Halifax’s North End stars in the film Noon Gun

Photo: Jackie Torrens

The story for the feature film Noon Gun has been brewing with Halifax filmmaker Caley MacLennan for years. A long-standing resident and former small-business owner in North End Halifax, MacLennan has had his share of first-hand experiences with the neighbourhood. With these stories in mind, he set out to write his first feature-film script.

With Noon Gun, MacLennan tells the story of one dramatic incident experienced by several main characters, each with their own unique take on what really happened. As the writer, director and executive producer, MacLennan went to great lengths to ensure the film was made in the summer of 2014, including crowd sourcing.

Noon Gun received the IndieCan Entertainment initiative program and crowd-sourcing ultimately helped raise $12,225 to help make the film. To create buzz, MacLennan came up with prizes and incentives, even getting a noon-gun cannon tattoo on his neck (documented on Twitter and Instagram) when he hit the 75-per-cent mark. He says that although there are different funding bodies with programs available to support budding filmmakers, it can be challenging if the film’s subject matter is considered controversial.

“Crowd-sourcing is democratic. You can have a crazy idea and then figure out how to promote it,” says MacLennan. “A lot of times with funding organizations there’s a very safe, specific template that they want to see but my belief is that the films we all end up loving are those that push the envelope. The films that stay with us are the ones that tackle those hard topics and complicated stories.”

MacLennan tackles one of those hard subjects with Noon Gun — racism in Halifax. While this neighbourhood is beloved to MacLennan, he is also hoping to honestly portray the very real issue of racism that has existed (from many different angles) despite the area’s growing trendiness.

One of the film’s main characters, Eric Clayton, a young black man, is a law student with a beautiful girlfriend and a promising future. However, Eric comes from humble beginnings and hasn’t gotten along well with local police. As the film progresses, each main character has a different perspective on one key event and what really happened is up for debate. Noon Gun plays with time and perspective and the story follows a non-linear pattern that MacLennan hopes will keep audiences speculating.

“These characters are very much inspired by people I have known, some may be friends of mine and some may not be,” MacLennan says. “These are people I’ve seen around the community. I’ve watched the neighbourhood change a lot over the last 20 years, but the characters I’ve created are ones that I’ve seen consistently.”

MacLennan feels that the more real a filmmaker can make his characters, the more believable they will be to audiences. Beat cops, an elderly woman, a young graffiti artist, a law student and his good friend make up some of the main characters. The North End itself is a central character and MacLennan feels that people the world over can relate to growing up and living in a neighbourhood that can present obstacles.

“The North End can be rough but I think that the perception people just driving through might have is very different than the way I perceive it to be,” he says. “The danger may not lie where some people think it does. There’s a lot more to it than that. So much of it is about accumulated moments and perspectives and the segregation of the city that still exists.”

Noon Gun producer Jessica Brown was intrigued by the project’s theme and was approached by MacLennan to work on the film years ago. When an opening in her busy schedule allowed her to come onboard, she didn’t hesitate. Brown grew up in Ottawa and says was surprised by Halifax’s segregation when she moved East.

“There is a lot of cultural diversity in Ottawa, and most of my friends when I was growing up were from different cultural backgrounds,” she says. “When I moved to Halifax in ’97 I was a little shocked as to how segregated the city still is, and I think it’s important to talk about that. This film touches on the unfortunate residual effects of racism and prejudice, and how there is still work to be done on that front- certainly not just here in Halifax, but in general.”

Music producer and owner of Musicwerkz Media, James McQuaid, grew up in Halifax’s North End but moved away (to Montreal and New Jersey) to pursue his career. McQuaid was a founding member of the Juno nominated hip-hop group MCJ & Cool G and established himself as a sought-out producer for the likes of Foxy Brown and Toots and the Maytals.

As an artist, he toured with Public Enemy, Rob Base and M.C. Hammer, among many others. McQuaid has since returned to the North End and now works as a composer for film and is scoring the music for Noon Gun. As a North End resident, he is excited to be involved with a film that will be set in his community and says that no matter what people take away from it, it’s bound to ignite dialogue.

“When you’re dealing with art, it is our job to ruffle feathers and inspire discussion,” says McQuaid. “That is the whole object of art. Hopefully, whether it’s good or bad it will get people talking about our community as a whole.”

The storyline of Noon Gun allows audiences to understand what may have led each character to their present day mindsets by looping back to the past. McQuaid says he can find something from each character to relate to and also believes that examining issues behind race relations is vital, not just in film but in everyday life.

“It’s something that’s lacking in our society in general—no one wants to deal with it,” he says. “Racism is just as big as cancer and exists all over the world but for some reason we like to avoid it. I think it’s important to try and bring it out and just talk about it and that’s what Caley is trying to do with this film.”

For MacLennan, Noon Gun ushers him into the world of feature filmmaking and he believes that the production will touch on themes that many people can relate to: survival, ambition and hope. He credits a talented cast and crew for helping him realize this dream and in the end hopes that the film will simply shine through poignant storytelling.

“I earnestly believe that this is a story worth telling and I think that is the foundation for great filmmaking,” says MacLennan. “I want to put out a film that has artistic intent and share a story that I think is unique and regional but also has a universal appeal.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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