Survival Skills

laurels icon Best Screenplay Nominee
  • Discovery, Absurdities
  • 1h 24m
  • Narrative Feature
  • European Premiere
  • 2020

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In this throwback to 1980s police training videos, rookie cop Jim (Vayu O’Donnell) gets in way over his head when he tries to resolve a domestic violence case using methods outside the law. As the situation slips away from him, Jim is opposed by the video’s sinister Narrator (Stacy Keach).

Quinn Armstrong is an award-winning writer, director and actor. His first feature, Survival Skills, premiered at Cinequest and has gone on to play at Flickers and Fantasia. Quinn wrote the short film Bolero, which played at Telluride and Fantastic Fest, and he was a finalist for the Student Academy Award.

Film Review: Just what does it take to be a good police officer? In pursuit of an answer, we follow Jim (Vayu O'Donnell) through his first year on the force. As a newly qualified recruit, Jim is optimistic and idealistic but increasingly becomes disillusioned with the system when he tries to resolve a domestic abuse case. Questions are raised over morality and legality - issues develop for Jim when these don’t line up. The protagonist’s wide-eyed innocence and his desire to help are slowly eroded as the film progresses and he is confronted by the limitations of self-determination and his simple willingness to do good. Can one good police officer make a positive impact in such a rigid and seemingly flawed system? Quinn Armstrong’s feature debut Survival Skills is shot partly in the style of a 1980s police training video. The video’s cheerful worldview becomes increasingly dystopian as Jim’s problems mount up, and the initially-avuncular narrator (Stacy Keach) loses his hold when the central character starts asking questions. There are no easy solutions to the issues Jim raises - this unsettling, eccentric, thought-provoking film leaves the viewer to ponder their own answers. Nick Comley


Survival Skills, LLC


Quinn Armstrong

Executive Producer

Colin West


Mike Downing

Director of Photography

Allie Schultz


Keara Burton

Sound Designer

Nathan Ruyle


Mark Hadley

Production Designer

Leigh Goldsmith