A promotional photo of Suza Singh
Suza Singh | Photo: Jager and Kokemor Photography

Suza Singh

Creativity is as much a part of everyday life as it is to her professional one

Stephen Hunt

Action film director and screenwriter Suza Singh was preparing to make her third film when she had an epiphany.

Suza, who’s also an actress, teacher, and mom in addition to being a screenwriter, composer, and director—emigrated to Canada from the UK in 2006.

She’d shot parts of her first two features, Future Shift (2014) and Replecan (2017) in locations worldwide, but the more she climbed on planes in search of her next exotic sunrise, the more it dawned upon Suza that where she lived was pretty exotic, too.

“I didn’t realize that I loved westerns,” she says, before listing a few favourites, including Tombstone, 3:10 to Yuma, and every Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.

As she entered pre-production for her third feature, Honourable Sin, Suza realized Alberta presented all sorts of visual opportunities that she had never really considered before.

“I’ve always loved epic movies, like The Revenant [shot in Kananaskis country]—all the scenery—and we have it right here in Alberta,” she said. “So I said to myself, I better be an intelligent person and incorporate what we have on our doorstep!”

Cut to Honourable Sin—which Suza admits sounds like a contradiction in terms—but only because of another lesson she learned from making those first two action films.

The main takeaway, she realized, was that contradictions in terms are exactly what helps filmmakers create memorable characters.

Hence Honourable Sin, a crime thriller that delves into the phenomenon of rural crime.

“It’s really an investigation into the persona and how in our brains, sometimes, we just need a quick label—good guys or bad guys?” she asks. “But what if there are no good guys and bad guys? And that’s been a theme in my last couple of movies.”

The other stereotype Honourable Sin tackles is the notion that the countryside is serene, idyllic—and crime-free.

“48% of all crime happens in the inner cities, but where’s the rest of it?” Suza asks.

As it turns out, rural crime has become a hot topic in Alberta—making Honourable Sin feel that much more timely, Suza admits. Although the ripped-from-the-headlines nature of it is more of a coincidence than a choice, she adds.

Honourable Sin has been buzzing around for a little bit,” she says, “but I was really surprised and shocked that there’s been a lot of reports of rural crime in the media lately.”

Suza’s creative life doesn’t stop when she leaves the set, either.

That’s partly out of necessity, as she home-schooled her daughter.

“She was bullied in school, and had difficulty with dyslexia,” Suza says, “So I asked, what can I do creatively to help her, and that involved doing rap songs about Pythagoras theorem,” she says. “Basically, every time we talked about Pythagoras theorem, she had to stand up and do a little dance to help her remember it.”

For Suza, creativity is as much a part of everyday life as it is to her professional one.

“All those rituals contribute to living a creative life and being creative—keep testing myself, saying I have to learn something here.

“It’s about living authentically, and doing daily what you love,” she continues. “One of the things I do think about a lot is how can I make this fun? That’s one of the ways I keep going creatively, not just in my creative endeavours, but in my usual, daily things that are not related to film work or anything like that.”

In her professional creative life, she aims to push herself into areas that stretch her, artistically. For Honourable Sin, that has meant creating a UK version, a US version, and a television version.

Suza’s films have never been screened in Calgary but a teaser was recently screened by CSIF. She spoke on a panel at Femme Wave, but her most recent film, Replecan, had its world premiere in Las Vegas.

However, when people are asked where’s home, for Suza, it’s Calgary—since 2006.

“I used to say, I’m going home for the holidays in the UK, but in the UK, I say, I’m going home now! After about 10 years, the UK is mom’s home!”

And if home is a bit of a fluid situation, so is Suza’s preferred mode of expression—for as much as she loves writing, producing, and directing films, when she gets bored of doing all that, she relaxes by writing the musical scores. For Replecan, she wrote 30 different tracks, and discovered that the songs and beats actually helped dictate the rhythm and pace of the film on screen.

And if matching music to film to help tell a fluid story about characters who are both bad and good and complex represents a creative life lived to the max, Suza says that’s a muscle the world needs to flex more.

“That creative engine that we all have, I feel is going to be very important in solving all of the issues that we have in the world,” Suza says.

“It’s almost like a public service to be creative, because we need everybody’s brain power to move to a world where no people are hungry, to a world where there’s no homeless people.”

About The Storytelling Project

On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

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Have a story to share? Email us at submissions@calgaryartsdevelopment.com.