Thursday, July 11th, 1–2:00 p.m.
Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and her best friend Chantal (Karena Evans) plan to get out of their isolated, run-down town and move to a city far, far away. When Chantal’s unstable and possessive ex violates her during a night of partying, the girls decide to exact their revenge on him through a night of vandalism and debauchery. The consequences of their actions are devastating, threatening the girls’ chances of ever leaving. The more Lou fights tooth-and-nail to save her friendship and hold on to her dreams, the more she spins out of control as she begins to realize that freedom will come at a high cost.
In Theaters and On-Demand July 12, 2019
“In 2012, I wrote and directed a short film for my thesis at Ryerson University. It followed Lou and Chantal, two teenage friends who were determined to escape their small town and move far away. The film instantly resonated with young women who had longed to see bold and unapologetic female characters on screen. Four years later, the themes I first explored in the short seemed more relevant now than ever, and the time felt ripe to expand this story into a feature film.
“I was 15, in the basement of my friend’s boyfriend’s house when he took out a handgun and started waving it around in drunken stupor. Later that night, he sexually harassed me while my friend was absent from the room. This incident inspired one of the first scenes I wrote for the film in which Chantal consents to have a loaded rifle in her mouth, while two grown men film the action on their cellphones. In both my own experience and the one I created for the film, I found myself asking—how does one arrive at this moment? It became obvious that over time, I—like Chantal—had learned to normalize these overt and subtle misogynist acts. I had begun to unravel the incredibly intricate and difficult layers of this system of patriarchal oppression, and my struggle to exist within it.
“The characters of Lou and Chantal were originally derived from teenage girls I knew growing up in Barrie, Ontario. Tough, proudly sexual, and often crude, I looked up to these young women for challenging the status quo. They defied social stereotypes of femininity, which proved to be threatening not only to men, but also to women who had learned to internalize misogyny as a means of survival—much like Lou’s mother, Leanne.
“Like Lou and Chantal, the more my teenage friends pushed back against these patriarchal ideals, the more they were shamed, slandered, and ultimately punished. I encountered this pattern of shame and punishment myself well into my twenties, and still do today. I soon realized that Lou and Chantal represent two sides of myself, and perhaps of many women, which lies in the struggle between when to be submissive, and when to challenge misogyny. The film looks at the consequences of both sides of this decision.
“Sexual assault is one of the most obvious forms of oppression. Although the film is not about sexual assault, it factors quite heavily into the plot. I wasn’t interested in focusing on the details of the assault itself, but rather the far-reaching reverberations of such a violation. Even though Kyle is the perpetrator, it is Chantal and Lou who are punished, leading their friendship to fray and threatening their chance of ever escaping.
“While Lou and Chantal are victims of patriarchal oppression, they certainly aren’t the only ones. I wasn’t interested in painting men as the sole enemy—quite the opposite. In FIRECRACKERS, patriarchal oppression and misogyny hurt the male characters as well. Josh, first seen as an ally, ultimately abandons the girls in favor of upholding his fragile sense of masculinity—but not without considerable guilt. On his road to recovery, Johnny is at the transition point of becoming painfully self-aware, and his vulnerability is at the same time celebrated by Leanne, mocked by his old army buds, and taken advantage of by Lou. Jesse is also punished, like Lou, for refusing to conform to Leanne’s idea of masculinity. In the end, many of the characters are victims of the trauma that accompanies patriarchal oppression, and moreover, are doing their best to navigate it.
“It was not lost on me that a concept as huge as patriarchal oppression could be hard to tackle in a 90-minute film. That’s why it was important to me to ground these themes in situations, settings, and characters that felt real and tangible. I made this film first and foremost for women, so that we could see the truth of our experiences—both beautiful and ugly—validated on screen.
“When it came time to pen the ending to the film, I had this vision of Jesse standing against a vibrant sky in Lou’s red jacket and pink lipstick, looking out defiantly as the girls speed into the unknown. In these last moments of FIRECRACKERS, there is fear, trepidation, and sadness, but there is also a fierce determination to persist. In the end, Lou and Chantal realize that freedom is hard won, but the fight for it must continue—no matter what the cost.”
—Jasmin Mozaffari, Writer/Director
“Lou and Chantal represent young women in a way that existed outside of previous coming-of-age tropes. So often teenage girls are portrayed as soft, delicate, quiet, or in the process of losing their ‘innocence.’ I wanted Lou and Chantal to feel real, to represent the experiences of myself and my friends at seventeen: bold, sex-positive and sexually confident, unfiltered (for better or for worse), unapologetic and incredibly vulnerable. I wanted two young women who are a commanding presence on screen.
“Lou and Chantal don’t want to blend in to their surroundings. For Lou and Chantal, their clothing—or lack thereof—is a direct reflection of who they are at their core. Chantal’s wardrobe reflects a young woman who gains strength through her sexuality. She understands the attention she will receive through revealing more skin, and finds power in that. Chantal uses her sexuality to get what she wants—she is tactical in her approach to her clothing. Lou, by contrast, is often covered in oversized, baggy men’s clothing. She uses her garments like armour against the male gaze and is not interested in conforming to gender norms.”
—Jasmin Mozaffari, Writer/Director
“Both of these characters are feminine, attractive and sexual but in different ways… as women, we are constantly redefining what those words mean to us.”
—Mara Zigler, Costume Designer
“The film is a mix of free-flowing realism and moments of heightened reality. The vibrant optimistic palette and mobile camera at the start of the film makes way for a darker color scheme and more static framing as the girl’s hope begins to fade. I took months to rehearse with the actors, opting to blend scripted dialogue with careful improvisation to ensure that scenes felt tangible, visceral, and grounded in realism. The end result is a film that finds its roots in a social realist approach, while merging immersive stylistic sequences that transport the audience into Lou’s headspace.
The cinematography of the film was very much dictated by energy. The first act of the film is vibrant and chaotic—like the girls and their dreams. While the film is mostly handheld the camerawork becomes more focused and still as their plans fall apart. Lou and Chantal are often framed from a low angle in the beginning of the film, giving them a heroic, larger-than-life feel. As the film progresses, Lou especially, was often framed straight on, from above or in a wide shot to diminish her power and make her appear smaller.”
—Jasmin Mozaffari, Writer/Director
“We always had a plan and shot list going into each scene but let the camera be very loose and intuitive. Moving with characters and feeling out the times when the camera should move or not, when it should be very active and when it should sit and breathe.”
—Catherine Lutes, Director of Photography
“FIRECRACKERS takes place in an unknown post-industrial town left behind by globalization. It was important to the story that the girls, and the viewer, felt a great sense of isolation, but at the same time was not surrounded by a picturesque landscape. FIRECRACKERS feels like it could be any modern-day small town in North America—one that has been ravaged by unemployment and is occupied by transient people, like Johnny, Shane and Travis. The film was shot on-location in southwestern Ontario and in locations that are now relics of a more fruitful economic time.
“Lou and Chantal are trapped not only geographically, but by the oppressiveness of misogyny and restrictiveness of patriarchal thinking. The imagery in the film reflects this feeling of entrapment—the abandoned mall with empty enclosed stores, looming storm clouds, looking out of windows to the outside world, being submerged under water. While this world is very specific to FIRECRACKERS, it’s meant to stand as a metaphor for a more universal feeling of oppression people feel all over the world under patriarchy.”
—Jasmin Mozaffari, Writer/Director
“I chose to stay in the small towns and locations we were shooting in to stay fully immersed in the world of FIRECRACKERS, and to further understand what Chantal would feel like as a 16-year-old, living in a small and broken-down community as the only person that looks like the way she does while trying to free herself from it…”
—Karena Evans, “Chantal”
Jasmin graduate from Ryerson University’s Film Studies Program in 2013. While attending Ryerson she was a recipient of various awards including the HSBC Filmmaker Award for Best Director, and Norman Jewison Award for Best Film Production. Her student thesis film FIRECRACKERS (2013) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, and numerous other festivals across Canada and Europe, as well as the TIFF Film Circuit. FIRECRACKERS was subsequently sold to the CBC as part of their Canadian Reflections Program.
Jasmin’s next short, WAVE, screened at the Vancouver International Film and Aesthetica Short Film Festival in 2015 and received an honourable mention at the Breakthroughs Film Festival in June 2016. Jasmin was also a recipient of the Irving Avrich Fund at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015, awarded to 10 emerging Canadian filmmakers.
Michaela is a Toronto-based actress, award-winning filmmaker on the rise and is a formally trained singer through the world-renowned Royal Conservatory of Music. Her eclectic background in music and filmmaking has allowed her to collaborate with Canada’s new wave of independent filmmakers. Michaela was featured as the lead in Scott Cudmore’s award-winning music video for Wintersleep, entitled “Amerika.” It was this very nuanced and devastating performance that caught the eye of Toronto-based filmmaker Jasmin Mozaffari, who cast Michaela as the unapologetically bold lead in her first feature, FIRECRACKERS. From here, Michaela’s talent and voice have been sought out for numerous film and commercial opportunities. Most recently, Michaela was cast as the lead in the Chapters Indigo Christmas campaign, “Every Gift Tells a Story,” where she played the lead singer of a band, requiring her to sing live on stage. The ad was released on television, YouTube, and movie theatres nation-wide.
Karena Evans is an actor, director, and writer. She is a regular on season 2 of the popular Lifetime/eOne series “Mary Kills People.” She appeared in the acclaimed feature EVERY DAY (MGM). Based on David Levithan’s acclaimed New York Times bestseller, EVERY DAY tells the story of a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with a mysterious soul named “A” who inhabits a different body every day.
In 2018, Evans was presented with the Lipsett Award which recognizes a Canadian music video artist for their innovative and unique approach to music video art. She has skyrocketed into the public eye putting her cinematic stamp on videos for artists including XO’s Belly, Sza, and more recently, Drake’s “God’s Plan,” “Nice for What,” and “I’m Upset.” Evans has also worked with CBC Arts on the series “Heartbreak to Art,” Nike’s Aix Max campaign, and a Black Lives Matter social commentary piece.