“Behind every man now alive stand 30 ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living”. – Arthur C. Clarke
Tim and I were intrigued by this film from the moment we first heard about it from Carl Elster when we interviewed him and Lisa Wegner about their upcoming installation for Nuit Blanche last year. At the time, it was just a brief mention as to what was coming up for him. Next, we found out that our friend, Sean Cisterna, was directing the piece, and we got even more excited. We’d gotten to know Sean because of his brilliant work on the little indie film, Moon Point, so getting a chance to see how he’d do with a documentary this time was something for which we were both quite eager.
Plus, it’s about ghost hunting, which in and of itself was enough to pique my interest! The fact that it’s an all-girl paranormal group (almost all girls – sorry, Jeff!) and local to boot, meant that I was signed up for the whole ride! I contributed what I could to the film’s Doc Ignite campaign (presented by Hot Docs, because they rock) to help in my little way to fund the movie, and we set up an interview with Sean in our studio to help pimp the campaign to our viewers, as well.
Shortly after our episode with Sean aired, Tim and I both ended up becoming Facebook friends with Kim Hadfield Verheul, the hilarious straightforward protagonist of the documentary, and leader of the Halton Paranormal Group of which the film is about. Or, at least, the idea for the film was about the group and their ghost hunting escapades but, if I understand correctly, as shooting went on and life happened, the focus landed more specifically on Hadfield herself. She was definitely the face of the 30 Ghosts documentary, and I was thrilled to count her as a Facebook friend without actually having met her yet. Our chance would come eventually, though, as Tim and I were invited to go on a hunt with Kim and the rest of the group: Kimberley Valstar, Leah Hurst Lywood and their affable security guard, Jeff Sharpe. You can read all about THAT adventure here. Suffice it to say that I genuinely like those people, and just being around them for a few hours meant that, not only did I have an incredible time, but I also slept way better that night than I had in ages. Which is something that I never take for granted, so I’ve been honoured and pleased to call the lot of them friends ever since. Not just on Facebook anymore.
I said afterward that I was glad I hadn’t seen the movie before meeting any of them in person, because I got to know them all on equal footing, instead of having any pre-formed notion as to who they were on the screen. Now that I have finally seen the film, however, I’m not sure it would have made much difference. Something I find to be rather rare happens with 30 Ghosts, you see. The people you see on the screen are actually the people you meet in the real world. Sure, there are times when I could tell Kim was using her polite voice when explaining things to people, or when speaking to someone with whom she wasn’t fully comfortable, for example. For the most part, however, I was watching my friends on a screen that made them larger than life, but that was also very much them. To me, that’s equal parts Sean’s patience and skill as a director, editor and person, as well as the ability of Hadfield and her crew to open up and reveal themselves on camera. Not REVEAL reveal….just, you know…be themselves. 😉
That was one of the first things that struck me about 30 Ghosts as I watched it – how very true it all was. None of it seemed forced, or molded for the camera. None of it seemed incomplete or falsified. It really just felt like watching a slice of life, but which told me a bunch of things I didn’t know about Kim and her friends going into it. And while the film-lover part of me is glad I didn’t know, because I could enjoy the movie spoiler-free, the friend part of me just wanted to get up in the middle of the screening and go hug the riff-raff in the back of the theatre, because it made me adore and care for them all the more.
From the opening shot of Jerry the rain-hating weiner dog, through dark, creepy moments in abandoned houses, to the horses and the barn – all of it was at once familiar and yet brand new to me, and I think it would have been much the same even if I hadn’t already met everyone. Cisterna has a way of putting you at ease when you first meet him, and that carries through to what he chooses to put on screen. He doesn’t shy away from the difficult moments, but then again, his cast this time around doesn’t, either. Each member of Halton Paranormal is so open and honest and willing to share that it’s no wonder ghosts are often drawn to them. They’re actually listening, and making themselves available, and that incredible sense of presence and openness comes through on the big screen in spades. Hadfield in particular shares her triumphs and her sorrows as she struggles to prove the existence of spirits in our world, while also attempting to live her life, pay her bills, and provide for her family. She’s someone that every single one of us can relate to, and that’s what makes her such a compelling subject to watch. The friendship between the members of HPG is a strong one, and even by the end of the film, you’re left with the sense that the journey is really still just getting started for these folks. Or, at least, that they are now finally coming to the best part.
30 Ghosts is screening once more at the Bloor Hot Docs Theatre on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 8:30pm, so if you can, go get your ghost on, and join the journey of an after-lifetime!