet send-off Tuesday.

Coincidentally, Halifax’s Chaz Thorne, who penned the script for Poor Boy’s Game along with Virgo, saw his feature directorial debut Just Buried premiere at a sold-out screening on Sunday.

Just Buried screens Friday night at the Atlantic Film Festival.

Poor Boy’s Game is Virgo’s sixth feature, and portrays Donnie Rose, a tough kid in Halifax played by Rossif Sutherland — the half-brother of Keifer Sutherland — emerging from prison after beating and severely crippling a black teenager, Charlie, when he was 17. In the movie’s climatic boxing sequence, Rose is challenged to fight a local boy, played by Flex Alexander, who wants to settle a score in the ring.

But Virgo turns a tale of likely violence and revenge between two communities on its head when Charlie’s father, played by Danny Glover, trains Donnie for the fight so the young man who beat his son senseless can settle his demons and bridge a racial divide.

Virgo insists landing Danny Glover for a star-turn in Poor Boy’s Game was surprisingly easy.

Both met in Los Angeles in fall 2005, Virgo handing Glover his script, and the star of the Lethal Weapon blockbuster movies and himself a movie producer handing Virgo one of his own scripts.

"Danny wanted me to direct something for him," Virgo says, shaking his head in admiration. And when on set last summer to shoot Poor Boy’s Game, Virgo recalls Glover was always well prepared and generous with advice to the director when playing a father torn between seeking justice and protecting his family.

"He (Glover) is one of the busiest actors I know. But Danny will focus and he comes to the set with a plan on how to attack that day," said Virgo, who was born in Jamaica and studied at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto.

Virgo, who will also be in town for the Atlantic premiere, adds Poor Boy’s Game could not have been shot anywhere else than Halifax.

"The film in a way is a love letter to Halifax. It explores the idea of forgiveness and race and how that plays itself out in Canadian society everywhere," he said.

More importantly, shooting Poor Boy’s Game in the same city it’s set in enabled Virgo to capture Halifax’s gritty neighbourhoods — the movie recalls On the Waterfront and Rebel Without a Cause — for truth and authenticity.

"The more specific you are in a movie’s detail, the more universal you can be in its theme," he explained.

If anything, sometimes fragile race relations in Halifax inspired screenwriter Thorne to pen the original script for Poor Boy’s Game. The seed was planted in 1995 when Thorne’s cousin was shot seven times and murdered in a Halifax parking lot by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, a black man.

The director is also fulsome in praise of local Nova Scotia acting talent, including Laura Regan and Hugh Thompson.

Virgo knows the prospects for Poor Boy’s Game are favourable. The dramatic feature debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February, and has already been sold to 40 countries worldwide.

Even so, premiere night in Toronto is always a gut check for Virgo and his cast, many of whom he will not have seen in over a year.

"Many of the actors will be seeing the film for the first time. They won’t be watching the film, they’ll be watching their performances," he remarked.

And Virgo admits his eyes probably won’t be on the screen for much of the Toronto premiere, but instead will scan the audience for reaction.

"You know then they (cinema audiences) are shifting in their seats. You feel their rhythm. It comes off of them. You know when you have them engaged and hooked and you know when they’re bored," he said, shifting in his own seat.

Etan Vlessing is Canadian Bureau Chief for The Hollywood Reporter.



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