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Bessai explores sibling rivalry in Sisters&Brothers

Final installment of family-themed trilogy screens at VIFF

Carl Bessai is no stranger to sibling rivalry.

At his mother's birthday party and family reunion this past summer, the 45-year-old found himself "just givin'er" in a football game against his three brothers.

"I pulled a muscle in my leg," Bessai said. "I'm lying on the ground and you just think, wow, I really act like an idiot when I'm around these people."

The local director, producer, writer and cinematographer and his all-Canadian ensemble cast explore such fraught relationships in Sisters&Brothers, which screens at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Oct. 5 and 11.

Bessai's latest film is the third in his trilogy of family-themed comic dramas, following on the success of last year's Fathers&Sons and his 2008 film Mothers&Daughters.

Bessai had hoped Sisters&Brothers would be hilarious, but he says what comes across more strongly in the four sibling pairings is "the degree of rivalry and animosity between siblings that's just palpable."

Dustin Mulligan (Bessai's 2010 film Repeaters, 90210) plays an actor turned flaky humanitarian who's visiting his Hollywood idol brother played by Cory Monteith of Glee fame. Gabrielle Miller (Corner Gas) plays a sister struggling to help her schizophrenic brother, played by Ben Ratner (Mount Pleasant, Da Vinci's City Hall). A teenager deals with her mother's moods and the revelation of a sister she never knew existed, and two seemingly different sisters battle over clashing views of their father yet eerily echo what each would like to see for one another.

Sisters&Brothers depicts how hostilities intermingle with a yearning for acceptance from those you sometimes hate.

"That's the universal truth," Bessai said. "Boy, [my sister] was a bitch to me last Christmas, but I've got to call her."

Like Mothers&Daughters and Fathers&Sons, the storylines in Sisters&Brothers are a collective creation of Bessai and cast members, including Gabrielle Rose, Camille Sullivan and Tom Scholte, who appear in all three films. Only Scholte's character carries over from Fathers&Sons.

Bessai said the collective creation theatre movement that started in the 1970s inspires him. (His mother was a theatre critic.) He likes to develop relationships with actors so that they can co-create a script and flip the typical film business model on its head.

"As a filmmaker, you spend an awful lot of time navigating the business side of making movies," Bessai said. "By the time you actually arrive at the set, you've got this endless long relationship with some lawyer or some accountant, but you don't actually know the actor all that well. I always felt like, wow, that's weirdly backwards."

Bessai believes giving trusted actors the freedom to explore uncovers more universal truths.

"It's a way to almost kind of work in the opposite way of the sort of big industrial machine that is sometimes soulless and doesn't always necessarily make movies that are relatable to real people," he said.

Comic book cuts break up the action between different sibling sets similar to how proverbs from different countries and related sound effects break the action in Fathers&Sons.

"There's something about the comic book motif that was like this return to a sort of childhood state or a teenage state," Bessai said.

The director of 11 films said he combined well-known local actors with young up-and-comers who are seeing success stateside, such as Amanda Crew, who last year appeared in Charlie St. Cloud with Zac Effron, and Monteith.

"When we had Cory in Toronto, it was a whole other level. You can't go anywhere without screaming girls," Bessai said. "I felt like one of the Beatles. It was awesome."

Vancouver's film festival runs Sept. 29 to Oct. 14, showing more than 375 films from 75 countries at more than 600 screenings. For more information, see

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi