Down and out in Alberta

Those from small towns will experience an all-too-familiar shutter of unrest while watching North Country Cinema’s The Valley Below a cold Calgary film fresh from a warm reception at TIFF.

The Valley Below is a continuation of writer/director Kyle Thomas’ 2011 short Not Far From the Abattoir. The short focuses on Warren an alcoholic songwriter — portrayed by Calgary’s former poet laureate Kris Demeanor — who is trying to get his life together. Demeanor reprises his role picking up five years into the future and finding Warren worse for wear as his life brushes with three other small-town tales of melancholy.

“I wanted to expand on the stories but I couldn’t because it would be too long” says Thomas. “Each one of these could be a feature in itself if I went through and expanded on them. That in itself was a challenge making sure I’m picking my moments in each story.”

Aided by stunning summer badland scenery and cold Alberta nights Thomas was able to capture the isolation and mood of living in a small Alberta town. While he himself was raised in Vancouver and Calgary he has always felt drawn to the small-town dynamic.

“There’s something fascinating to me about why people choose to stay or go in small towns” says Thomas. “It seems like you have a group of people who say ‘this is my home I’m never leaving I love this place’ then you have others who say ‘I hate this I gotta get out.’”

Each of the characters in the movie feel this push and pull and no matter their position find themselves emotionally stagnant. A pregnant college-bound teen a taxidermist with a failing marriage and a well-to-do constable are all presented with a change that breaks them from their static lives.

The soundtrack features a slew of Alberta talent including Demeanor Rae Spoon and Eamon McGrath with non-Albertans Gavin Gardiner and Dan Mangan also contributing. Each musician scores a separate section of the film helping to define the cold mood.

Aside from the excellent soundtrack there are other forces at work which make The Valley Below a rewarding watch. The four stories offer up a diverse set of problems allowing viewers to relate to it in different ways depending on their life experiences.

“The one thing I want people to take away is how it is to relate to each other” says Thomas. “When you’re faced with tough decisions how do you work through it? Or do you want to work through it? I just want people to connect with it and relate it to their own lives.”

THE VALLEY BELOW directed by Kyle Thomas screens on September 19 and 21 at Globe Cinema as part of CIFF.