Alarm Pictures Closes North America on Lenin M. Sivam’s ‘The Protector’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Alarm Pictures has closed North American rights from Hewes Pictures on “The Protector,” the latest film from Canadian writer-director Lenin M. Sivam, in advance of its July 28 world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia Festival.

The U.S. streaming release date is set for Monday, Jan. 23. Limited theatrical openings begin the Friday prior at New York’s Film Noir Cinema and at iPic on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, where the film will run for one week a piece.

U.K. and Ireland rights to “The Protector” have been acquired by Reel 2 Reel Film/Trinity Entertainment. Level Film will release “The Protector” in Canada.

A U.K.-based film distributor that this year picked up Serbian-German actor Branko Tomovic’s folk horror “Vampir,” Alarm Pictures specialises in edgy yet commercial “genre” film titles. That perfectly describes “The Protector.”

Starring Chelsea Clark (“Ginny and Georgia”), it turns on Evelyn, 21, pictured near the film’s get-go hurrying late to work as a server at a local deli past a shuttered cinema theater in the town of Wilfrid, population 6,872, which has seen better times.

Enraged and still suffering deep trauma, Evelyn has been moved from a juvenile detention center to Wilfrid to rebuild her life on probation, in the care of her psychiatrist, Dr. Flora, (Rebecca Jenkins, “Supernatural”) and police chief Gordon (Andrew Gillies, “The Virgin Suicides”).

A book left at her door for her 21st birthday tells of “The Protector,” a god who slaughters those who embrace evil. As she discovers that Wilfrid is totally crime free – 57 people, described as psychopaths, rapists and butchers were killed on the same day nearly five years before – Evelyn becomes convinced that Wilfrid lies under The Protector’s influence.

“The Protector” also toplines Canadian star Munro Chambers (“Turbo Kid”) as well as Jasmin Geljo (“Schitt’s Creek”) and writer-director Pras Lingam (“Kandam”), a line producer on Sivam’s “Roobha.”

The all rights deal was negotiated between Alarm Pictures president Alex Mandell and Laura Leamus, an acquisition executive at New York-based Hewes Pictures, which handles the film’s worldwide distribution. Leamus was supervised by Princeton Holt, Hewes Pictures’ head of sales & acquisitions.

“’The Protector’ is one of our best titles because of Lenin’s talent and direction,” Holt told Variety. “Alarm was the perfect home for this film not only because of their aggressive pursuit of the rights but because of their confidence that the work will resonate with an audience.”

The Protector Courtesy of Lenin M. Sivam

Produced by YN Films’ Muniré Armstrong, whose most recent credits include Milcho Manchevski’s “Bikini Moon,” and Brandon Jourdain in his first producer gig, “The Protector” is a far cry in aesthetics from the sumptuous “Roobha,” but it captures Canadian filmmaker Sivam – who was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka but moved to Canada in 1991 – once more drawing on his Tamil heritage to stand out from the crowd of Canadian auteurs.

Sivam’s 2009 breakout first feature “1991” was set on Toronto’s late ‘90s Sri Lankan gang scene; 2013 follow-up, “A Gun & a Ring,” proved a multi-generational cross-cutter also set in a Toronto’s Sri Lankan community. 2018’s “Roobha” explores the rapturous love affair between a middle-aged married Tamil man and a 20-something trans woman.

The figure of The Protector is inspired by a Tamil myth, which impacted Sivam as a child, he explained to Variety in the run-up to the movie’s world premiere:

The immediate element that sets “The Protector” apart is that it incorporates South Asian folklore. It’s convincing. But is it authentic?

Sivam: I am a Hindu and grew up in a small remote village in northern Sri Lanka which at the time was going through a civil war. Back there we had these primary gods: Ganesh, Krishna and Shiva. You would go to their temples in the middle of the village and ask for wealth, better education, and better life. And we had these other protective gods with their temples at the edge of the village, Kali Maa, Muniappar and Bahirava, scary-looking gods with big eyes and bleeding red tongues. As the war escalated, we villagers didn’t care much about wealth or better education, we wanted protection and we turned to these protective gods. That’s when I heard all the folklores and stories about them, particularly about Bahirava. Then about 20 years ago I read Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” fell in love with it and thought: “Why can’t my village God Bahirava come to America?”

“The Protector” could be described as a coming of age tale in which a young woman who feels abandoned, worthless. learns she has a right to live and carve out her own destiny….

Yes, the central theme of the film is that one should choose one’s own destiny. I don’t like these vigilantes ruining someone’s life for a so-called worthy cause. Who are they to decide the fate of others?  You can trace this back to colonial times, it echoes down history, and still continues. I think people have the right to live in their own way and choose their own fate.

“The Protector” is also a thriller, which is something of a departure for you…. 

I’m a sucker for thrillers and a huge fan of Hitchcock. I wrote this script about 20 years ago and waiting for it to be getting made. Then I met this wonderful person, Muniré Armstrong, not too long ago and she made it all happen.  You are right: My previous films were all dramas and more on the arthouse side.

That has a consequence. Save for a dance scene, the film’s colours are toned down, far from the visual flare of “Roobha.”

Exactly, we gave priority to the story, everything else was secondary. In a Hitchcock film, if somebody’s going to use a coke bottle as a weapon, he’s going to show that coke bottle to you three times before that so the audience doesn’t get confused. ‘Hey, where did that Coke bottle come from? “Roobha” is more aesthetically pleasing with the colours, shades, dynamics moments, and other visual aspects. For “The Protector,” I said, “No,  I have to make sure my audience is glued to the story and that they are with my protagonist all the way.” For this I had to do some sacrifices on my own too, I lost my favourite Bahirava dance scene in the film.

There are scenes of Evelyn hurrying to her job which do seem to use conscious camera placement, shooting her in mid-shot dwarfed by the walls of a closed cinema theater. 

Yes, when she sits on a park bench with nobody around at the beginning, you’re telling the audience that she’s alone. Capturing her walking through this dying city internally reflects that her life also has no hope. There are many symbolic shots like these in the film. But also I shot the scenes between Evelyn and Dr. Flora with coverage: A wide two-shot, over the shoulder, and a reverse.  I knew my actors, Chelsea and Rebecca, were good, so I stuck to coverage to save time because we only had one day to shoot 11 pages. If your actors deliver your scene right then the audience is not going to be bothered by anything else.

Lenin M. Sivam Courtesy of Lenin M. Sivam