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A young woman (Julia Sarah Stone) chats with her father (Don McKellar) about her mother, but her father’s stories seem incredibly outlandish. Things may not be as strange as they seem though, and the skeptical young woman may be able to find some truth in her father’s words. Your Mother and I is a moving short directed by Anna Maguire, who answered a few questions about the short and the nature of truth. The film screens as part of Short Cuts Programme 11 at TIFF 2016.

Describe your film in ten words or less.

A recognisable place to one at an angle from reality.

What inspired you to make this film?

I read the short story by Dave Eggers when I was at university and fell in love with the unique way it was written. It is a monologue  – a father talking to his daughter, and any responses Johnna makes either verbally or behaviourally are omitted or left to our interpretation through the response of the father. I was intrigued by this and wanted to see whether I could explore this in a short film.

I also think the story is very rich, encompassing layers about how the world is set up politically, socially and economically both in terms of the content of what the father is talking about, as well as the choice of characters and settings.

It is also about the relationships between parents and children. There is no strict mention of Johnna’s age, but she is older than her little brother, who is meant to be about 10. I also felt that the ghost of her responses felt very much on the cusp of teenage-hood. She is beginning to have her own opinions separate to those of her parents, and maybe she sees her father’s sermonizing, however well intentioned, as out of date? Each new generation wants to change the world and make it a better place, but the way that is done constantly changes; the narrative doesn’t stay the same for long.

One level deeper, and it is a story about how hard it is to be vulnerable in front of and towards the people who are the closest to us. This is something that comes up again and again; how hard it is to really connect. I wanted to explore precisely this – the lack of connection in a space that we might usually see some kind of emotionally satisfying culmination – the family unit. I wanted to explore the world where the right words aren’t said in the end. Can we still feel close and understood?

What was the best thing about production? Most challenging?

The best thing was the amazing cast and crew. I felt so lucky working with such talented dedicated people, whilst writing, during the production and then in post production. It was such a joy to work on, even when time got tight or difficult decisions had to be made. It gave me hope that I’ll always be able to make films with fantastic people in the way I want to make them. (Fingers crossed!)

The most challenging thing was the edit. Maureen Grant and I have worked together twice before, so we have a good thing going, and I am very thankful that we did it together, as it was like a game of Jenga! As the whole story happens in a continuous 10 minutes or so, there wasn’t much we could do in terms of making big structural changes, however it was about getting that subtlety between the characters to its sharpest point (which the actors helped us with immensely in their performances!) As Johnna is largely silent, we wanted to make sure the audience still felt connected to her and to her story, as so much of the richness of the story is when an audience can see her father through the lens of her experience. That was intense!! But it was a satisfying puzzle to solve and it wouldn’t have been possible without Maureen.

The stories told in your film are hard to believe, but they highlight a love that was obviously passionate. Do you think it’s more important that our loves are strong, even if our stories are questionable?

I think narrative is a really interesting thing. We all live within such specific cultural, social, political, economic narratives, and within that we invent our own personal stories to make sense of the world we live in or the world we perceive. Who’s to say what the truth is ultimately? I wanted to leave these questions about truth lingering in the film, because I think it’s less about the story and more about the people telling it. So yes, I guess to answer your question, I do think that love’s strength trumps narrative reliability; love’s strength can act like a magnet and pull our beliefs and therefore our stories away from true north.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?

I’m not sure. I guess I’d like them to watch it with an open mind – that even things that are recognisable can be strange.

What will you be working on next?

I am working on another short film entitled Constellations about a woman’s desire for sexual exploration within the confines of the romantic relationship she is in, and the difficulty of long term relationships, especially in a more heteronormative, conservative environment. I am also writing a feature about a young woman’s quiet internal mental breakdown within a modern day London, as well as starting development on Brigid Brophy’s novel “The King of a Rainy Country“. I’m very excited about this one as it’s a novel I read a couple of years ago and I immediately connected with it. So I hope it’ll be a busy few years!

Your film is screening as part of TIFF. What are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?

In the lead up to the festival I have been co-producing a short film that my co-writer of Your Mother and I, Julia Hart is directing, along with Kat Hidalgo, my producer on Your Mother and I (I guess when you find a good thing…) So it’s been rather busy. We wrap just before TIFF begins, so once the 6th hits I have some time to peruse the programme properly. But one of the films I am excited about seeing is Below Her Mouth. I’ve kept hearing tidbits of information here and there throughout the year, and it’s really piqued my interest.

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