Burnt maps and big screens
Director Jordan Roberts brings his vision of Mongolia to Alberta
Jordan Roberts, the director and writer of Burn Your Maps, filmed a good portion of his movie in Calgary and surrounding areas.
Roberts, who also co-wrote Big Hero 6, and the narration for March of the Penguins, came to Calgary as part of the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF), which ran from Sept. 21 until Oct. 2.
“There wasn’t the infrastructure in Mongolia to produce the film we wanted to produce,” Roberts said. “There were film crews there, but they didn’t speak English. It was going to be rough.”
Roberts said many places in western Mongolia closely resemble Alberta, with both regions having a same species of tree, similar mountains and the same elevation. He also used many non-professional Mongolian actors who live in Calgary.
“It wasn’t hard to make the two countries look alike.”
Roberts did, however, shoot lots of establishing and driving shots in Mongolia.
Roberts said the only obstacle they encountered while shooting in Alberta was they couldn’t light a barbecue during one scene due to a fire ban, so they had to digitally add flames afterwards.
Burn Your Maps is a soul-searching journey about a young boy who tells his parents he’s a Mongolian goat-herder, and that he was born in the wrong place, so they must go to Mongolia in order for this boy to discover himself.
The film stars Jacob Tremblay from Room, and Vera Farmiga from Bates Motel.
Roberts said he read the original short story by Robyn Joy Leff, and was so taken with it that he personally optioned a film adaptation of it.
“It was a story about a marriage surviving, and it had at its centre a wonderful young boy who’s questioning his identity,” he said.
“I think most of us don’t come into the world knowing who we are. He started asking that question a little earlier than most people.”
Roberts said that while there are exceptions, adapting short stories to the big screen is often easier and more successful than adapting books.
“You have to take so much out of a novel to reduce it to a film. Sometimes it’s easier to expand a short story.”
Roberts has been working in the film industry for 23 years, and has been directing for 12.
He originally broke into the business by writing the play, At the Still Point. A Hollywood agent read it and asked him to write the screenplay.
Roberts has directed two other features in the past, though he has mainly stuck to writing screenplays.
“I never directed something I didn’t write, but I like both,” Roberts said. “Writing is a solitary practice. Directing is the polar opposite.”
Roberts also said he is able to have more control over his vision as a director than a writer.
“Film is a director’s medium. It’s not a writer’s medium,” he said. “There are no living writers with enough power to guarantee their vision remains intact.”