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Peninsula brothers have Cannes-do attitude

Siblings' short film screened at prestigious festival
A short film by local brothers Brandon and Jordan Willetts is being screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

Would you want to know when you would take your last breath?

In the short film, Mayfly, produced, written and directed by brothers Brandon and Jordan Willetts, that is the question asked by scientists who discover a way to determine when each person on earth will die.

The thought-provoking film was exactly what the brothers – born and raised on the Peninsula – aimed to create. What they didn’t expect was having their film accepted into the Short Film Corner at France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival, which opened yesterday.

“It’s super exciting. There will be lots of workshops and you can speak to distributors, all of which we don’t have experience with,” Brandon told Peace Arch News last Friday before boarding a flight to the Mediterranean the next day.

“It’ll be good to go see how movies are bought and how people pitch their ideas. It’ll give us a feel for that stage of the process.”

While movies have always been a significant part of their lives, it wasn’t until coming home from university that the decision to make a career from their hobby was made.

“We’ve always been interested in movies and we were always talking about them. We basically both came home and had an epiphany that neither of us wanted to do what we had been going to school for,” Jordan said.

Armed with pens, paper, a white board and ideas, the two began to work on the concept for their first film last year.

From the beginning, both knew the movie should be one that would encourage discussion among viewers.

“Anytime we’d go see a movie, the best ones, we found, were the ones you talked about on the drive home. So we set out to make a movie that would get people talking after they leave the theatre. Something that they would end up discussing with friends,” Brandon said.

Jordan, 24, came up with the initial concept for Mayfly, centered around John Stull (played by Brian Cera) on the day he decides to find out the exact moment he will die after scientists discover that from birth, humans are predisposed to every disease, virus, germ and bacteria.

With a simple blood test, Stull is to be the first person to find out exactly when he will die – barring any unforeseeable circumstances, such as murder.

Throughout the movie, Stull does not speak, however, the story is told through a series of interviews with scientists, theologists and psychologists.

“We knew that if this test existed, it would be a worldwide event and change the face of everything,” Jordan explained. “But at the same time, it would be personal, because you would have to choose whether or not you would like to know or continue living your life as it is. So, we wanted to balance the world perspective with an introspective perspective.”

Brandon, 26, added, “Going to the doctor’s office is usually a mundane day. You get ready, drive, go to the office and sit in the waiting room. What we wanted to do was show a normal day like that, but those little moments you don’t even think of, like waiting at a stop light or in the waiting room, would seem much more intense.

“You’re life is ticking down, so it would be a lot more different.”

Filmed between July and September of last year, the movie includes a number of recognizable landmarks, from the steam clock in Vancouver’s Gastown to the Whaling Wall in White Rock.

High-quality cameras rented by the brothers capture magnificent shots, often featuring a clock ticking down the time. Each scene is set up to echo the magnitude of the scientific discovery.

“Going in, we wanted to make it the highest production value we could afford,” Jordan said, noting the use of camera movement in their shots.

The next step for the brothers is a planned move to Los Angeles early next year to pitch their next project – a feature film.

While it still needs to be written, both know the best place to be is at the heart of the industry, in Hollywood.

“It’s so much harder when you’re on the outside looking in,” Brandon said. “We know this is the right step to take.”

And while both believe Mayfly is a stepping stone to greater things, they admit the journey to making the film has been one they will never forget.

“We look back at the beginning, when we were in the pool house with a white board and drawing diagrams, we had no idea what we were doing then,” Jordan said. “When we think back to then to where we are now, just the knowledge of movies and the whole process, it just trumps that.”