One of these films is Chalk Dust, the story of a young, deaf girl who is able to hear again through a series of elaborate chalk drawings. It is a unique non-dialogue film that explores the art of human connection on a timeless and multilingual level. As producer, Solomon was responsible for creating a budget, financing and hiring all cast and crew, creating call sheets, booking locations and equipment, and submitting the film to various film festivals.
“The message behind Chalk Dust is an important one. It explores the art of human connection and how words are not often needed,” said Solomon. “The film also provides a short perspective of what it is like to be hearing impaired. Many hard-of-hearing or hearing-impaired people have sensory experiences that are unique to their experiences. For example, in the film, the girl sees the chalk drawings and the image triggers her visceral, multi-sensory memories.”
Solomon had many seasoned professionals working alongside her on Chalk Dust. The director, Will Bowes, is an award-winning filmmaker, musician and actor best known for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and House at the End of the Street, opposite Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence. Select acting credits include Saving Hope, Degrassi, Rookie Blue, Murdoch Mysteries, The Listener, and BBC America's Copper.
“Will Bowes is delightful, smart, and has a warm candor that makes any set feel welcoming. He is also a talented visionary and easy collaborator,” said Solomon.
The film was inspired by human connections and how they can be made without conversation. The two characters, played by Simon Paluck and Abigail Winter, are hearing impaired yet find a way to communicate through other means, like the chalk drawings.
“Chalk Dust came with its challenges, as it was a low budget, high quality production. The decisions that were made to enable this production to succeed were making sure that we could finance the budget. Michelle accomplished this by seeking a small family and friends round of funding. The other way this was accomplished was by partnering with cast and crew. This is an unusual technique on any production, but as Michelle always says: “You don’t have to think outside the box, you just have to realize there is no box.” No matter what the challenge may be, Michelle is always ready to make it happen,” said Paluck.
Solomon overcomes challenges with her sheer determination. Chalk Dust had a micro-budget, meaning many of the crew, cast, locations, and equipment were donation based. As a producer, she says it’s about finding creative ways to not let the logistics impact the quality of the story. She also had to combat the weather. They were shooting in late fall in Toronto, and the rain would wash away the chalk drawings.
“Artistically, the best thing to do was to accept the environmental conditions and, instead of masking them, allow them to participate in the telling of the story,” she said. “Overall, it was a smooth and intimate experience.”
Since Chalk Dust, Solomon has produced other meaningful films. The award-winning film Emma deals with childhood cancer and is raising money for the Make a Wish Foundation, and the upcoming film Sunny Side Up will raise awareness for organ donation. Solomon knows these are important.
“Regardless of the medium, I think story telling is a powerful skill. As a producer, I constantly have the opportunity to expand a project beyond just itself. In other words, some of the works I’ve produced had a call to action that supported the messaging of the narrative,” she said.
Chalk Dust premiered at the Toronto Short Film Festival in March 2015, and has since been shown at Speechless Film Festival in Minnesota, and at the Toronto Deaf Film & Arts Festival. It is also currently being featured at the National Screen Institute of Canada Online Short Film Festival. Earlier this year, Lighthouse Productions optioned the film for Films in a Box at the 2016 Middle East Film & Comic Con. The recognition, Solomon says, is very rewarding.