Alan Zweig hopes to remind Canada of Steve Fonyo's cross-country run with doc at TIFF
Alan Zweig is pictured after accepting the award for Best Canadian Feature Film for his film "When Jews Were Funny" during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto on September 15, 2013. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)
Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, September 12, 2015 5:45PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, September 12, 2015 5:47PM EDT
TORONTO -- The last time Alan Zweig attended the Toronto International Film Festival, his comic doc "When Jews Were Funny" was named best Canadian feature and won a $30,000 prize.
He returns this year as the sole Canadian entrant in a new competitive lineup called Platform, which the festival describes as a showcase for "films of high artistic merit" and "a strong directorial vision by significant international filmmakers."
Zweig makes the cut with his documentary "Hurt," a portrait of one-legged cancer survivor Steve Fonyo, whose remarkable cross-Canada run in 1985 was overshadowed in ensuing decades by a descent into crime and drug use. He was stripped of his Order of Canada in 2010.
Fonyo himself is expected to attend the film's premiere on Sept. 14 -- 30 years after he raised $13 million for cancer research and was declared a national hero. The Toronto-based Zweig was his usual self-deprecating self when reached by phone to talk about Fonyo's steep fall and his own chances at winning Platform's $25,000 prize.
The Canadian Press: How does it feel to be part of this new competitive program?
Zweig: When I Googled the press release (about this program) it was filled with: "bold artistic vision" and "international this" and "master." It had the word "master" in it and I was like, "Well, this is fun to be considered for this." Kind of like buying a lottery ticket -- then the day you lose you're like, "Well, that was fun fantasizing."
CP: What drew you to Steve as a subject?
Zweig: When he lost the Order of Canada there was just something about that that made the story kind of interesting and tragic and hard to ignore. Because although I understand the motivation of the people around the Order of Canada -- that the Order of Canada is not a medal, it's a club -- (I think) it just seemed kind of, I don't know, like a slap in the face.
CP: What has kept Steve from succeeding?
Zweig: I don't know how he got this way but I think that Steve is always in survival mode. He never gets a breath so he can look at the big picture. I've said this before, that if you gave Steve the choice of: I'll teach you to fish or I'll give you a fish, he would always say, 'Give me the fish.' ... I just think that he never gets out of the hole far enough. And I relate to that. I get it, how you can be like that.
CP: How open was he?
Zweig: He definitely tried to hide some things from us. I wasn't trying to get him to smoke on camera, but at a certain point I realized that he was actually hiding from the camera when he smoked. And I was like, "Of all the things that you've told me, why would you hide that?" And he thought cancer survivors shouldn't be seen on camera smoking.
CP: Does Steve want to attend the screening? Will he be there?
Zweig: I'll be curious how people react but yeah. I think it'll be OK for him. I think it will be OK for him just to have people reminded of his story.
His story is more forgotten than it should be. I think that's a shame, that people don't know who he is in a world where they all know what Terry Fox did. It's a shame they don't know Steve because of whatever happened after the run.
If Terry Fox is a hero for what he did, Steve is a hero for what he did. That's inarguable. As people say, Terry died so his image could never be tarnished. Steve's image has been tarnished, that is absolutely inarguable. But just because his image has been tarnished I don't think that takes away (from what he did). And on that level alone, I hope people remember him again.