Childhood experiences with mental illness

Mental illness is a difficult topic for anyone to deal with, especially if it involves a loved one. You don’t know what to do or say – you just know something is wrong.

Filmmaker and U of M Theatre Professor Shelagh Carter  wrote and directed Passionflower, a Manitoba produced film, based on her childhood experiences dealing with her mother’s mental illness.

The Manitoban caught up with Carter the evening of her return from TIFF where she screened Passionflower and secured Canadian distribution with Multiple Media.


The Manitoban: What inspired you to write Passionflower? 

Shelagh Carter:

It’s my childhood and it was time to tell the story. I met a producer who was very interested in [the story] and she felt that if I told [it], it would be done and would set me free.

Of course, there are some elements that have been fictionalized, but I’d say it’s 85 to 95 per cent from that time when I was a little girl. It’s also about a family [who] is caught up in a predicament with mental illness in the 1960s and [doesn’t know] what to do.

I was sitting in The Women Under the Influence with Gina Rowlands, and the women on the screen was my mom—to me—and when I saw this, and I saw the situation of the family – I didn’t feel so alone about it. There were actually some people behind me that started to laugh and I got mad, because I felt they were laughing at my mom. That’s when I knew I really loved my mother and I was beginning to see that it was an illness and it wasn’t her.

M: Visually, what films were you inspired by? 

SC: I really want truth on the screen. I really want people to feel they are actually looking at a situation, it isn’t cinema vérité, but I hope it’s truthful. Therefore you don’t “see” any acting.

M: How did you keep performances natural with the actors?

SC: I worked really hard when we were casting to get the right chemistry. I’ve been teaching acting for a number of years now and I’m not coming to the film inexperienced. I’ve made short films [that] have been invaluable in preparing me.

M: How was your film received at TIFF? 

SC: It was last year when my film qualified. I can tell you it got right down to the wire and I actually had a personal call from one of the artistic directors. He was lovely about [explaining the outcome] as they don’t have to take the time to call you.

At TIFF this year we were signed with a Canadian Distribution Company, Multiple Media, and they really understand the film. Through word of mouth, the film has been requested at a couple other festivals and we are waiting to see if it makes it to programming. It was Manitoba-made and we had terrific support from the funders, [Manitoba Film and Music, as well as Telefilm].


Passionflower is screening at The Winnipeg Film Group’s Cinematheque on Sunday, September 30and Thursday, October 4.

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