The Boy in the Woods is a well-made and entertaining movie, based on a true story. It’s a story that needs to be told more now than ever.
We subsequently had a chance to sit down with director Rebecca Snow and lead performer Jett Klyne at the Whistler Film Festival (WFF).
HNMAG: You came from the UK from the documentary world, then moved to Canada. What was the driving force behind that move?
Rebecca Snow: I’m half Canadian, I just sound English because I grew up there. My Mum’s Canadian, I’m very proud of her because she ran the CBC London bureau for many years. I have always spent a lot of time in Toronto. After working in London, I wanted to try somewhere else and since I love Toronto, I went there and it was supposed to be for a year. I met my husband and the rest is history. I stuck here.
HNMAG: I keep telling people to see The Boy in the Woods because for me, even though I’m agnostic, as a Jew, it’s very important. Especially now with what is happening around the world, we need to understand our history and combat hate.
Rebecca Snow: Absolutely. I think there are such important lessons drawn from the Holocaust and in terms of racial hatred, film is an amazing medium to be able to tell historical stories, in this case from the Holocaust. I started this as a documentary.
HNMAG: You were planning to make the movie as a documentary when you met Maxwell Smart, not Agent 99 but the man who chose that name more than a decade before the American Television comedy first aired. Did it just make more sense as a bio-pic?
Rebecca Snow: In 2019 I made a documentary for the History Channel. It was called Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust and our team did a lot of research to find compelling stories. Max was one of three survivors now living in Canada who we featured. The whole time that I was interviewing Max and travelling with him to Israel and Ukraine, I kept imagining this being a movie. I even said to Max “You know your story is a movie.” He replied, “Let’s do it, Rebecca!” I mentioned it to my husband Robert Budreau and he said he would produce it.
HNMAG: How did you find Jett?
Rebecca Snow: We put out a general casting call and I got some self-tapes in 2021, during the pandemic. Jett’s was one of the last tapes in.
Jett Klyne: It’s really interesting. It didn’t come through my agent. I was small and sounded young. I was eleven at the time. My mother’s Jewish friend in Vancouver, her son auditioned for the same role. That woman dreamed I was Max. We then got the material for the audition, I sent it in and it took a while. Then I got a call back over Zoom and then another one and then four days later Rebecca came to Vancouver to meet me.
Rebecca Snow: I knew from the tapes that he was very naturalistic and very talented. I needed to see him physically and in the trees. He is in the woods for the whole movie. He had to have a relationship with the landscape. We met in Stanley Park, which is great.
Jett Klyne: Nature has always been something that I love. I always run through the forest.
Rebecca Snow: Climbing up on big tree trunks, ok this is amazing. He was still kid-like, exploring the woods but also clearly mature and able to play a boy who loses his childhood. He had to play a boy and a little man. I could see that Jett was capable of that. Jett was in WandaVision, so I knew that he had the experience and the chops.
Jett Klyne: Also this story is in my blood. Seventy-two members of my family were murdered in the Holocaust. It really matters to me. It’s something that is rarely told and barely even touched in school anymore.
HNMAG: How did your family get to Penticton?
Jett Klyne: My great-grandmother went to the UK, she was raised British. My grandpa was from the Island. My grandmother moved to Canada and met my grandpa. My grandmother didn’t really like the city and wanted to live in a smaller town.
HNMAG: Has The Boy in the Woods screened at any other festivals?
Rebecca Snow: This is our seventh Canadian Festival. Our first screening was at TIFF (Toronto), Jett and Maxwell were there. With so many survivors, the key is getting their story told and the stories of their loved ones who didn’t survive, out there. This isn’t just Max’s story, but the story of his friend Yanek, his little sister, and his entire family and he’s carried this burden for eighty years. Nobody can grasp what that means to him. It was great to also screen in North Bay because that’s where we shot the film.
Jett Klyne: The shoot was amazing because nobody was there for the paycheck, everyone was passionate about making this movie. It’s really special, in the way it’s shot and the content. It’s a masterpiece of a film.
HNMAG: I was wondering about the people found by the river. They were not in a concentration camp.
Rebecca Snow: Those were all Jews who were hiding in a bunker, near a village. There are more details in the memoir. There were Polish Christians, who agreed to hide the Jews in bunkers underneath the village if the Jews would come up at night and help guard the village. There was a very volatile conflict between national Ukrainians, ethnic Poles and Nazi occupiers.
HNMAG: The Jew hunters were national Ukrainians?
Rebecca Snow: Yes. The film takes place in what is now western Ukraine. It was Poland not long before that. The next character after Max, I had to cast was Yanek. It’s almost a fairy tale. It’s very Grimm in the sense that a boy has to go off into the woods and then fight the forces of evil. Then he has this incredible relationship with this little boy.
Jett Klyne: In the original Fairy tales, the stories are very dark and disturbing. That’s where the beauty comes from. It’s very similar to this movie. I find this angel and we help and protect each other through that.
HNMAG: What time of year was it for that river scene?
Rebecca Snow: We shot it in mid-October. We were worried about that. It can suddenly get cold. The snow was FX but it was around two degrees Celsius. It was cold! They had wet suits under their clothes.
Jett Klyne: You get used to it after about ten minutes. Your body temperature drops and you adapt.
Rebecca Snow: The majority is also stunts.
HNMAG: How did you get involved in acting?
Jett Klyne: When my mother was young, she loved acting. When she was about twenty, she got into casting. My dad was like “he’s the cutest kid in the world, I want to show him to the world.” When I was five months old, a family friend was a casting director and got me an audition for a Gerber baby. She thought there was no way I would book it but I did and then in four years, I booked twelve commercials. I became full union when I was around seven.
HNMAG: After the festivals, it will be on Paramount +?
Rebecca Snow: It will have a theatrical release. Paramount + will eventually happen in Canada.
The Boy in the Woods is a unique, entertaining, and thought-provoking movie that needs to be seen around the world. Often movies about the Holocaust can drag, be repetitive and lose the viewer. The Boy in the Woods will have you on the edge of your seats throughout. It’s about fortitude, perseverance and surviving through a multitude of little things that work out a certain way. Max Smart survived and now lives in Montreal and South Florida during the winter months. Yes, this film was set in Eastern Europe but is still a Canadian movie and an example of why many of us came here.