Sundowners is the latest feature film from Toronto-based filmmaker, Pavan Moondi, who wrote, directed and edited this work. This is his second film at the Hell’s Half Mile Festival, following-up to last year’s hit, Diamond Tongues, which was distributed in the USA and Canada to rave reviews.
The plotline behind Sundowners centers around the characters of Alex and Justin, who both have come to realize that filming weddings is a thankless job. When the pair get a chance to shoot a destination wedding in Mexico, they take the opportunity to escape their sheltered lives; but with their boss playing fast and loose with the details, they’ll be lucky to even find it.
The film stars stand-up comedian and Comedy Cellar regular, Phil Hanley and lead singer of the popular band Born Ruffians, Luke Lalonde. Tim Heidecker) also stars as part of a strong supporting cast primarily consisting of comedians and musicians, including Diamond Tongues star and July Talk singer Leah Fay Goldstein and Islands frontman Nick Thorburn, who also scored the picture.
Despite all the difficulties they encounter on the trip, the film's primary interest is actually in the characters’ internal problems. Alex and Justin aren’t an odd couple, but instead their similarities, such as the way they talk, think, and view the world, reflects a more realistic depiction of most close friendships. The two aren’t particularly special – neither one is all that smooth, nor do they have the ability to talk themselves out of any situation. Yet they're also not really slackers or stoners or losers. They are, perhaps frustratingly so, average.
The exterior problems the duo encounters on their trip to Mexico ultimately result in the characters having to acknowledge the interior problems that plague them. The film has the characters finding that you may never be rich and famous; you may never get the girl; and you may not end up doing with your life what you wanted to when you were ten years old – and that's okay. You can still find a way to get by and you can still find a way to live.
Sundowners moves fast, utilizes improvisation carefully, music freely and effectively with the ability to jump between comedy and drama on a dime and aims to never succumb to the expectations of a traditional narrative structure.
According to Moondi, the inspiration behind the characters stems from a trip he went on to Mexico to shoot a destination wedding in his mid-20’s. “I had been shooting weddings initially as a means of getting experience that I thought would be helpful to establish a career in film, but had continued doing it well past the point of it having any value in that respect. I think I had shot something like 30 weddings that year while working during the week at a call center and I was desperately searching for a way out. I knew as the trip was going sideways that it would be great material for a script, but it took me a couple years to figure out exactly how to tackle it. The film ended up being based as much on the trip itself that I went on as the disillusionment and uncertainty that I was grappling with at that stage of my life.”
“The basic set-up came from real life and a lot of what happens on the trip was based on the true story. Creatively, it took some time to figure out that the film needed to be as much about the main characters and where they are in their lives as much as the trip itself. So, the goal was to make a character-driven film that's grounded in reality, but featuring the kind of story that people are used to seeing in big mainstream comedies, to hopefully surprise them with an unexpected spin on things.”
As for challenges encountered making Sundowners, Moondi says there were several. “It's a small indie film at heart, but was required to be shot overseas, which naturally made things complicated and feel "bigger" as a result. I started trying to get the film made about six years ago and we struggled to even find a producer who was willing to trust a relatively inexperienced filmmaker with what felt like a risky film on paper. We ended up having to make another film locally first instead (Diamond Tongues), and when that had some festival success and critical acclaim we were able to get a couple producers on board who became interested in being involved.”
As for cinematic influences that have inspired or informed his work; and what he feels distinguishes Sundowners and makes it a unique experience for audiences, Moondi references its perspective.
“I thought a lot about John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off and John Cassavetes' Husbands while making this movie,” he explains. “Both filmmakers have impacted my work and approach in different ways. I think Sundowners moves very fast and is extremely accessible - it's not the kind of indie film that requires a Cinema Studies degree to unpack. But at the same time, I think it might make the audience feel things that they might not be used to feeling while watching a dialogue-driven comedy.”