Indie Drama Down Here Exposes the Darker Side of Vancouver

An interview with Dean Wray, the star and co-writer of a movie set and filmed in Vancouver's deprived Downtown Eastside.

By , Columnist

All images are courtesy of Down Here Productions.

Along with the usual selection of Hollywood titles on Amazon.com's list of Instant Video releases last week was a Canadian-made independent movie that probably escaped the notice of most shoppers.

Filmed in Vancouver, Down Here is part personal drama, part detective thriller. Just as important as the film's entertainment value, though, is the exposure it gives to the darker side of one of the most affluent cities in the world. Unlike most of the many productions that are filmed in what is known as Hollywood North, Down Here takes place in Vancouver's deprived Downtown Eastside and was filmed primarily in that area.

Photo_1 2.jpg"It's a crazy place," TMR was told by Canadian actor Dean Wray, who co-wrote and stars in Down Here. "People are not educated on what goes on down there. They are ignorant of what happens there and who's down there. A lot of people down there are not there by choice. When we were filming down there we were really sensitive about being around them because they don't really like people taking pictures of them. They are human beings."

Wray has a strong personal connection with downtown Vancouver and its environs. Having moved from a town of 300 people in the Canadian prairies when he was a child, he quickly adapted to life in this vibrant city and put down roots in its most depressed area that have persisted to this day. "I was never far away from East Vancouver. I lived there, I partied there, I grew up there, I did all sorts of things there," Wray recalled. "I still have the same friends I met when I first came to Vancouver when I was seven years old and these are real solid people. I was riding my bike down Hastings Street when I was 9 or 10 years old. It wasn't as rough then as it is now but it was still the roughest part of town."

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It is a difficult to categorize Down Here because it doesn't fit neatly into a single genre. Although it focuses largely on two detectives hunting a killer, it's pace is more like that of AMC's series The Killing than C.S.I. It succeeds, however, in capturing the grittiness of Vancouver's downtown eastside both in terms of its mood and the story. "The movie is about this detective who is fighting his own demons and what he comes across with his job," said Wray. "He doesn't have a lot of resources to deal with that stuff. There is not a lot of good in this guy's life so when he's out hunting this serial killer who's killing young prostitutes, because of his alcoholism and what has happened to his daughter, he's really on the edge."

Photo_1.jpgWray plays that down-on-his-luck detective and brings considerable emotional depth to a character whose life has hit rock bottom. As an actor he has been appearing on film and television since the mid-90s and has had roles in many of the films and shows shot in Vancouver, including The X-Files, Supernatural, Smallville, Stargate: Atlantis and Christopher Nolan's Insomnia.

Wray conceived of the script for Down Here over 10 years ago and in the interim has intermittently considered trying to turn it into a film. He didn't consider the time was right, though, until he met the film's director and co-writer, Teach Grant. “We were working on set of a Canadian TV show called Arctic Air," he explained. "We were the bad guys on that show. I kind of had him in mind for a part in the movie of Down Here and then I started telling him about it. I talked to the then director about Teach and he really liked Teach and, to make a long story short, the original director backed out or something happened and Teach heard about this and asked if he could throw his hat in the ring as a director. And that's how it started."

Photo_7.jpgLike most independent films, Down Here was a small scale production made on a tiny budget. The movie was shot in only 13 days and while Wray is modest about the results, he only has good things to say about working with Grant and other members of the cast and crew. "It was amazing what we did in that amount of time," he said. "I think back and with the people we had, because of all the skill level we had and the commitment, we pulled off something pretty big. I'm humbled by it."

Wray makes the point that Down Here is not a documentary but it was important to him that it be authentic. He's satisfied that they achieved that. "We wanted to use the streets; we wanted to use Vancouver; we wanted Vancouver to play a character," he said. "I think we captured a feel of that downtown area and that was huge. It's a real slice of life. It's a gritty, hard story. It's not a feel-good film. It's a dark, slow movie. But it builds to something. I think the audience will care about this character because they see some good in him."

Photo_3.jpgAppropriately, Down Here doesn't end with its principal characters finding easy answers to their problems. The filmmakers, however, hope that the film raises awareness of the struggles endured by the residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Accordingly, all proceeds from the film's premiere at Vancouver's Rio Theatre recently were donated to Covenant House, a Vancouver refuge for young people who have fled physical, emotional or sexual abuse or been forced from their homes.

"I am really happy with what we got," Wray said. "It’s a solid little film. It’s not everybody’s bag but I don’t think we embarrass ourselves."

Amazon.com's Instant Video page for Down Here is here.



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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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