Up and coming director Albert Shin is garnering the attention of many, best known for his critically acclaimed In Her Place (2014) which was nominated for numerous awards at the Canadian Screen Awards including Best Director. Anticipating the release of his third directorial feature Disappearance at Clifton Hill, I had the pleasure of speaking with him about the movie and his career so far.
I’ve heard that Disappearance at Clifton Hill is inspired by when you witnessed a potential kidnapping just like Abby in the beginning of the movie. How closely would you say Abby’s journey and behaviour are linked to your own?
The kidnapping that Abby witnesses in the film is actually inspired by a similar event I witnessed (or think I witnessed) as a child. Right down to recreating the incident in the same place it happened for me. And as we were writing the script, I definitely dug around for potential links to old kidnapping or murder cases in the region around that time. However, unlike Abby I was never able to unearth any smoking guns, so beyond the initial inspiration, the film is a work of pure imagination.
How did it feel to return to Niagara Falls to almost re-enact what you saw all those years ago?
It was totally surreal. And fittingly, the prologue where we re-created this potential kidnapping, was the first thing we shot, which certainly helped crystallize the whole experience for me, which I carried through the rest of production.
In the movie you present Niagara Falls itself as a restricted narrative controlled by an elusive layer of people. Did you experience any restriction while shooting?
Not to make it feel too much like art imitating life, but we were met with some serious resistance by some faceless “Business improvement associations” that definitely held sway and influence in the city. There’s a priority for the powerbrokers in Niagara Falls to control the narrative of their town, so to speak. So unfortunately, there was quite a bit of restrictions put on us by some of the powers that be, worried we were trying to indict the town or paint it in a negative light somehow. That made it tougher than it needed to be for production. But the truth is, I really saw this as my love letter to Niagara Falls and was trying to showcase the city as worthy of the cinematic treatment. Which I hope people still feel when they see the film.
The movie exudes a really suspenseful neo-noir exploration which is strongly backed up by its impressive soundtrack. What drew you to this style of filmmaking?
I’m a big fan of noir mysteries, and certainly wanted to pay tribute to the genre, but also find my own way into the space. The score by Alex Sowinski and Leland Whitty was a huge component to framing the tone of the piece. I was searching for a particular signature sound, but not being a musician by any stretch, it was hard for me to articulate. Thankfully, Alex and Leland just got it, right out of the gate, which made it such a rewarding process.
From magicians to compulsive lying, every pursuit for truth in this movie feels shrouded by smoke and mirrors. Did the process of making the movie help you find peace in what you saw or does the ambiguity of memory unsettle you?
The subtext and thematic underpinning of the film was completely rooted in me trying to make peace with this ambiguity of memory, as well as what I see as the relativization of truth, especially in these strange times we live in. This was one of the ways I thought the film could comment on our contemporary times, while playing in a rather analogue world.
The film industry has taken a real hit during the pandemic. How have you been keeping creative during these difficult times?
We were in post-production on a film I produced when the shutdowns started happening, so that’s been keeping me busy. And also, I was actually in the process of starting work on another feature to direct later this year, which got pushed obviously, but I’m hoping that can still happen at some point.
What genre do you feel would put you out of your comfort zone the most?
A straight comedy. That would be terrifying for me.
Have you got any more projects in the pipeline?
I have a couple projects in development, some further along than others, all in wildly different genre spaces, so we’ll see if any of them can gather enough steam to become a reality.
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers aspiring to get in the director’s chair?
Have something to say, and know how you want to say it. Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t forget to have fun!
Disappearance at Clifton Hill, directed by Albert Shin, is distributed in the UK by Lightbulb Film Distribution, certificate 15. It will be available via all major streaming and downloading platforms from July 20th, with a physical release August 3rd.