(GEN OLIVER PHOTO: Kevin Hartford, left, directing ‘Tato Crisanto (“Yvonne), right.)


Navigating the jump from shorts to features without funding is not easy-peasy, but with 10 short films under his belt and a team of close friends at his side, Kevin Hartford is driving full speed ahead with his debut feature film, Lemon Squeezy.

The film follows a young gay man who gets rejected by a straight guy for prom, which triggers a biblical apocalypse. It is narrated by God, who is generally a jerk and trying to turn the film into a musical. The film explores the stories of the young man and his family under a thick layer of dry humour.

Kevin has never been one to sit around and wait for funding. Instead, for the past 6 years, he has aimed to make a short every year, usually filmed over a weekend in his own home or a friend’s home with about $500 of his own money.

Last year, he had the idea to approach making a feature with the same mindset and method as his shorts. Filming this feature would be like filming several shorts back-to-back, spreading the 10 shooting days across several weekends.

“I hope that despite obstacles and limitations, people realize there is nothing saying that you can not or should not make a feature,” he said. “If you have the drive and passion, then go for it. You do not have to wait for Canada Council, Telefilm, or Nova Scotia Arts to give you permission to do something. You can just go do it.”

To make that work, in exchange for not getting paid, all cast and crew own a percentage of the film, and shooting happens when nobody has to make sacrifices or take time off work. He schedules around his DP, Tim Mombourquette, and next finds out when people’s homes are available to shoot in and runs those dates by the cast.

“Then, by some weird magic, everyone is alright with the 18th of July,” he said. “Except now it is supposed to rain all day and we are filming outside.”

I joined them on that third day of shooting—it was a rain-free but humid afternoon and everyone was grateful for the air-conditioned home and miniature fans that Kevin provided.

Kevin’s favourite part of no-budget filmmaking is getting to work with his friends, always finding new ways to involve more of them. That camaraderie was palpable on set as the friendly conversations between takes drifted between the ideas of legacy-making and personal artistic journeys. 

When it came time for them to shoot a silly, improvised dance scene, finger-guns were flying and the entire room tried their best to stifle the eruption of their laughter until after the cut, with partial success.

Though laughter is a consistent presence on Kevin’s set, the no-budget method comes with its stress. Even if you make a film for ‘free,’ food is $200 a day and hidden costs like anti-shine makeup and $36 pocket New Testaments sneak up, he explains.

Kevin’s solid foundation of short films helped him develop the confidence he needed to handle the pressure of being his own producer on a feature film, and he highly recommends learning through shorts to other aspiring feature filmmakers. 

“I am always surprised when someone does one short and then they do a feature—I always wonder how you make that transition so fast,” Kevin said. “It was not until my sixth or seventh short where I finally felt like I had a bit of a handle on how this works and was getting what I wanted. I needed to get to that point before jumping into a 10-day, big feature-length project.”

Making these shorts taught him how to write for a budget and specific locations. Tailoring his film to fit his constraints and using that as a creative launching point has been integral to Lemon Squeezy.

(GEN OLIVER PHOTO: Kevin reviews lines with Garrett G. Barker (“Larry”), left, and Jessica Barry (“Sarah”), right.)

This solid foundation has also allowed Kevin to dig deeper into the stories and themes that he loves to explore. Increasingly, he has become aware of the effect consuming queer stories has on him and his films.

“In the past year, from making an effort to read more LGBTQ+ fiction, I’ve realized how much more invested I get when there is a gay character,” Kevin laughed. “It’s the most blindingly obvious thing in the world but it took me this long to figure it out.” 

He constantly finds queerness in parts of his stories that he was not aware of inserting—it flows freely through his writing, thematically surfacing time after time. Filmmaking, for Kevin, is an opportunity to tell the stories that he wants to see in the world.

“We are at a point in history where people want diversity, and I do not mean to check off a checklist, people want to see stuff that is authentic and unique,” said Kevin. “The more personal something is, the more it will strike a chord with everyone else. When I look at old movies and comics and see that it is an entirely white, straight group, maybe with one kooky, gay best friend, I can’t believe people got away with doing that for so long. How completely boring were things back then?” 

Last week, the news broke that Kevin has officially received Telefilm funding for his second feature film project, To the Moon. After years of putting out short films without waiting for funding, he’s finally making something with a budget. 

To the Moon is the story of Sam, a single dad struggling to come out of the closet at the age of 40, his daughter Ella, who is adjusting to life as the new kid in school while frequently acting as a parent to Sam, and their neighbour Claire, an aspiring writer who finds inspiration in this unique father/daughter dynamic. All three are trying to stop the moon from crashing into the earth. 

With a second feature secured before his first has finished filming, we are about to see a lot more of Kevin Hartford.

“I would encourage anyone who wants to make something to just do it,” Kevin said. “Because making something is the hardest part. It is not the prep, or getting approved. It is actually having the drive to accomplish the goal you set out to do.”


Gen Oliver (she/they) is HIFF’s 2021 Festival Assistant. They are a Halifax-based film lover and creative who studied Cinema Studies, Contemporary Studies, and Gender Studies at the University of King’s College.