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Poor Agnes takes a calculated risk
30 October 2017.

Poor Agnes is a new Canadian film, shot in Thunder Bay and featuring a remarkable lead performance by Lora Burke. It's about Agnes, a sweet small-town girl, who is also a psycho killer with a severed head in the freezer. A private investigator shows up at her house to ask questions. She makes dinner for him, then has sex with him, then ties him up and locks him in the cellar. She proceeds to torture him until his will is broken. Then a third man comes into the picture...

Producer Jonathan Hlibka is wearing many hats when it comes to Agnes. His company, Other Animal Productions, produced it, and he is also the film's distributor and publicist. Its success is important to him. Luckily, he believes strongly in the film.

"The characters sang to me," he tells me over coffee. Shot in 14 days by director Navin Ramaswaran, the film is full of suspense. Mostly, the viewer is never quite sure what Agnes will do next. The screenwriter, James Gordon Ross, admits that he listened to "very narcissistic pop songs in order to get into the right emotional space" for the character. Hmmm. I always said all that Katy Perry music would lead to murder. 

Hlibka has high hopes for the movie, but he is also realistic. It opens at the Carlton Cinema in November, and he's pushing for a good run. "A successful screening allows a producer to up the chances for everything after that - platform sales, broadcast sales, even awards consideration." It already won the 2017 Barry Convex Award at the recent Fantasia Film Festival.

This is Hlibka's first shot at being a film producer. A graduate of the Claude Watson School for the Arts, he got into the film business through doing soundtracks, scriptwriting, produced music videos, and then went into public relations. He ran The Big Picture Cinema on Gerrard for seven years, but the landlord was not maintaining the building, making it difficult for him to rent it out or hold premieres there. He was fortunate enough to be the publicist for Theeb, a recent Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, and he keeps busy elsewhere. "I help develop food and cannabis products. I volunteer at the Daily Bread Food Bank. I'd like to produce more plays, although doing so caused my hair to go grey."

Despite his success, he is quick to remind me that it is always a struggle. "Years ago I suggested to a pizza company that we partner up and offer a promo code for a digital download of a movie with the pizza. They didn't get it. I think it's just the business culture in this country. Canadian business is so risk-adverse." But the same can't be said for Poor Agnes. It risks everything, which is why it is such an exciting new film. 

 

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