By: Lauren Charley

If there’s one thing to be learned from a conversation with Landen Wakil, it’s that Niagara is full of aspiring new talent, and especially individuals who excel in arts and filmmaking. With recent developments such as the Niagara Integrated Film Festival and the establishment of The New Performing Arts Center, set to open its doors in 2015, it is evident that the community has the potential to blossom as an integral part the Canadian arts industry. Young entrepreneurs continue to progress in the growth of Niagara’s economic and business sectors, and it is indisputable that the arts community will also transcend in years to come.

Landen Wakil is a 20-year-old entrepreneur, born and raised in St. Catharines, with a strong passion for making films. His dedication to the art of filmmaking over the past number of years has enabled him to reach his current position, as a director who produces both short and feature length movies. The young entrepreneur displays a prime example of Niagara’s young artistic talent, as he has utilized resources available within the community to produce his film portfolio with tremendous success.

At the young age of 14, Landen shot his first feature length film, Kung Fu Charlie. With the help of fellow classmates and others who showed an emerging passion for film production, Landen was able to successfully complete his project. The locations he used were all readily available to him and included his middle school, Oakridge Public School, the forest and conservation area surrounding Brock University, and simply the houses of his friends. His second film, ZERO, remains his personal favourite to date, and was shot at locations all over St. Catharines: the downtown area, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, Port Dalhousie, Burgoyne Woods, and Kaz’s Pub. “This was the project where I learned the hardships and rewards of successful filmmaking,” relates Landen about his proud accomplishment.

“The miraculous conception of a dream comes first and that’s something I have absolutely no control over,” says Landen.

Over the many years during which Landen has taken a keen interest in film production, he has acquired an extensive collection of professional, quality film equipment. By saving his money and investing in his passion, in addition to donations from several private sponsors, he was able to accumulate enough money to fund his projects on a tight budget. Wakil has not taken, nor is he presently enrolled in any post-secondary education; he believes that when you are pursuing the arts, there are multiple alternatives to obtaining a degree. However, he is not opposed to the idea of attending university, but surprisingly would choose to take science and sociology. This is because of his love for science-based movies, and interest in the human mind which he, as a writer, believes would be incredibly insightful.

When asked what a typical day is like working as an independent filmmaker, Landen replies with “consistent inconsistency”. He likes to switch things up by doing something new every day, whether it be updating his YouTube channel, recording or editing video footage, or collecting props and set pieces for his upcoming projects and promotional photo shoots.  Although Landen is constantly brainstorming and playing with new ideas, his current priorities include a feature length movie, Thunder Road, and a short film, Uptown Underground.

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Across Landen’s film projects, one theme which remains consistent is “the classic underdog story”. His main characters often endure the challenges of being lost, displaced, or robbed of their childhood; but he always makes sure to conclude his story with a strong moral lesson, and give his audiences a message to take away with them.  “I will always make sure to add in some sub theme or moral that will challenge my audience to look at the way they’ve always known to perceive stereotypes,” shares Landen. In Thunder Road, his two main characters are both outcasts in their communities, but the relationship they build together helps them to deal with the issues they face with social norms. Their love becomes a challenge, however, as the darkness of their families’ pasts seep into their lives, and their worlds begin to fall apart.
The birth of Thunder Road began five years ago, as Landen was initially inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s song of the same name. The lyrics gave him a promising idea for a film script, and he lived with the characters in his head until he began the writing process two years later.

By December 2011, he had already completed the final draft of the script, and in 2012, he began seeking help from members of the Niagara community who would eventually become his dedicated team of cast and crew members. His most recent work in 2013 has been focused on finding people within the region who can provide him with shooting locations, props, and services free of charge. The assistance that Thunder Road has received with people eager to volunteer is no doubt due to the close-knit arts community within the region, which many residents hope to see prosper in coming years.

The filming for Thunder Road has been challenged, however, as Wakil searches for the perfect actress to play the role of his lead character, “Mary”. Unlike other independent film projects where directors take whatever cast and crew they can get, Wakil seeks only “la crème de la crème” to fill the roles of his major cast members. This is also true of the hard working team of volunteers he has recruited to be his crew. Many of them are locals who either know Wakil personally, or have met him through others; however, the young director has spent countless hours scouting talent from other cities as far as Toronto, seeking the most hard-working and passionate individuals to assist him along his journey. Landen is determined to find the best team out there.

 “I think Niagara has so much potential to not only blossom as a part of the Canadian film industry, but of all artistic industries,” – Landen Wakil, Young Entrepreneur and Independent Filmmaker

In addition to his work in progress, Thunder Road, Landen is also currently engaged in producing a short film, Uptown Underground. This “featurette” involves a dystopian take on the future world, set in 2025, following the life of a struggling dancer, known as “The Gypsy”. The story emphasizes the challenges she faces in a society characterized by human misery, overcrowding and oppression. Landen seeks to enlighten his audience by displaying the contrast between the world in his film, and the privileged life we lead in the comforts of our modern communities; especially those like Niagara.

The team members of Uptown Underground, which is still in its infancy, will also be pooled locally from a network of the director’s friends and professional associates. The film will be shot primarily at Caché nightclub in downtown St. Catharines, with the valuable contribution of the club’s owner, who is providing Wakil with the set free of charge. “Jesse is a great guy, really cool and open minded to my bizarre imagination manifesting itself in his nightclub,” says Landen.

Landen greatly appreciates all the support he has received from individuals and small business owners in the community, however, he feels that more could be done by those with the financial and political means to fund the arts. He recognizes that his projects would not have been possible without those who have offered him services, props, and locations to shoot at no cost to support him. Passion for particular artistic streams, and especially filmmaking, is such a niche within a small town, which is why he believes people are surprisingly eager to help out a young dreamer such as himself.

Impressed by the diverse artistic talent of many of his friends and acquaintances, Landen plans to continue to channel as much of Niagara’s budding potential into his film projects as possible. Through word of mouth, Landen has been able to establish professional relationships with many others who excel in an array of skills essential to filmmaking, such as set designers, make-up artists, music producers, photographers and videographers, costume designers, and graphic artists.  As an aspiring artist himself, Landen knows just how challenging it can be to “get a foot in the door” in the industry, and so he hopes not only to utilize the remarkable skills of these individuals for his films, but also to help them gain recognition and start to build professional portfolios.

Although Landen sees himself thriving in the Los Angeles film industry within the next few years, Niagara will always be an important place to him, as not only is it the home of his friends, family, and memories, but also the springboard of his exciting career as an independent filmmaker. “I spent 20 years in Niagara, and it’s inevitably hardwired into my DNA. No matter what I do the characters and places around here will always somehow find a way to influence my art,” says Landen with a smile. He admits to be “a sucker for nostalgia”, and is very fond of his memories created during his childhood and youth in the region. Landen would love to see the film industry in Niagara develop and grow, and believes that with new traditions such as the Niagara Integrated Film Festival, it could be a possibility. But for now, the young entrepreneur continues to chase his dream to experience the life of a Hollywood director, using his beloved community to achieve his goals.