Standing on 80 acres of land owned by his friend in Manitoba last April, Cree actor and director Erland Campbell had an idea – let’s film a western.
Equipped with nothing more than a digital camera and a .16 gauge shotgun, Campbell and his friend filmed Revenge On the High Plains, a short that debuted at the ACTRA Short Film Festival at Montreal’s Rialto Theatre on October 10.
The story focuses on a man who intends to seek vengeance on the person who killed his family.
The video, even by short film standards, is brief, with only a three-minute run time from the opening to closing credits.
Campbell appears on screen and speaks into the camera explaining to the audience what happened. The film ends with Campbell shooting the gun into the air and uttering the famous Hollywood western line: “You better run, you yellow-belly.”
“I always wanted to do a western so this was in a way cathartic for me,” explained Campbell. “Nothing was planned. It was a very simple storyline and (the closing sentence) was just a take on the old southern-American saying.”
Having spent his childhood living in various places across Manitoba, the 55-year-old Campbell set out to see the world when he was 17, spending time in California and England. Experiencing a variety of cultures shaped Campbell into the person he is today and influenced his career aspirations as an artist.
Campbell has appeared in a variety of films, most notably a brief spot in the hit Hollywood movie 300. A jack-of-all-trades, Campbell also teaches ballroom dance, has been in a band and works as a communications professional.
He joined ACTRA, the Canadian actors’ union, six years ago and has been living in Montreal ever since. He always needs to keep busy with his acting and filmmaking. As he points out, it is almost like an addiction not only for him, but for other performers too.
“I remember seeing a study that showed actors (and other forms of artists) had the same brain chemistry as drug addicts,” said Campbell. “We always have to feed that addiction by performing, whether it be acting or dancing or singing.”
The need to be constantly performing was evident at the ACTRA festival as Campbell appeared on screen twice that evening. He also played a role in another short entitled Eupnea, which won the jury’s pick for best film at the festival.
Eupnea tells the story of a young professional woman haunted by the death of her sister, who drowned when she was a child. Campbell plays the role of a spiritual leader who tries to help the main character find inner peace.
The ACTRA event was a chance for many actors, like Campbell, to celebrate the short films they had created throughout the year. Many of the films are not intended for commercial release and the night was more of an opportunity for the acting community to share their work with each other and their friends and family.
“Most of the people there don’t care who the audience is,” said Campbell. “They are just looking for the opportunity to create and show their work to others.”
Campbell was pleased with the reception of both films he appeared in. He is also hoping to continue working in the western genre.
“I have another friend who owns a rifle and a horse,” he said. “I’m thinking we can do something with that, only next time make the film a bit longer.”
Campbell has not yet decided whether or not he will be entering Revenge On the High Plains into other festivals.