Sofia Banzhaf & Thom Fitzgerald | Splinters

by W. Andrew Powell
Splinters - Sofia Banzhaf and Shelley Thomspon

Splinters is a beautiful, honest, and refreshingly authentic Canadian film that takes you to rural Nova Scotia for a story about family, love, relationships, and the complicated nature of sexuality.

Thom Fitzgerald’s film, that he directed and adapted from Lee-Anne Poole’s stage play, stars Sofia Banzhaf as Belle, a young woman who has to return home after her father passes away. While her relationship with her mother was already strained from her teen years, when she revealed that she was a lesbian, she’s now trying to hide the fact that she’s been dating a man for the last two years.

The beautiful drama is a love letter to rural Nova Scotia, and to mother and daughter relationships. At the same time it has a wonderful language, and understanding for the fluidity of sexual identity, and how that can be difficult for someone like Belle’s mother, played by Shelley Thompson.

During the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival I sat down with Banzhaf and Fitzgerald to chat about the film, and what made Splinters so special for them.

“It was such a beautiful, brutally honest authentic and contemporary portrayal of a mother and daughter relationship,” Banzhaf said, “and it’s one that’s fairly atypical… and the writing was just so beautiful and nuanced.”

For Fitzgerald, the story also was a while in the making, but he realized how special it was, and what it had to share.

“Well, I saw the play in 2010… and I recognized that Lee-Anne [Poole]’s depiction of sexuality as something fluid had become much more mainstream, and so it felt like the right time to make an adaptation.”

“I was really struck by the mother-daughter relationship, and how Belle’s constantly evolving identity was also a constantly evolving challenge, especially for her mom.”

“Coming out is really a million little steps,” Fitzgerald said.

Shelley Thompson and Sofia Banzhaf

At the heart of the film is Banzhaf’s striking portrayal of Belle, and how she relates to her mother, Nancy. The relationship feels so real, and Banzhaf was nervous about not having time to prepare with Thompson, but it worked out incredibly naturally.

“She’s such a giving, generous actor,” Thompson said, “and we didn’t have really any time before filming to get to know each other, so I was nervous; I was super nervous. And we just clicked so quickly.”

Thompson also brings a lot to the film because she’s also a mother, and her son is part of the LGBTQ community. As Fitzgerald said, she brought experience to the film, “and it meant that she understood what it’s like.”

The film has very deliberate pacing, and it really does feel like stepping into the rural east coast, with a 10-minute scene where Bell walks to her home. That scene sets the perfect tone, and while it only last ten minutes, Fitzgerald revealed that it actually took a week to film.

As far as the adaptation from Poole’s stage production, Fitzgerald had to make some changes, but it’s focused on the heart of the original story.

“It was a very intimate stage play, and it all took place in the kitchen, and really focused on family dynamics, and I knew the film would have to open up to include the broader family–those wacky aunts and uncles and then the community at large–because Belle’s identity, and her self-doubt in some ways, is actually based on her interaction not just with her mom, but her home town, and how she felt she didn’t fit in.”

When the film finished, it also left a mark for Banzhaf. It was such an intimate set that it made it very special, and in the end, “coming back to Toronto was a bit of a rude awakening after that.”

Splinters has screened at a number of film festivals since it premiered at TIFF, and you can now watch the film at home until November 30, 2020.

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