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Interview: Laura Barrett of Porch Stories

Porch Stories is a lovely film that opens this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, after its run on the festival circuit. One of its stops was the Bentonville Film Festival which, believe it or not, is a festival started by actress Geena Davis to celebrate the diversity of women in film.

The film works in part because of its lead actress, Toronto’s Laura Barrett, who spoke with us from her first press tour over the phone.

A lot of the wonder of Sarah Goodman’s Porch Stories comes from the fact that Barrett is known primarily as a musician, playing on her own, as a part of the Hidden Cameras, and as a member of Sheezer, an all-female band that plays covers of songs from Weezer and Pinkerton. Unfortunately, the band is taking a hiatus in its current incarnation, but Barrett has expressed a desire to continue to play with the other members. Interestingly, Porch Stories stars Barrett as a Kalimba player that “looks like her”, (as she plays the kalimba, or finger piano, in real life too).

Barrett assures us though, that her character of Emma, a woman about to get married when a surprise reunion throws her life into turmoil is not her. The first-time actress inhabits a role. Though the character may have similar attributes, they are not one and the same. Adding to this sense of transposition is that another musician, Jose Miguel Contreras of By Divine Right plays a man from her past. When we ask Barrett if she knew Contreras prior to the shoot, she responded that it was more as “friends of friends”, but that in a surprising twist, one of the former members of Sheezer, Alysha Haugen, has actually gone on to join By Divine Right.

Barrett also divulges to us that her songs in Porch Stories are “entirely original”, and that she enjoyed writing songs for the soundtrack, some along with Contreras. The sense of mood heightened by the kalimba truly fits in with the aesthetic of Porch Stories.

One of the more interesting aspects of Porch Stories is the one that perhaps presented the largest challenge for Barrett, (and, one imagines, to the rest of the cast and crew). This is the fact that Porch Stories was filmed largely, well, on a porch, befitting of the title. The action as meant to take place over one day. Along with twelve hour or longer actual days, the greatest impediment was the weather or a street festival, or the regular neighbourhood goings-on that would impede the rhythm of shooting.

Barrett reveals that the house was in the area of Dovercourt and Dundas, and that filming in the neighbourhood of Little Portugal was integral to the film, (we see why over the course of the movie). When we tell her that this is a similar location to the home from Sarah Polley’s film Take This Waltz, Barrett recounts that she was not aware, (and the landscape of the neighbourhood plays out extremely differently in Porch Stories than it does in Take This Waltz, to great effect). Though she has not actually lived in the neighbourhood, Barrett described some similar intersections in Toronto that feel somewhat similar, such as Annette and Jane, or Oakwood and St. Clair. She has lived in these places, and drew on her experience for the sense of knowing and unknowing that is present in Porch Stories.

Barrett continually stresses to us the importance of the plural in the title of Porch Stories. Though the lead, her story is just one of three in the film, which overlap and direct the drama onscreen. In her previous response, Barrett mentions the universality of the sense of neighbourhoods, the same ideas of gentrification and identity and community, that many of the porches and homes in the city, (or really, any city), can feel like the one in the film. Moreover, each story abuts and often affects another. This sense of unity (and disunity) may be the key to unlocking Porch Stories.

Porch Stories is now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.