The planets are beginning to align for Crystal Debruyn.
The Earl Marriott grad – and former Miss Peace Arch News in the 2003 White Rock Youth Ambassadors program – is already attracting international attention for her role in the B.C.-produced independent feature Neutral Territory.
Last weekend, Debruyn was named best supporting actress, while co-star Laura McCarthy received best actress honours, at the World Music and Independent Film Festival in Washington, D.C.
It’s odd, the budding film and stage actress notes, in that Neutral Territory was virtually her first film role of any kind – aside from a few short student projects.
Even more unexpected is the fact that she’s only now reaping the rewards for a three-week shoot that wrapped two years ago, in 2009.
“It took a while to get the film edited and ready to enter film festivals, but when it did it was like a rocket,” she said.
“We’ve been in so many film festivals this year. After a couple of years of not seeing anything, it’s like ka-boom. You don’t want it to end.”
Among showcases for Neutral Territory have been the Beijing, Beloit, Lucerne and New York City international festivals, the Interrobang festival in Des Moines, where it was named best feature of 2011, and the Treasure Coast festival in Florida, where Vince Arvidsen won the award for best cinematography.
Vancouver will get its turn when the film rolls into the Rio Theatre (1660 E. Broadway) for a red-carpet premiere set for 6 p.m., Sept. 11 (for more information visit neutralterritory.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
It’s not the B.C. premiere – that honour went to Burns Lake, where director Josias Tschanz spent most of his teen years, and where most of the movie was shot.
It’s a deeply personal project for Tschanz, who also played the leading role, co-wrote the original story with scenarist Joel Mark Harris and co-produced with Harris.
A contemporary western, Neutral Territory tells the tale of Henry Huge (Tschanz), son of a Swiss immigrant, who is in line to become a partner in his law firm and marry the boss’s daughter, Heidi (Debruyn).
But Henry has made a financial investment that threatens all his plans. To gain capital he decides to sell the family ranch in the B.C. Interior, but there’s one big snag – Werni, his aging and stubborn father, who has no intention of either being evicted or placed in a nursing home.
Adding to the personal nature – and realism – of the film was Tschanz’ casting of his real-life father, Hans, in the quirky gift role of Werni.
“We said to him, you may be a farmer, but you’re probably the best actor here,” Debruyn said. “He was just so real.”
Although Debruyn and the cast and crew were strangers when they first drove up to Burns Lake together, she said they soon bonded through an intense shooting schedule of 13-hour days, invigorated by the natural beauty of the area and the hospitality and co-operation of Tschanz’ own family and the rest of the local population.
“It was so much fun,” she said, adding that everyone involved in the production pitched in to make it work.
She got the chance to audition for Tschanz through a mutual friend, she said, and originally planned to read for the role of Rebecca, the ex-girfriend.
But he was adamant, almost from the beginning, that she would be perfect for city-girl Heidi.
“He said ‘no, no, here you go – I want you to read this character’. Heidi is very much a ‘Daddy’s girl’ who doesn’t know much about ranch life.”
And while Heidi could have been written and played as a one-dimensional character, Debruyn said she was drawn to the part because of the way the character evolves through the challenges of the drama.
“She does truly care for her fiancé, but she’s lived so long being that person. She was a great character to work on – she’s also very girly, and so am I, so that was a lot of fun.”
Audiences closer to home will remember Debruyn from last year’s White Rock Players Club pantomime, Robinson Crusoe, in which she played the principal girl, Lady Pamela.
Those with longer memories may recall early appearances in ballet with the Mi Cher Academy, or chorus roles in such Marriott musicals as Annie and Anything Goes.
Studying with Rick Harmon at Marriott whetted her appetite for musical theatre, which influenced her studies at Capilano College, and her stint in the cast of Oklahoma for Theatre Under the Stars in 2007.
While she is always drawn to the thrill of performing in front of a live audience, Debruyn, who also works as a contract pre-school drama and dance instructor, said she is even keener on the potential for subtle character development that film provides.
Most of all, Debruyn wants to continue to work in film with an emphasis on passion-fueled independent productions, as opposed to big budget, B.C-as-Hollywood-backlot projects.
“Working on an independent film is so gratifying,” she said.
“You’re not there just because of what you look like – they want your knowledge as well, they want to see what you can bring to the part. And that’s exciting.”