TORONTO – Naturally, “Foreverland” director Max McGuire hopes audiences will be engaged by his new film, which tells the story of a cystic fibrosis patient who goes on a road trip to scatter the ashes of a similarly afflicted friend.
But as a CF sufferer himself, the 31-year-old Ottawa movie-maker also feels a responsibility to achieve much more.
“I hope to entertain, I hope to educate on cystic fibrosis and then, best-case scenario, filmmaker-playing-god … if we encourage somebody to look at their life and say: ‘Time is finite, am I living the life I want to live?’ then that is the ultimate satisfaction as a storyteller.”
McGuire — whose sister also has the genetic disorder — is gratified that the CF community has already embraced “Foreverland.”
“They’re the ones. You want to do them justice, you want to do the cause justice,” he said.
“You know every CF person is going to watch it through their own eyes, their experience. … I think we hit the emotional notes. My sister … looked at the script and was involved in my creative decision-making sometimes for authenticity, and I think it rings true to all of us.”
“Foreverland” — which boasts cameos from Juliette Lewis, Matt Frewer and Demian Bichir — pulls no punches in its depiction of CF, which has no cure and is usually diagnosed in the first year of life.
Will (Max Thieriot) has spent his life in and out of hospital. He struggles for air. He thumps his body to break up the mucus lodged in his chest. He consumes massive stacks of pancakes to combat weight loss caused by CF.
He’s also obsessed with a funeral parlour run by a mysterious undertaker (Frewer), as he grapples with the bitter reality that many CF sufferers only live to their mid-30s.
When Will decides to go to Mexico with Hannah (Laurence Leboeuf), the sister of a friend who has died of CF, the pair muse on mortality. And in one memorable scene, they also question why the disease doesn’t have a higher profile.
McGuire — who worked on the script with Shawn Riopelle — puts forth the theory that other afflictions may appear more “dramatic” than CF.
“My mother used to explain to people, you know it’s not exciting because you don’t have that ‘you have two weeks to live’ or ‘two years to live,’ you have a moving spectrum of a median age … but you look healthy often until your last years,” he said.
“Most people look at me and think and say: ‘You look fine.’ And I am lucky to be fine but I can catch a cold that turns into a bacterial infection that knocks me down (with) pneumonia.”
The central concept of “Foreverland” is a familiar one: that life is finite, that there is never enough time. McGuire notes that CF sufferers usually confront that realization earlier than most.
He says older audience members he has encountered at festivals instantly seem to grasp the message of his film.
“People who take the time to come up to you are parents, and … retired folks. They get it. They know what you’re trying to do. They forgive you a technical flaw or two and they understand the theme or the message.”
McGuire initially set out intending to make a “credit-card film,” but the “Foreverland” script soon began to gather attention.
Still, getting the film made turned out to be an eight-year journey for the rookie director, who had previously helmed 2006′s “Crossing the Wake.”
But even when “Foreverland” was languishing in development hell, McGuire didn’t give up.
“The alternative to giving up was having to restart life, so no, I never did feel like giving up,” he said. “Having said (that) it does get hard to maintain hope which is ironic because that’s what the movie is about.”
McGuire is already co-writing his next project with his father, who works as a dentist in the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, he’s getting offers from around the world to screen “Foreverland” at various CF-related events.
“I think it’s a rallying tool, a reason to get people in the room to share experiences and raise money and raise awareness,” said the determined filmmaker.
“For that reason it’s more than just a movie to me.”
“Foreverland” opened Friday in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. It expands to Calgary on June 22.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous name had the incorrect character and actress who goes on the road trip with Will.