Studies & Facts

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Diana Tegenkamp

Up-and-coming filmmaker working the best in the biz.

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One of a series commissioned by the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance
By Steven Ross Smith


Film production is busting out all over in Saskatchewan these days. It’s so busy that Saskatoon writer and filmmaker Diana Tegenkamp rescheduled the shooting of her short dramatic film from this past September to February, 2005. Saskatchewan film crews are hard at work on the television series Moccasin Flats, and on Corner Gas, which is in post-production; and then there’s Tideland, the $20 million feature film starring Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly, directed by Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam. And there are several documentaries in production.

Once these shoots wrap up, the best of Saskatchewan film artists and technicians will be available to Diana Tegenkamp. This is worth waiting for, because Tegenkamp already has some of the best in the business involved in her half hour dramatic film, entitled Move Closer.

John Frizzell, a respected story editor, has been working with her on the script off and on for two years. He’s considered one of the best script-doctors in the trade, working on feature films such as Dance Me Outside and television films and series, including Getting Married at Buffalo Jump. Tegenkamp’s director of photography is Paul Suderman who shot Guy Maddin’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. Move Closer’s executive producer is Elizabeth Yake, whose feature film It’s All Gone Pete Tong just won Best Canadian Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Diana Tegenkamp is very careful about the talent she gathers around her for this film, because it is her labour of love. It is reasonable to conclude that the artists she’s assembled wouldn’t be on board if they didn’t see something special here.

Tegenkamp was born in Lloydminster (Saskatchewan side) and as a toddler, moved with her mom to Bruno, just west of Saskatoon. In fact, it was in Bruno’s movie theatre that Diana saw her first film. Later her father bought that theatre and turned it into an electrical store. But Diana’s first love was music and from age five she studied classical piano. By the time she was in grade seven she was practicing piano four hours a day.

Diana also developed a passion for dance and photography along the way. Following high school she went to the University of Saskatchewan to study music, but there discovered “real theatre” and a love of acting. She now believes that acting at that time gave her a venue to express emotion in an overt way, and gave her a vehicle to deal with emotional difficulties in her life. But it was the expression of her creative energy that drove her.

Tegenkamp says, “I’ve had to struggle to maintain connection to my creativity and art practice. But creative expression and art is fundamental to life. There’s no life without it. It’s at the core of my being.”

When Diana’s mom saw her leaning toward art, she was concerned that a life in art might not allow Diana to support herself, and insisted that her daughter learn a practical skill. So Diana studied hairdressing at the Marvel Beauty School. Following that she was a stylist at Crimpers salon on Broadway, and currently she has her own clientele and works out of Salon Williams on Avenue B. And as it turns out cutting and styling hair has been a lifesaver for Tegenkamp, allowing her to support herself and her film projects.

Diana Tegenkamp may not be well-known to film viewers in Saskatchewan, but she is not new to filmmaking. For the past decade she has been involved as a writer, producer, editor or actor in seven short films. She’s a graduate of Fine Arts from Concordia University where she studied film-making, literature and creative writing.

Move Closer, now in pre-production, is a half-hour drama with a magic-realist slant that paints a lush portrait of a contemporary family and its encounter

with a mute boy with magical chameleon-like abilities. The boy’s appearance in their lives brings revelations, and makes the mother, father and son look more closely at their feelings of love and desire and their relationships. Move Closer takes some inspiration from the magic realist film Antonia’s Line (1996) and from Jean Cocteau’s films from the ‘40s, Orpheus and Beauty and the Beast. Tegenkamp also loves the films of Todd Haynes (Poison, Far From Heaven), and of Jane Campion (The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady).

For Tegenkamp, a film begins with a script. It was at Concordia that she learned that you have to know the story well. Having John Frizzell mentor her with the story of Move Closer is more than a stroke of luck. She met Frizzell in 2001 when she was the director of NextFest, the digital motion picture festival in Saskatoon. They’d hit it off then, and when she called him in Beverly Hills in the winter of 2002, he agreed to work with her on the script. Diana claims that Frizzell has guided her through “an incredibly intensive, often painful and frequently wonderful writing process that has been beneficial creatively and personal.” At one point she said to him, “This is like psychotherapy.” Frizzell’s reply: “It is psychotherapy.”

He encouraged her “to let your characters be smarter than you are,” that is, to let characters reveal themselves rather than being puppets for ideas. Tegenkamp says he showed her that “who a character is, is revealed in the particular details, on a word by word basis.”

Besides having written the script, Diana will also direct the shooting of her film. The project’s lead producer is Sandra Panko of Juxtapose Productions, a fairly new Saskatoon company that is keen to produce cutting-edge drama such as Move Closer. Tegenkamp credits Juxtapose for giving her project a home, including her own office there. Artwork by Saskatoon painter Tatyana Gershuni will appear in the film. And Saskatoon artist Monique Blom is the film’s production designer. She was just short-listed in the Royal Bank of Canada’s National Painting Competition.

Tegenkamp has recently finished the first casting session for Move Closer, and she is impressed by “the depth and breadth of talent here in Saskatchewan. The stars are here.” Soon casting decisions will be made and actors hired.

And there are locations to be found and confirmed, costumes to be designed and assembled, and a multitude of other details necessary to bring the story to life first for the camera, and then for the viewing audience.

Behind all this work, there is a personal meaning for Tegenkamp. “I wrote this script – which is why, I've figured out, I do art in general – because it provides me with a way to better understand my life experiences, but, more importantly, I'm seeking an experience of relatedness to others and their experiences.”

Though Move Closer takes up much of her time, Diana is looking ahead toward her next project, a feature-length film called Puff, already in the works.

Diana Tegenkamp is an up-and-coming film artist working in Saskatchewan, one of several who are the seedbed of the film industry that is developing here. Such artists as her are essential for the renewal and growth of Saskatchewan art and culture. The existence of film crews, production facilities and granting support will keep them here, instead of fuelling the exodus of our bright, creative minds to big production centers like Toronto and Vancouver.

As pre-production of her film moves along, Diana Tegenkamp is snipping away every week-end, cutting and styling hair for her many clients. This helps put food on the table and film in the can. And by the way, she gives an excellent cut.

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Steven Ross Smith is a poet, fiction writer, reviewer living in Saskatoon.

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