Dir: Gary Burns. Canada. 2000. 83 mins.
Prod co: Burns Films, Odeon Films. Int'l sales: Alliance Atlantis Films International (1) 416 967 1141. Exec prod: Bryan Gliserman, Marguerite Pigott. Prod: Shirley Vercruysse, Gary Burns. Scr: Burns, James Martin. DoP: Patrick McLaughlin. Prod des: Donna Brunsdale. Ed: Mark Lemmon. Mus: John Abram. Main cast: Fabrizio Filippo, Don McKellar, Marya Delver, Gordon Currie, Jennifer Clement, Tobias Godson.
waydowntown features a catchy premise, a clutch of watchable performers and a mood that captures the alienation endemic in high-rise office life. If younger audiences can overcome the fact that the action stalls after 30 minutes the film may do some business. It won the Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto festival but Alliance Atlantis will need a Sundance slot to convince potential US and overseas distributors.
Tom (Filippo) and his colleagues are entry-level, white-collar wage-slaves engaging in a wager: the person who can go the longest without going out-of-doors wins. Set in the office blocks, apartment towers and interconnected shopping malls that typify urban Canada - where it's not uncommon for a person to live and work without recourse to fresh air - the film joins the group a few weeks into the bet and follows them over the course of a lunch break. The focus is on the photogenic Filippo and his increasing concern for the sanity of his cubicle partner Brad (McKellar).
Burns sets the tone with Tom's visit to the underground garage - he uses his car not for driving but for dope-smoking breaks - and introduces his competitors and co-workers, who are at varying stages of a humorously neurotic breakdown. For example, Sandra (Delver), whose job involves replacing articles stolen by her kleptomaniac boss, is convinced the recycled air is poisoning her. Meanwhile, Brad, a "lifer", plans to make his exit - through his office window.
Digital video combined with fluorescent light and an atmospheric soundtrack give the film a garish pallor and disorienting buzz perfectly suited to the theme. But there's no narrative momentum to lift the characters beyond their status of lab rats and lift the film beyond the merely interesting.