Jackie Torrens’ directorial debut Pickled Punk had a modest budget of $800, but the Halifax-based actor/poet/playwright/director was willing to pay any price to secure the perfect star for her film. She was able to find her lead for only $125 – a good portion of the budget, but a steal considering the short wouldn’t have worked without him. This was the kind of star who would make headlines and turn heads. After all, he's a fetus.
Pickled Punk is the story of a 20-week old fetus preserved in formaldehyde that lands in the hands of a pair of Canadian yuppies. Pickled Punk (a prop Torrens found by Googling “fetus rentals”) lives in their home, acting as voyeur and conversation piece. She describes the 10 minute short as “a fantastical, realistic, cautionary tale,” but notes that the film makes no political statements. “The film has nothing to do with abortion. I knew that because the main character is a fetus there might be some people who would see it that way,” she said “but Pickled is a metaphor for aborted potential - or whatever anybody else might want it to be about.”
Torrens knows a little something about telling a layered, multi-faceted story. Originally an English major, Torrens has worked up quite an impressive resume from her work in theatre – her critically-acclaimed plays including Fables and Georama have been professionally produced and have premiered at high-profile venues such as the National Arts Center in Ottawa. But Torrens, who first and foremost considers herself a writer, wanted to try directing because it was something new, something that would hopefully push her out of a self-described “period of creative stagnation.”
But there’s no sign of any creative stagnation in Pickled Punk, which is not only one of the most unique shorts at the AIFF, but has also toured the festival circuit and been touted for its originality. Perhaps taking a step back from the stage and picking up a Sony PD-150 relit her creative flame. “Working with the camera brought my mojo back,” she said. “I wanted to direct, I wanted to experiment, I wanted to see what I could accomplish in spite of obstacles.”
The obstacles were clear on Pickled – a limited budget, a very short shooting schedule, and no prior experience behind the camera. But Torrens had a unique approach to filmmaking. “Proceeding with the mindset that obstacles are not really obstacles was very helpful,” she said.
After overcoming the foreseen, and unforeseen, obstacles with Pickled, Torrens is ready to go behind the camera again in the very near future. New technology is changing production and distribution, and the emerging independent culture appeals to Torrens. “The new technology is quite ‘democratic,’ meaning you can get away with a lot now that you couldn't before.” Similar to her experience with poetry, theatre, and radio, Torrens is drawn to the artistic liberty of independent filmmaking. “They're almost these under-the-radar genres - you certainly can't get rich in them. But what they do have is creative freedom,” she said. “It's like your artistic development can happen a bit more quietly.”
But Pickled Punk refuses to be quiet – it will continue to tour international festivals before airing on CTV in Canada later this year. As for Pickled Punk himself? “I imagine he's in California, the land of his birth. Of course he never writes or calls,” Torrens said. “Prick.”
Jackie’s picks to see at the festival: Bush vs. Bin Laden, If a Body Meet a Body, Away from Her.
Pickled Punk is part of the Edgy Shorts Program, which plays Friday, April 18th at 10:30 p.m. at The Screening Room. Note to parents: this program starts at 10:30 and is called “edgy” for a reason.