In the dark Canadian thriller Donovan’s Echo, Danny Glover plays a man experiencing déjà vu when he returns home 30 years after losing his wife and daughter in a terrible accident. He realizes the feeling he has involves his neighbour and her young daughter, and he begins to watch out for them against the wishes of his best friend and local sheriff (played by Bruce Greenwood). The two veteran actors amplify the intensity and mood of the story and in the end help deliver one of the most interesting independent films in some years.
Director Jim Cliffe spoke with Criticize This! about working on his first feature film with stars like Glover and Greenwood and how his background in art and animation helped get the movie made. Read our Q&A below.
Brian McKechnie: How did the idea for Donovan’s Echo come to you?
Jim Cliffe: The idea came from a moment of déjà vu I experienced. Shortly thereafter I wondered if there was a concept there that would make a good story. I gave it a lot of thought and came up with a lot of elements to help put the story together. My wife was aspiring to be a novelist at the time so I thought I should get her involved and together we decided on the character and agreed it should be someone who was a bit older and had some life experience. Along the way we came up with the mathematician angle and the puzzle aspect of the story to add more uniqueness to it.
BM: Did you ever expect to get stars like Danny Glover and Bruce Greenwood in the film?
JC: No, not at all. As a first time filmmaker we should only be so lucky to get names like that. Our producer in Vancouver, Trent Carlson, had a casting agent in Los Angeles and after we spent about a year in development reshaping the screenplay the agent put a list of names together of some possible contenders to play Donovan and Dannys name was one of the names. We thought it was a long shot, but we could all easily see him play this role. And he responded and wanted to play the part.
BM: Being your first feature, was it helpful having veterans like them on set?
JC: It was certainly more helpful to me. To have talent like that on your first film… theyre pros!
BM: Did your background in animation and illustration help you visualize the film better in pre-production?
JC: I grew up making video shorts with my friends for fun and wed cut in scenes from other movies and try to figure out how Hollywood did it. So Ive always had that kind of mind. I never thought Id be able to break into movies so I put my creativity into my art skills and animation and made that a career. Ive always had a passion for filmmaking though and its only been the last 10 years where Ive taken it seriously. I got involved in filmmaking groups and film festivals. I went to workshops in Vancouver and I made a short film of my own. It was called Tomorrows Memoir and it had a lot of success and won at the San Diego Comic-Con. Certainly the background in animation and illustration really made it easier for me to do.
BM: Did you ever consider making Donovans Echo an animated feature or turning it into a graphic novel?
JC: No. The goal was always to try to get this to screen and I knew the only way Id be able to direct a movie is if I could write something that other people wanted to get behind. Similar to how Sylvester Stallone made Rocky or Matt Damon and Ben Affleck made Good Will Hunting. I thought if I could create something Id find the right people to get behind it and I did.
BM: What was the biggest challenge for you during the production?
JC: We wrote the story like we had all the money in the world and had multiple locations, stunts, flashbacks and in the end the budget was very small. Even with guys like Danny and Bruce in there were a very small film. We only had 20 days to get it all done and it was very challenging. We had really great producers and a really great team and they helped pull everything together.
BM: What do you hope the audience takes away from the film?
JC: I hope they get a bit of everything. Theres a nice puzzle aspect to the story, theres a bit of humour, some twists and turns and theres a lot of heart to the film as well. I hope the audience walks away having enjoyed the last couple of hours.
Donovan’s Echo is currently playing in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Langley, Kelowna, and Vancouver.
Top image: A scene from Donovans Echo. Courtesy Union Pictures.