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Interview: Nadia Litz talks Hotel Congress

It was a curious combination of enforced limitations and percolating ideas that led to the creation of Canadian filmmaker Nadia Litz’s thoughtful, and as it were resilient Hotel Congress.

Though initially admittedly hesitant, Litz applied to take part in a filmmaking challenge that forced a piece of art to be made from a paltry $1,000 budget. She took it on as indeed a challenge, and the result is a tightly-crafted romantic film that feels both completely natural and free of constraints.

The love story follows a man and woman who are married, but not to each other, as they navigate the emotional and mental compromises and consequences of a potential affair; or perhaps considering it means they’ve already had the affair. Or maybe they were committed when they decided to meet up.

They’re not sure, and neither is Litz exactly, as what follows is a series of fascinating and open-minded (and often very funny) conversations between Sofia (Litz) and Francis (Philip Riccio) as they spend a day and a night at the Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona.

“I don’t like small talk. I like getting to the crux, even when I meet someone new, of how they tick and what they think, how their past has shaped their present, and if you’re put in this position, what would you do?” said Litz during a phone interview ahead of Hotel Congress’s Toronto release on May 30 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

That’s exactly what happens. Instead of a torrid liaison, the rendezvous begins and carries on as a procession of discussions on what it means to be with someone, what it means to cheat on another person, as well as all the folly and energy and reward involved in walking through the complicated and tricky world of romance and love. This dialogue-driven film is a fascinating exploration in issues that aren’t at all black and white.

“I’m very stubborn, but I’m also malleable in terms of my own kind of discovery,” continued Litz, who wrote the script in addition to co-starring and co-directing. “It’s a process, and it is very true that the writing was organic, almost in that I was posing a question as one of the characters, and then the answers were another side of how I felt at various points in my own life.”

A conversation early on in the film, and the first one that Litz wrote, involves the nature of clothing and the differences and connotations that we assign to seeing a friend in their bathing suit versus seeing a friend in their underwear. Discuss.

“At times their philosophies merge and at times they are very different, I feel that is my own understanding of controversial subjects like affair,” said Litz. “At times I’m passionate about it, or on another day, with new information, with time, with a different relationship, I feel a different way.”

Although Litz wrote the film in about three weeks – and shot it only in three and a half days – these were thoughts and ideas that had lingered and festered in her head for some time, and were indeed conversations she had had with her partner Michel Kandinsky, who is also the co-director. These are also conversations it would seem that she had with herself.

“I wanted to handle it with a light touch,” said Litz of the subject matter. We only meet these two characters – we don’t put a face to their others – but we know they are having an affair, or thinking about it. “I think we can get very tightly wound about things that are sensitive and vulnerable to us, and I think there are many sides and I like to consider all sides. I’m both characters, I’m neither.”

The viewer is likely to feel the same way, as Sofia and Francis don’t exactly argue with one another so much as they come back at one another, playing off what the other posits. They speak without condescension, though certainly make fun of one another as well as their circumstance, and at any point during this 80-minute exploration, the audience will fall on either side of the discussion. Or neither. Or both.

“For the ending, there will some people will read it positively,” said Litz, adding that some people naturally won’t. “There’s closure, but we’re also leaving it in the minds and the hearts of the people watching.”

“You participate with your own projections.”

Hotel Congress runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox from Friday, May 30 through Thursday, June 5. There will be an introduction and Q&A with directors Nadia Litz and Michel Kandinsky on May 30 at 8:30pm.

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.