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York Region Artists With Impact: Sean Cisterna

York Region Artists With Impact: Sean Cisterna

01 February 2017  

Sean Cisterna is a York Region-based film director. He directed the YTV musical King of the Camp. His 2011 feature film road trip comedy Moon Point played the international festival circuit to great success, winning several awards. His 2015 project Full Out, starring the iconic Jennifer Beals, is a feature based on the true story of gymnast Ariana Berlin, and is currently on Netflix worldwide. He is currently working with TLN Television/Corus Entertainment on he new preschool series My Name is Ripley, to be broadcast nationally in 2017.

Kiss and Cry is a romantic drama based on the story of Carley Allison, a promising 18 year old figure skater and singer who made medical history in her fight against a rare 1 in 3.5 billion type of cancer. The film stars Luke Bilyk, Chantal Kreviazuk, Naomi Sneickus and Sarah Fisher as Carley. Sarah Fisher and Carley Allison were best friends in real life.

Click here to wach the Kiss and Cry trailer >>>

We had the privilege of speaking with Sean about his upcoming film and his experience as filmmaker. 

Q: Tell us a bit more about Kiss and Cry and what compelled you to make this film.

A: I was introduced to the story of Carley Allison through Sarah Fisher, who was one of the leads in my last feature Full Out. Sarah and Carley had been real-life best friends, and when Sarah told me about all these remarkable achievements that her friend accomplished while dealing with her illness, I wanted to get involved. Carley had made national and international headlines with her rare cancer, she was a exceptional singer, an elite figure skater, and she had just found her first true love in her boyfriend John – all those qualities just made for a compelling script. Ultimately I knew that Kiss and Cry could be a powerful motivational tool to those dealing with similar circumstances. And when I met Carley’s wonderful family who assured me that their daughter would have wanted this, there was no turning back.

Q:  What were some highlights from working on set with cast and crew?

A: There were numerous highlights! First, we landed Chantal Kreviazuk to play one of the lead roles as Carley’s mother, May Allison. Chantal is such a prominent figure in our country’s musical landscape, so I was thrilled when we met for lunch to discuss her role in the film. We also got to film a first-date scene with a baby lion – as an animal lover, that was one of the best days on set, especially when the handlers let me hold the lion. And, I gotta say, after years of producing on my own and with limited partnerships, it was a welcomed experience to produce the film with Telefilm Canada, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and pay-tv broadcaster, Super Channel, all of whom came on board to support the film financially before it was even shot. Their support ultimately yielded the best cast and crew a filmmaker could ever ask for.

Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered when making this film and how did you overcome them?

A: The biggest challenge in making this film by far was accessing the locations. I wanted to keep as true to Carley’s story as possible, and didn’t want to sub-in fake locations for the real ones. So we set our sights high and begged, begged and begged to be able to shoot in hard-to-access locations, like Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the Toronto Cricket and Skating Club. However, as much as there is red tape at each of these locations, when you mention the name “Carley Allison”, it helps open a lot of doors.  We never would have been able to access these locations on any other production, guaranteed, but since Carley had been treated at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, the CEO Paul Alofs granted us access to be able to shoot a few scenes in their chemotherapy rooms. The Toronto Cricket and Skating Club is an elite private club where Olympians train for skating gold, and the skating coordinator there fought hard to help us shoot key ice scenes there, as Carley was a member of the club. As difficult as these locations were to access, nothing was more challenging than shooting Sarah (as Carley) singing the national anthem at the Air Canada Centre in front of 18,000 fans – but the Maple Leafs organization and the NHL granted rare permission for us to bring our cameras onto the ice for 2 minutes during a live game and we got the scene.

Q: What role do you think filmmakers play in our community?

A: Every filmmaker approaches the craft differently, but I think we have a duty to present stories compassionately and capture the feelings, moods and settings of the day in the most truthful way possible. And if we can highlight our own stories, like that of Carley Allison’s in Kiss and Cry, and it strikes a chord both inside and outside of Canada, it only strengthens our appreciation of the arts and culture.
Q: Why York Region and the GTA? You have achieved a lot in your career as a filmmaker and are very involved in Richmond Hill and York Region when larger film industry markets are not too far away. What is it that keeps you here?

A: I’m not sure it’s so important to be in Los Angeles if that’s what you’re referring to. I mean, we have talented actors and crew here in Ontario, along with ample studio space and a variety of locations. We have friendly and helpful organizations like the Ontario Media Development Corporation and Telefilm Canada, who will contribute funds to a project if all the proper elements are in place. Kiss and Cry might not even exist if it wasn’t for a bit of seed money from the Town of Richmond Hill and the Mayor’s Endowment Fund for the Arts to help develop the first draft of the script. And we can edit movies on our home computers. Sometimes I’d FaceTime my editor Michelle Szemberg late at night and I could work remotely from my place in Richmond Hill to her office in Toronto. Technology has made it very easy for filmmakers to make their films – but it also has its downsides with piracy being so rampant.

Q: If you weren’t a filmmaker, what would you do?

A: Oh, man, I don’t really have any transferrable skills! I’d love to do some form of branded entertainment. There are some really cool initiatives being undertaken by large corporations like Red Bull and RBC, who are creating custom content for their audiences that align with their brand messaging. I think that’s the way I’ll head if the film industry just implodes. 

Q: Is there anyone or anything in particular that inspires you to make the work you do?

A: There isn’t a guiding force other than what I’m currently experiencing in life. Once I become obsessed with a subject, I know it’s going to be a compelling project for me to devote my time to. For instance, I’m working with my writer friend Rob Lazar on another true Canadian story. It’s about how this little low-budget late 1970’s TV series filmed in Hamilton, Ontario became a cultural phenomenon, and the characters that risk everything to make it – that show was the Hilarious House of Frightenstein, which you may remember. It’s a character-driven film about a series that many kids of my generation grew up watching. And the most interesting part of it is working with one of the show’s original creators, Mitch Markowitz, who’s an amazing individual full of enthralling stories.

Be one of the first to watch Kiss and Cry!

Kiss and Cry – York Region Premiere
Tuesday, February 7th at 7:30pm 
Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts

Cast and Filmmakers will be in attendance for a special Q&A following the film.

Click Here to Purchase Tickets >>>

Kiss & Cry Movie Stills:

Follow to story of Kiss and Cry:

Facebook @kissandcrymovie
Twitter @kissandcrymovie
Instagram @kissandcrymovie

Connect with Sean:

Facebook @seancisterna
Twitter @seancisterna
Instagram @seancisterna
Linkedin @seancisterna


The York Region Arts Council is a non-profit, charitable umbrella organization that serves to advance, promote, represent and connect the arts community across the region.

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