Once, When I Was Dead (2014) – By Kyle Hytonen

Being an artist, in any form, always comes with sacrifice- a writer can lose hours of sleep over the latest chapter in their new novel, a musician will play until their fingers bleed, an actor will lose their sanity in a performance. It is this undying love for not only practising your passion to its fullest, but also putting your entire existence into your art that is at the core of Once, When I Was Dead, a sombre yet macabre short film of an artist’s inner demons coming out to play.

Amelia (Gabriele Stone) is a down on her luck painter who anchors the film’s narrative. She has just gotten news that her latest gallery showing was a failure and that her work has neither sold nor been praised. She worked hard on the paintings, but what she seemed to lack was the passion that artists like her should have in spades. Amelia seems like this is the beginning of the end of her art career, until Lucy (Tiffany Shepis) shows up at the gallery. She has nice things to say about Amelia’s work, and allows her to vent about the lack of praise for her most recent showing.

Lucy seems very jaded with the art world, but sees there is a spark of hope in Amelia’s work which seems to light a fire under Lucy. She begins telling Amelia a story of an artist not unlike Amelia, who also had moments of artistic despair, but solved that dilemma by creating a piece of art that would forever be remembered, one that ultimately led to the artist’s demise. Once, When I Was Dead then begins a third act that finds Amelia coming face to face with her biggest fears as both an artist and an individual. She will dive into her own darkness, one filled with inspiration, frustration and the blood that flows through her veins.

Once, When I Was Dead is serious business, it takes no time getting to the core conflict of Amelia, and for an 18 minute short, is quite fast paced. The film was obviously written by director Scott W Perry from a very dark but knowing place of his own artistic heart. Perry understands not only his characters, but also the tribulations that all artists experience and also fear. Could this film, with a painter at its core, be a thinly veiled paradigm of Perry’s own insecurities as a film-maker? Who knows, but it makes for some captivating drama. The film, relatively set in one room, is well staged. With the use of fine angles and editing, the film once again succeeds to make it not seem like it was all set in such an isolated and dull atmosphere. Blood plays a pivotal role in the film’s narrative, and there are plenty of excellent make-up effects “spattered” about.

One of the main standouts of the film are the performances from Gabrielle Stone and Tiffany Shepis. Both actresses fit their roles very well and never waiver from the outset. Stone has a very nervous demeanor and plays with her own insecurities and brings them on screen in a very frank manner. Her character is not a very commanding presence, but the vulnerability and almost naiveté she brings forth on screen is very compelling, and makes you want to root for a better outcome for her Amelia. Shepis’ Lucy seems like she wants to do harm to Amelia, with her dark outlook on creativity and how one should push themselves to the absolute limit. What Shepis manages to do is become a strong guide for the next stage in Amelia’s career as an artist instead. Shepis’ performance and character made me think of something that the great Catherine Keener would revel in.

Once, When I Was Dead is a well crafted and executed dark drama with terrific lead performances and an astute message on what art can do to us and what it sometimes drives us to do. A recent winner of the REMI award for Best Experimental Horror at the World Fest Film Festival, Once, When I Was Dead is currently making it’s festival run. More info can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/OnceWhenIWasDead