Red Letter Day, a film produced by Yellow Door Theatre Project (YDTP) and starring a number of local teens, has been selected as a winner at the New York International Film Awards (NYIFA).
Written by Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Lezlie Wade and Scott Christian, the musical centres around the graduation of the fictional all-girls school High Gate Academy.
While the graduation ceremony is the focus, characters ponder internally about their own personal struggles with identity, sexuality, expectations and loss in the wake of the death of one of their classmates.
NOTL acts as the backdrop for many of the film’s scenes. The old Laura Secord Memorial School filled in for High Gate, while other shooting locations included the gazebo at the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre, St. Mark’s Anglican Church cemetery, Queenston Heights, Royal Oak Community School and Niagara Shores Park.
The NYIFA is a monthly film and script competition with a public screening event held in Manhattan every three months. Their website lists their mission as to celebrate films and filmmakers from all over the world and to act as the next step in their career.
Wade submitted the film in the category of Best Musical following Red Letter Day’s April 4 premiere at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines. It beat Susan Mey Lee Lim’s Teleportation for the top spot in the category for the month of April.
“I am so pleased for Lezlie to be receiving this recognition,” says Yellow Door’s founder and artistic producer Andorlie Hillstrom. “The cast were amazing, the music (by Christian) was brilliant. Lezlie’s writing, direction and editing was superb.”
Wade handled all the camera work for Red Letter Day, which was shot largely outdoors last summer while COVID was still forcing social distancing restrictions. Many of the shooting days were held during the hottest, most humid moments of 2021, but the cast and crew were ecstatic to be involved in a creative project.
Hillstrom describes long, hot summer days when parents drove their children to location and waited around for hours while take after take was completed. Many of those same parents filled seats in the graduation scene in the film.
Wade and Christian have collaborated on a number of projects in recent years, some of which have involved YDTP. Their short film Dead Reckoning included many young Niagara actors in roles. And last year they modernized and adapted the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel into a Yellow Door musical which was performed at the PAC.
The cast for Red Letter Day included many YDTP regulars, such as St. Davids sisters Hannah and Ayla Jamal, Sydney Cornett (who also served as production assistant), Mariah Rackal, Emily Fulton and Catherine Dubois.
Hillstrom learned about the award from Wade just this Monday. She says the recognition from NYIFA is exciting for everyone involved.
“Film is different from theatre,” she explains. “With theatre, you receive an instantaneous response. With film, it isn’t like that at all. There’s a whole process that you have to go through. Once you apply to these film festivals you sit around and wait.”
She describes the genesis of the idea as something that came about over iced coffees in her Old Town backyard. She and Wade were looking for something to offer the teens who were struggling in the middle of the pandemic, unable to gather with friends or, in the YDTP participants’ case, perform on stage or take theatre classes with industry professionals.
She credits Wade for running with the idea and coming up with the script, and says none of it would have happened without the financial support of Lauren and Vaughn Goettler through their foundation.
“It wasn’t easy to do this (the film) right in the middle of COVID,” she laughs. “It was really stubbornness, determination and persistence that got it done.”
Besides the NYIFA, Red Letter Day was also named an official selection for April 2022 at the Golden Bee International Children’s Film Festival in India.
Golden Bee was established in 2016 as a unique film festival focused on entertaining and informative cinema for children. Over its first five years the festival has covered 21 Indian cities across 12 states and screened more than 280 films. The festival is known for choosing films that take on social issues in a positive way.
Though winning the NYIFA award for Best Musical will not result in a public screening of Red Letter Day in Manhattan, the Golden Bee selection will mean that the film will be seen in that country.
“Millions of schoolchildren in India will see this film,” Hillstrom says with pure excitement. “And I know that Lezlie is busy submitting it to a lot of other festivals as well. It’s just incredible that people are responding to this film.”
“I didn’t imagine that this could happen,” she adds. “It’s pretty darn amazing. Our little film has legs.”