“I am an eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, I am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see” – Dziga Vertov
Part one: Inception
The name “EyeSteelFilm” pre-dates the actual formation of the company by almost a decade. At the time, Daniel Cross was finishing his Master’s at Concordia University and working on his debut feature The Street: a film with the homeless. The film was being shot on 16mm film for zero budget, and one way or another, he borrowed, scavenged and ‘liberated’ 16mm stock in order to film the homeless people he was meeting around the Guy-Concordia Metro station: Danny Claven, John Claven, Danny O’Connor and several others.
During a late-night brainstorming session, fueled by Wild Turkey brand Whiskey, Cross suggested that if he had a film company one day, they would answer the phone by saying, “Hello, I Steal Film”. Based on a play on words of Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye (Vertov’s idea of a human’s evolved metal-eye) the moniker was morphed phonetically to “Eye Steel Film”. Laurin, a visual artist and designer, made up business cards emblazoned with the modus operandi-as-company name. However, it was suggested that the name might not be the best to elicit trust from funding agencies. The cards were stowed in a desk drawer for many years, filed under overall bad ideas.
Six years in the making, Cross’ film The Street: a film with the homeless was released in 1996 and earned international praise, playing in festivals as diverse as the Mumbai International Film Festival, Russia’s Message to Man Festival and winning the Hot Docs audience choice award.
A short time later, Cross screened The Street for a documentary class at McGill University. This is where he met Mila Aung-Thwin, a student in the class. The powerful film immediately diverted Aung-Thwin’s career plans, who then decided to join the glorious path of the “kino pravda”. Aung-Thwin signed up to intern with Necessary Illusions (Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media) the company that had helped produce The Street.
For his next film, Cross chose to continue his exploration on homelessness, this time from the vantage point of a much younger generation. During the time he’d been working on The Street, the homeless were mostly alcoholic older men: “winos”. But since the completion of the film, he noticed a new wave of homeless: teenagers, boys and girls, punk kids announcing their poverty in the middle of the street squeegeeing windshields for spare change. Montreal youth drop-in center Bon Dieu Dans la Rue ran a nightly volunteer outreach team that drove around the city in a donated Winnebago handing out food, coffee and blankets to street kids. Cross focused his vision on researching the phenomenon by volunteering aboard “the Van” for over a year. This is where he met Eric “Roach” Denis, a young squeegee punk with ambition. Roach was given a camera, the “Roachcam”, and they began planning out the film S.P.I.T.: Squeegee Punks in Traffic.
One day, Cross convinced Aung-Thwin to come with him to Bon Dieu Dans la Rue (lured by the promise of a free hot lunch) and introduced him to Roach, and it turned out that Aung-Thwin and Roach had been born in the same hospital and had attended the same high school. Aung-Thwin started off by taking still photos of squeegee kids in action, and they were good enough that he eventually became the film’s cinematographer.
In order to complete S.P.I.T.: Squeegee Punks in Traffic, Aung-Thwin also had to learn how to produce films, and they had to form a production company. Searching for a name, Cross remembered his old business cards and pulled them out of the drawer. Aung-Thwin convinced him the name made sense and “EyeSteelFilm” was officially incorporated.
EyeSteelFilm finds an office; A young Concordia student named Brett Gaylor comes on board as an assistant editor with a dream (again, on an internship); SPIT: Squeegee Punks in Traffic is released in theatres across Canada and Roach becomes a celebrity/filmmaker; Anuj Khosla comes on board and catches up on several years of administration and bookkeeping; Halima Ouardiri brings her festival experience and creates a distribution arm; Yung Chang takes an epic, inspiring trip with his grandfather to China. Stay tuned!