While mainstream cinema has a history of stigmatizing mental illness, Calgary, Alta. filmmaker Paul J. Chinook, promises a progressive contribution to mental health discourse.
February’s Dog, Chinook’s upcoming directorial debut, provides an intimate character study based on the male experience with depression.
February’s Dog follows Dale Walters and Nigel Loggins, two distinct yet archetypically masculine Albertan oil workers struggling with economic catastrophe, unemployment and depression.
Walters, played by Chinook, is a charismatic and optimistic self-made man. Loggins, played by Kevin Davey, is a reserved and calculated military veteran. Both men are laid off following a decline in the Alberta oil sector, which they are assured is a temporary disruption.
However, the protracted economic crisis has destructive consequences in Walters’s and Loggins’s personal lives, threatening to destroy both men and their loved ones.
Chinook said the script is inspired by his own experiences with unemployment.
“In 2015 […] I thought I had my life course plotted out,” Chinook said.
This was until the Alberta oil crash, which Chinook described as “a temporary interruption that lasted three years.”
Through his film, Chinook hopes to share the valuable lessons he learned.
“Make sure that your identity isn’t tied to something that could be taken away from you […] learn to operate with gratitude and accept that things can change,” he said.
Quinn Teechma, a supporting actor in the film, similarly has a personal connection to the script.
“I had been in a relationship where I was dealing with someone who was going through depression, anxiety and job loss,” Teechma said.
The actor hopes the film will illustrate the importance of interpersonal connection in a relationship burdened by depression.
“Talking with somebody and connecting with somebody is what’s going to pull you out of […] depression,” she said.
Discussion of unemployment and depression is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, an unforeseen circumstance which has caused a surge in unemployment across the world.
A poignant reminder of the correlation between unemployment and mental illness, the film will resonate with many grappling with the anxiety and depression borne of indefinite unemployment.
February’s Dog is also a statement on toxic masculinity and mental health stigma. Chinook hopes the film will contribute to the burgeoning discourse on men’s mental health. There is a pervasive cultural sentiment, according to Chinook, that “men don’t have emotions, men don’t want to talk about [depression].”
“We’re supposed to be in control and put on this mask all the time, when [in reality] we’re totally lost,” Chinook said.
Chinook hopes the film will destigmatize male vulnerability and help men to better vocalize and connect with their emotions.
Actor Jill Maria Robinson also echoed Chinook’s sentiments, asserting that the film will help break barriers to progress discussion of men’s mental health in the film industry.
“I think [Chinook’s] breaking the boundaries to talk about men’s mental health,” she said.
“I hope with the film more people are inspired to bring up their authenticity of mental health […] we really hope it makes a difference.”
February’s Dog is currently in post-production, with the cast and crew hoping for a theatrical release in fall 2020.
Luctor Pictures, Chinook’s own production company, has recently entered the 2020 Cannes Film Festival Marché du Film to share February’s Dog with prospective international distributors.
For updates on the film, go to februarysdogmovie.com.