Red Deer College Motion Picture Arts grad Carlee Ryski landed the ‘Best Performance by an Alberta Actress’ award at the Rosies last month.
The annual gala for the Alberta Film & Television Awards brings out Alberta’s brightest stars and industry professionals to celebrate the year’s best in production. More than 50 Rosie Awards were presented, recognizing excellence in all aspects of Alberta’s screen-based content.
Ryski’s award-winning performance was for her role as Grace in the Guerrilla Motion Pictures film On the Rocks. She was nominated by the team at Guerilla Motion Pictures including Justin Kueber, writer and producer of On the Rocks, and Sam Reid, cinematographer and editor of the film. On The Rocks was shot in the Badlands and follows two teens who run away from their troubled homes to take on a life on the road.
“It’s actually on the festival circuit right now,” explained Ryski, 24, from her home in Vancouver. “Grace is one of my most favourite characters that I have ever played - she has just a ‘joie de vivre’.
”You also really get to see her evolve into the woman she is meant to become,” she said. “You see her grow into this full person on her own. It was a pleasure playing this part.
“It’s a coming of age drama that explores the loss of innocence, the destructive nature of man and environmental preservation,” she said. “It’s a strong message and it’s a strong story, with the ‘light-heartedness’ of seeing these two kids grow up and run away from home.”
Ryski was born in St. Albert and began performing at a young age. “Every since I was really little, I was always putting on a show,” she said with a laugh. “I started out singing and dancing, and I think it was just one of those things that I’ve always known. I haven’t really questioned it. I just love performing, and I think that has always been. My family tells me that I was always just a ham!”
Her experience also stems from an early introduction to voice and music, eventually leading into her participation in local musical theatre troupes. “I did a lot of summer camps and workshops,” she said, reflecting on her early days of exploring acting. “I really always enjoyed studying it in the form of extra-curricular activity, too.”
She eventually attended RDC’s Motion Picture Arts Action program from 2012 - 2014. The study of the film industry had appealed to her for a long time, and RDC’s program offered an ideal chance of exploring work both behind and in front of the camera.
And although she has a love for theatre, there was just something about film that really clicked. “Film kind of had me in a way that theatre never did,” she explained.
“RDC also really meshed those lines between what was a dream and what was actually tangible and available,” she said. “It also laid a foundation for me to be able to work towards this being my reality. It helped with that transition with having more of a theatre background to really ‘hands-on’ film study.
“One of the great things about the program specifically is that they make sure you’ve tried every position on set - it’s so valuable. It helps you not only get an appreciation for everybody, but I think when you have a better understanding of everything that’s going on you can do your job better,” she said.
“You also can get out of the program what you want - you can be as active or as inactive in it as you choose to be,” which is a perfect way to prepare freelance artists for the at times challenging efforts of finding steady work. “I felt very supported, but I felt very challenged.
“It was amazing - I was challenged in all of the best ways.”
During her time in post-secondary, Ryski was involved in the production of Under the Acorn Tree (2012), which won Best Short Film at MOAB International Film Festival in 2013, People’s Choice Award and Best Dramatic Short at Edmonton Short Film Festival. Other works include CBC’s documentary When the Devil Knocks (2010).
As to On the Rocks, Ryski said learning of the nomination was a joy in and of itself.
And winning the award of course amplified those feelings much further.
“To just be in this room with all of these insanely talented filmmakers there - regardless of the nominations - was just so cool.”
For Ryski, there simply is no other line of work she can imaging pursuing.
“It’s about keeping your emotions readily available,” she said. “I also consider myself so lucky that I’ve found something that feeds me in a way where I don’t feel like I ever need a vacation,’ she said, adding that being on a set for 18 hours simply doesn’t feel like work at all.
“The best days of my life are the days that I’m on set.”