- Vancouver, British Columbia - Garland Chang has two sides. The first is the one you’ll meet at Burnaby South Secondary, walking down the halls, with his head down, silently filing from class to class. He finds this all tedious, and doesn’t mind mentioning it. The second is when he’s acting, whether on stage or in front of a camera.
I saw Garland give a riveting performance as Deputy Governor Danforth in Burnaby South’s performance of The Crucible in 2010. I had certainly met him before through my brother (a fellow student), but when he swept on to stage with that flowing cloak and that dark scowl, I was taken aback. There was an underlying anger I had never seen before, and he spat his lines with stunning venom. And yet once the performance was over, the fire was gone; indeed, the character had possessed him. To this day, I’ll refer to him as “Darth Danforth.”
But is that fiery character who he really is? Garland doesn’t think so. “I haven’t had the most normal of lives, and acting gives me a chance to be things I’m not.” Garland is infected with a passion for filmmaking, and finds happiness when working on fiction. “It’s a way to let out your emotions in a creative way. Movies are just stories that are told from someone's perspective, and boy, do I have a lot of stories to tell.” And when was he hooked on acting? “The very first minute I stepped into the drama classroom in the eighth grade,” he says proudly.
“I'm currently looking for an agent, and hopefully I'll start attending pro classes soon. But ultimately, acting is not a secure occupation and thus I will also be going to university to get a PhD in psychology,” Garland tells me. But not just content with acting, he also wet his fingers in directing. “I don’t like to give credit to a director or anything. Given, I draw from their works, but I have to say that all directors, in the end, inspire themselves.”
And so it was for Garland that in October of last year, his teacher at South proposed something to the class: entering a film contest called Zoomfest. Students from all over British Columbia have 48 hours to make a six-minute film regarding a given theme and object.
“Well...we were given the theme that truth is stranger than fiction. My group had for the past 2 years done comedies, which I was personally sick of. I wanted to make a thought-provoking, heartfelt movie about the guy that no one ever really notices. Or the ones that are made fun of constantly behind their backs. So, my crew sat on our butts and painstakingly wrote out a story over the course of 7 hours, 8 cups of coffee and an extra large pizza...” Garland’s crew consisted of just himself, and his friends Juno and Patris.
“There are two parallel stories about two brothers, Gabriel and Michael, who are relative outcasts in their lives, and decide to end with a bang. To do so, they set up a plan to shoot up their school. In a separate story, Gabriel seems to be typing away on his typewriter. Lastly, a confrontation between the two brothers in a mental hospital occurs. Slowly, the stories unfold to tell the truth of things. Each story can be seen on it’s own or be seen as a group to attain a completely different perspective, and that I believe is the genius of my movie.” And what was the point of this? “I think the film’s strength is that it deals with a touchy subject, but also with something many outcasts have thought of, at least once in their lives.”
The shooting process was also an opportunity to explore methods they haven’t used before and to think creatively. “We learned some very good filming angles that are rarely used, as well as learning not to rely on pothead crew members to show up,” he jokes.
The film was titled ‘Genesis’, and although it didn’t take grand prize, there were some accolades. “It was decently received. One judge (an actor) praised my performance, and another really appreciated the story. I got third place for Best Male Performance.”
With such a success, it was only inevitable that the media teacher wanted to show it to the rest of the student population. “I didn’t have much of a choice. I was rather reluctant in showing my movies, as the vast majority of the students at the school are unfortunate brutes, and cannot take anything seriously.” I had to laugh – I had gone to the same school. “However, my film teacher did not heed my warning and showed it at the school’s media exhibition. There were only three actual films made; all the other videos were PSA’s and such. As for audience, I’d estimate at least 70% of the school.”
Not too long after the showcase, Garland found out the hard way that the school’s administration didn’t like his movie. And what was the first indication he got of that? “When my film crew was dragged into the office and quarantined while our lockers and backpacks were forcefully searched. They believed that because I had made a film about shooting up a school, and used a certain person’s name as one of the unseen antagonists, I was planning a massacre.”
Garland was the director as well as the principal lead, so got most of the attention, including being interrogated by the Burnaby RCMP for four hours. “[My crew] were questioned, but I took credit for the stuff we were in trouble for to save them the grief. They are currently scot-free.”
“The RCMP raided my house looking for WMDs,” Garland says with no irony implied, “and now I am required to report to a school official every month to make sure I’m not insane.”
Garland gets impassioned at this point and tells me exactly what he feels. “Well, first I think it is incredibly stupid and arrogant to be so paranoid. If I make a movie about Superman, does that make me Superman? [The school administration] had nothing but the slightest bit of suspicion, and that was enough to start crossing boundaries. Secondly, the RCMP had no right to search my house. They requested to find a single item in the living room, which then turned to the bedrooms, and the bathroom, then to my computer if my lawyer hadn't arrived in time. And lastly, I thought that the administrators at my school had some hint of integrity, and obviously I was wrong. The fact that they tell me I shouldn't have entered my film because it might make the school look bad? Or that I can't show my movie to students?”
Naturally, we’re not privy to the whole story. I attempted to contact South’s administration, and vice-principal Mr. Tyler in particular, but my calls were never returned. I doubt I’d get very far with the RCMP either. Who is to blame here? It depends on what the police were told. There are very few occasions when the police can raid a home sans warrant, but they do exist. Sadly, Garland and I will probably never know.
Finally, I asked Garland if there was any pre-existing animosity between him and the administration of the school. “No,” he says “but there sure is now.”