Patricia Rozema shocked the country, and herself, when her first
feature film, I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, won La Prix de
la Jeunesse at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1987. She has
since gone on to direct the Golden Bear–nominated When Night
is Falling, a critically acclaimed adaptation of Jane Austen’s
Mansfield Park, an instalment of the Emmy Award–winning TV series
Yo-Yo Ma Inspired by Bach, and the upcoming Kit Kittredge:
An American Girl.
First Time Directing
When I finally had the money for [my first] film, I felt quite confident about directing. All I had to do was visualize what I wanted and then describe it. I knew I had to get the best possible people around me. If you get people who impress the hell out of you and have the same default mode as you, then all you have to do is keep describing. As long as you’re working to get everything right, you’re hard on yourself, and you don’t piss them off, you’ll get their best work.
The biggest surprise once the film was done was that you get what you see. When I set out, I honestly believed that if you put a camera on two men sitting and talking, the footage would be something more than just two guys sitting and talking. I think that comes from our post–Industrial Revolution faith in technology. We just assume that the camera is going to lift things up to an entirely new level. But you have to be doing something extraordinary in front of the camera, because the camera won’t save you.
The other thing that surprised me was that others shared my sensibilities. When people saw the movie, they responded to it in such a way that I felt less alone. I always thought I had a very private sense of humour. I’d really just been making the movie for myself. That whole process helped me understand that, if I pleased myself, I had a better chance of pleasing others.
In some ways, the first film was the easiest. It gets much harder once you get older, because then you have something to lose. Your first film is a piece of cake. No one is expecting anything from you. That first piece is just you, driven by all the things that have made you who you are. Your second film: that’s a struggle. Because then it’s “Oh god, everyone’s watching and it’s important. Be free, be free. But don’t repeat yourself. And don’t go too far away from what you do really well.” You become so spectacularly self-conscious and you clench up.
“Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started”, © 2008 by Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel. Published by Dundurn Press, www.dundurn.com