Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John features Langley filmmaker Chelsea McMullan’s friend Shannon Hanmer, and her siblings Michael, Shannon and Michael.

Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John features Langley filmmaker Chelsea McMullan’s friend Shannon Hanmer, and her siblings Michael, Shannon and Michael.

Langley filmmaker sees double

Documentary Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John premiers at VIFF

It’s not often that a great story “lands in your lap,” so when Chelsea McMullan’s friend asked if she would make a documentary on her family, McMullan was a little taken aback.

“She approached me a little bit out of the blue, I was pretty surprised she asked me to make the film,” the Langley-born filmmaker said.

“A story like that doesn’t land in your lap everyday, and it presented a lot of interesting themes that I thought were worth going down the rabbit hole and exploring.”

McMullan’s friend, Shannon Hanmer, had just been friended on Facebook by a girl also named Shannon Hanmer in Thailand.

Even more bizarre, both Shannon’s had brothers named Michael.

The four of them, it turns out, are all siblings.

Their father, once a respected police officer in Hamilton, Ont., became engrossed in crime and fled to Thailand. He started a new family, giving his Thai kids the same names as his Canadian kids, and eventually was gunned down in the Philippians.

“The film is the retelling of his life through the perspective of his different children who are named the same name,” McMullan explained.

“I was really interested in this idea of parallel lives, and having a double and having a different version of you on the other side of the world.

“To film, we used a lot of long drawls and superimpositions to try to create this idea of what it would be like to wake up one day and realize there’s another version of you out there.”

Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) at the end of September, and was featured at the Calgary International Film Festival last week. It will also be aired on Super Channel in 2016.

Taking three years to complete, McMullan admits that making a feature on her friend was uncomfortable at times.

“It was a bit strange, I would have to say. I met her Thai siblings before she met them because I had to make contact with them and make sure they were OK with being in the film,” she said.

“We also wanted to film the moment when they met for the first time. It’s weird meeting someone’s family before they meet them. The whole thing was pretty surreal. Definitely put a strain on our friendship. I had to push her into places she sometimes didn’t want to go or ask her uncomfortable questions.”

It’s a situation McMullan has dealt with before. Her last documentary, My Prairie Home, which won the 2013 Vancouver Film Critics’ Prize for Best Canadian Documentary and a Canadian Screen Award nomination, featured another friend, Rae Spoon.

“I think with any subject in any documentary you have to push them further than they want to go to get anything interesting,” she said.

“It’s just not so common that you’re good friends with them as well.”

Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John is one of two films McMullan featured this year at VIFF, which runs until Oct. 9.

The World Famous Gopher Hole Museum, a short, examines the small town of Torrington, Alta., through the taxidermy gophers in its gopher museum.

“The film is interesting in ideas around legacy,” McMullan said.

“The town, like a lot of small towns in Canada, lost the grain elevators, and the train stopped coming through and to get work a lot of the people go work in the oil fields.

“So the dynamics of the town shifted from a tight-knit farming community to more of a commuter town. But the dioramas represent the ideal version of the town, so as the actual town is shifting, the beating heart of the town is in this museum and it is sort of frozen in time. It wants to explore this idea of why we want to preserve the best versions of ourselves.”

The 19-minute film was shot seven times over four years while McMullan worked on several different projects.

And although the subject matter “could not be more opposite,” of Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John, McMullan says people can always identify her films through her style.

“The subject matters I make films about are so diverse,” she said.

“It’s just got to intrigue me, it’s got to present themes that I’m interesting in exploring. I think my work is more similar formally then it is thematically.

“I think you can tell if it’s a film I’ve made by the way I make it than the subject matter. It has to present something that is formally interesting to play with.”

To see more of McMullan’s films, visit her website www.chelseamcmullan.com.