SUNDAY JUNE 25, 2017
 
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ZERO FEST STANDOUT: ALEGRA & JIM
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Writer/director James Toback , 67, is notorious for hitting on pretty young actresses and promising to make them stars. While Hollywood sleaziness is as common as Wisconsin cheesiness, his come-ons purportedly reach DEFCON 1 on the creepy pick-up move scale: “I saw you and I had to turn around. I've been following you for 20 yards,” one of the lucky recipients of his fawning gaze told Gawker, which has been on his case before. Toback’s most bizarre icebreaker is his reported revelation that he needs to make an … er… deposit seven times a day.

Miranda Calderon’s short film Alegra & Jim, a dark comedy inspired by her own run-ins with the auteur behind Two Guys & a Girl and Tyson, premieres at the Zero Film Festival in Toronto this Friday at 918 Bathurst.

The tease for Alegra & Jim is that it’s an “icky film” about an “icky subject.” It opens with a blunt conversation between an older filmmaker and a young woman — a coffee shop inquisition into the number of dudes she’s boned followed straightaway by a graphic line of inquiry into the state of her pubic hair.

Impressionable and bursting with ambition, Alegra tolerates Jim's conduct, writing it off as artistic eccentricity.

“In a way this story is about the loss of innocence,” explains Calderon. “You come into a situation with hopes and dreams and idealism and then you realize afterwards that a lot of it is BS and it’s a tragic moment.”

Relentlessly gripping and realistic with acid sharp dialogue (fans of early Neil Labute and David Mamet will be transfixed), it’s easy to buy into Alegra’s naïveté about the director’s immediate intentions. Jim’s candy-dangling guile and innuendo-laced compliments are perfectly encapsulated in one come-on: “I’d like to write a whole new script around you. I’m extremely inspired by you. You have a certain distracted luminosity about you … an erotic loneliness.”

Where it all leads, I won't say exactly but the film culminates in a very disturbing fully clothed activity that at the outset seems as chaste as a Vulcan mind meld. By the end, however, it leaves Alegra and viewers feeling dirtier than a forty-something Miley Cyrus devotee.

Zero Fest Standout: Alegra & JimMIRANDA CALDERON WEIGHS IN ON THE BROADER ISSUES...

What advice do you have young actresses who still believe getting intimate with a director is the fastest track to a film career?

People are free to do whatever they want if that’s going to be what makes them happy. But I would tell women that there are other options, that there are people who don't behave like that, and that they can choose to work with those people.

Do you have any tips for men that have a tendency to pilfer from the sleazy director hook-up playbook?

It would be similar advice. Mainly, an awareness and understanding of what their role is in that equation. There is a certain responsibility that comes with having higher status and clearly more power than someone else in a situation.

Artists are often given a lot more leeway than people in any other profession. They can act socially awkward, get away with questionable hygiene choices and dress however they want, and many of their transgressions are forgiven because, “oh, but he’s an artist so that’s cool.” What are your thoughts on the artist double standard?

In art there’s such an emphasis on creativity and breaking boundaries that can be so fruitful in a performance or a piece of art. I guess there’s a belief that because artists have to do that in their work they also have to do that in their personal lives. I don't think artists should be held to different standards than other people. I think you can treat people well and still make great art.

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