Films & Schedules

  • Down to the Dirt

  • Justin Simms

110 minutes

Production Company:
Newfound Films Inc./Darius Films
Executive Producer:
Nicholas D. Tabarrok, Jennice Ripley
Anna Petras, Justin Simms
Justin Simms, Sherry White, based on the novel by Joel Thomas Hynes
Jordan Lynn
Justin Simms
Peter Clements, Harvey Hyslop
Principal Cast: Joel Thomas Hynes, Mylène Savoie, Robert Joy, Sherry White, Hugh Dillon

Canadian Distributor:
Mongrel Media

Tuesday September 0908:45PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Thursday September 1103:00PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 3 Best Bet Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

Joel Thomas Hynes's celebrated novel about a wounded young Newfoundlander struggling to make sense of his drug-infused, not-terribly-promising existence has been given new life in one of the best page-to-screen adaptations of the year. Hynes himself stars as Keith Kavanagh, a bruised protagonist whose life is raw and cluttered with various strained relationships. He is hostile to his parents, yearns for his girlfriend and is eager to leave the Rock, believing his life would be much better elsewhere. This instantly recognizable “I'm outta here” wanderlust will ring familiar to Canadian film aficionados, evoking early classics like Nobody Waved Good-bye and Goin' Down the Road.

Indeed, Kavanagh is a coward, bully and clown rolled into one character, and Hynes delivers a simply staggering performance in the role. When the film opens, he is lying motionless, muddied and bloodied, putting his actual survival into question. In flashback, we learn of his descent into a mad life full of drug dealing, infidelity and torture – there is even an excruciating mercy killing of the pet cat. During one of the more sobering chapters, Kavanagh and his girlfriend Natasha (Mylène Savoie) set out in search of a fresh start. Over several weeks, however, they learn rather uncomfortably that the dirt cannot be left behind quite so easily. Natasha longs to tame Kavanagh and adopt a more reasonable lifestyle, but the boozy, impulsive lad isn't interested.

Booklist compared Hynes's writing to “slinging blood and guts onto a canvas.” To his credit, director and co-screenwriter Justin Simms has not softened a single detail of Hynes's original poetic work, portraying Kavanagh as a complex bundle of contradictions. Although at moments we feel sorry for him, we also see him for the amoral cad he is. Kavanagh emerges as one of Canada's great fictional characters of the past two decades.

Matthew Hays

Justin Simms is based in St. John's, Newfoundland. The co-founder of Newfound Films, he completed the residence programme at the Canadian Film Centre and is an award-winning writer and director. His short films include Ashore (03), The King Hunt (04), Heartless Disappearance into the Labrador Seas (04), Face Machine (06) and Punch-up at a Wedding (06). Down to the Dirt (08) is his first feature.

Cadillac People's Choice Award