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Your Mother and I

Johnna’s dad talks too much, and Johnna herself lives inside her head.

‘Your Mother and I’ looks at the small moments that belie the larger tensions between families and generations, whilst Johnna’s dad recounts all the ways he and his wife changed the world. Or so he says. Anna Maguire, who has previously directed ‘She Would More The Tree Rather More To The Middle‘ tells this wonderful story in a fashion that lets our own minds decide the path: is this reality set in present time? Are we far ahead in the future? Or is this simply a dad making up some fictional stories? Anna had lots of interesting thoughts to share on the film:

The original short story by Dave Eggers was read to me back when I was at university, and I really liked how the immediacy of the dialogue made me feel like I was the daughter the father was speaking to. As the short story is originally just the father’s words addressed to an unseen Johnna, I really wanted to explore who she was in the story. I felt that there was the tension between the characters that could be mined to address the difficulty of relationships between parents and their children – from the short story there is a sense that the unseen girl he is speaking to is frustrated, amused, wants to know more but is also simultaneously unable to connect with her father who just barrels on through. Despite wanting to, they can’t seem to connect.

I also think the world that Dave Eggers conjures is particularly vibrant – one that seems both real and surreal, and it leaves us wondering whether the story is based in our world, based on a world slightly to the left of ours where all the sadness and fighting and tragedy has been eradicated, or whether it’s a cry for a better reality, one that seems unreachable from our current climate.

I wanted to explore the complex relationship between a father and a daughter, both of whom seem unable to connect with each other, yet they both in their own way are attempting to reach out. I am interested in the funny and the sad side by side, and I wanted to tell a story that went to a space of absurdity as well as human pain, and see how I could place those two worlds side by side.

I was also interested in making a short film based on a short story that exists specifically in this small window of time. So much so that Ian and I worked on creating a lighting effect where the sun is going from bright yellow – the golden of magic hour at the start of the film, and then by the end the kitchen is bathed in blue light – the start of the evening. To create a sense of movement within such a short, domestic moment – the passing time, the almost unspoken tension and then resolution between father and daughter and the dance between them as they work their way around the kitchen and each other.

I wanted to explore how little Johnna could say, whilst her father waxed lyrical, and yet still communicate her interior world to an audience. I am really interested in moments in our lives that outwardly seem small, but the internal shift that accompanies it is a personal watershed. But also they’re just making nachos! So the funny and the sad, the small and the large side by side.

There is an ambiguity to the original story, and I wanted to keep this quality in the film – I don’t want to tell people how to respond, and I’ve really enjoyed the host of responses I’ve heard since making the film. Really though, I just wanted to work with a llama!

It was a labour of love and lots of talented individuals! We were 20 people give or take a few every day. We shot the film over four days in October 2015 in Niagara on the Lake in Ontario which involved people kindly letting us stay in their homes, making umpteen meals in a series of slow cookers, drinking local beers and cider in the evening, and of course long days of shooting. We were lucky that our cast and crew were all up for the adventure. Miles, our key grip even decided he’d make a weekend of it and camped in the garden with his dog! Kat and Peter worked tirelessly on everything from the crowd funding campaign, to feeding the cast and crew, to doing pick ups and drop offs to doing their actual jobs of producing the film.

We didn’t have much time for rehearsals as Julia was flying in from Vancouver, but we managed to get about half a day in. It was such a pleasure to work with such expressive, funny and powerful actors who were able to give subtle performances with very little lead up, and who trusted me through the process.

The story is light but explorative, shot on a Black Magic camera. While visually simple, we are constantly set through the movement and growth of the story with some subtle but enticing cinematography. Then it is all charmingly brought together by the convincing performance by Don McKellar and Julia Sarah Stone.

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