Lee Demarbre makes movies in Ottawa.
Funny, often violent, gender-bending social comedies with dialogue that sounds like it was translated poorly.
And this week, he's premiering his eighth full-length feature, possibly his most over-the-top martial arts and dildos flick, 'Enter the Drag Dragon' at The Mayfair Theatre, conveniently, the movie theatre Demarbre co-owns and programs.
Shot during the COVID-19 pandemic on a budget of $15,000, the 90-minute movie is a balls-to-the-wall send-up of the kung-fu movies a younger Demarbre watched growing up in Orléans , with gender-bending characters, cross-dressing aliens and mysterious masked wrestlers on the trail to find a missing dog.
“I kick myself because the movie looks like it was made by a teenager, not a 50-year -ld,” Demarbre jokes post opening night party. “It's a thrill to see Ottawa on the screen. I love shooting in Ottawa because it's my hometown, it's beautiful and it's untapped for settings.”
“People used to tell me to make the city look more generic but I love the city too much to do that,” he adds. “When Woody Allen makes a movie, he doesn't disguise New York City. I want to do the same for Ottawa, romanticize the city.”
Ironically, the city that didn't have a native film industry to speak of when Demarbre began making movies, which might have proven prophetic.
This is speculating, but had there been a film industry in the capital, Demarbre might have become yet another competent professional churning out conventional movies. Instead, left alone with his own devices, Demarbre created his own imaginative film language.
For much of the last decade, Demarbre has been developing and directing film projects for major producers including Hallmark, that came with seven-figure budgets and recognizable movie stars.
His career began, like most careers, small, when a teenaged video store clerk Demarbre dreamt of becoming a director like his idol John Ford, Jackie Chan and Russ Meyer. He shot short action sequences that would become like “Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace” and grew into full-length madcap fantasies like 'Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter' and the bloodthirsty 'Smash Cut', films that paid homage to the martial arts, B-movie gore horrors and titillating sex comedies that inspired Demarbre to become a director.
Eventually, they caught the attention of big international filmmakers with offers to direct their films with six-figure budgets and big stars. Demarbre thought he had made it.
There were plans for a new B version of a James Bond's “For Your Eyes Only”; a film with Jackie Chan; an adventure set in Jamaica starring Fred Williamson and Quentin Tarentino called 'Black Kissinger', a horror fantasy 'Cannibal Holocaust' and a new version of the 1929 Harold Lloyd silent 'Welcome Danger'.
It seemed he was living his dream. Unfortunately, virtually every project was cancelled at the last minute for business reasons, sometimes mere hours before shooting. The one film he did manage to complete was 'Summer's Moon' starring 'Twilight' star Ashley Greene.
The experience left Demarbre feeling frustrated and professionally deflated.
“Most film projects fall apart because making a movie is hard to do,” he explains. “It's no wonder nine out of 10 film projects never get done.”
Nevertheless, his big movie experience left Demarbre feeling the need to return to his independent roots.
“After all those failed movies, we went back to making our films the way we used to,” he says. “I have no delusions of grandeur, of making big movies anymore. I know where my wheelhouse is now. I was living the dream back when I was making 'Harry Knuckles'.
No sooner than the partying for 'Drag Dragon' dies down, Demarbre's back to programming offbeat film screenings for The Mayfair and begin developing his next film, the film noir 'Dick Toes'. See their listings on the website www.mayfairtheatre.ca
“Movies are my life,” Demarbre explains. “I direct movies, I show movies at The Mayfair. I share movies with my wife and kids. There's a lot of joy in my life. I want to avoid the negativity of the business. I want to have fun.”