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In His Place: Five Questions with Canadian writer and director Albert Shin

On a sun-drenched day in August, before The Toronto International Film Festival had even begun, we had the opportunity to sit down with Albert Shin, the writer and director of the Canadian-Korean film In Her Place, along with his producing partner Igor Drljaca. Shin and Drljaca together make TimeLapse Pictures, and take turns, (Shin produced Drljaca’s 2012 film Krivina. Since we sat down at an upscale midtown tavern, Shin’s film played to rave reviews at the Festival, was selected as a part of Canada’s Top Ten, won the Scotiabank Jay Scott Prize from the TFCA, and garnered seven nominations at the Canadian Screen Awards. Now, the film is set to open on February 13th at the MLT Carlton in Toronto.

Where did you come up with an idea like this?

It was a really long process. I had the location first. It was an old farm that was sort of just rotting away and owned by my family. I thought that it would be nice to set a film there.

(So it was a movie and a restoration project at the same time?)

Yes! I was kind of beating my head against a wall, not making many breakthroughs in terms of the story, and it took me a long time to write it. But I was in a restaurant in Korea, and there was a table kind of like right there, and like a big family, they were arguing over an absent family member’s pregnancy, and they were debating whether it was real or not. Half the table thought it was real, the other was saying “it’s not real, she’s faking it”. That got me thinking that the idea of faking a pregnancy and secretly adopting kids was kind of a big thing in Korea. That argument that was happening at the table beside me, kind of got me thinking about like, when I was a child, my family gossiping. So it kind of got the wheels turning in my mind, and the location that I wanted to film in, and the story started coming together, and fit perfectly, but it sort of took a long time to get there.

Why are the characters unnamed?

It kind of adds to the universal aspect of the story, which is that it is very specific story about very specific people, on a very specific farm. However, what they go through is kind of, at least in Korea, is not that specific: secret adoptions are granted. It’s not about the language or who they are, it is unnamed, and it could be anybody, and it has more of a universal aspect.

Could the title In Her Place be about any of the women?

I wanted to play with the idea of perspective and point of view. So we get to spend time with each character, and sort of see things from their perspective. Let the audience be in different places, so to speak. So it’s ‘In Their Place’, but I kind of wanted to make it about, I wanted each one to have their voice, which is why I made it so singular.

There are a lot of shades of grey in this movie.

There are definitely shades of grey. I wanted to make a film with the idea of no one being right, no one being wrong and people coming together for desperate reasons obviously, in a situation where everything goes according to plan, it’s a situation where I guess that technically everyone kind of wins. But the assumption is that we if all come together, maybe we can all get out of this somehow. We’re trying to create sympathy out of characters that are very flawed.

Is it fair to say that we found the film unsettling?

The film is kind of designed to be a slow burn. You’re not giving anything away, as it definitely has an unsettling conclusion. There’s a visceral unsettledness, and hopefully an emotional unsettledness, which is more of what I hoped that audience would take away.