On our final weekly episode of Lockdown Film School, we ran a masterclass with Canadian collaborators about their experiences with collaboration: the co-writer-directors behind The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn) and the co-writer-stars of Mouthpiece (Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken).
Highlights from the masterclass with Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn, Norah Sadava, and Amy Nostbakken
Check out our livetweet from the masterclass here.
All four women agree collaboration is more fun, helps with keeping to deadlines, and is mutually supportive. They also talked about the need to find collaborators whom you trust and respect.
Norah, Amy, and Elle-Máijá have all worked in theatre, and the each talked about how their experience in theatre inspired and informed the films. Norah and Amy adapted their play for the screen. Elle-Máijá and Kathleen chose to shoot continuously and in order like a play, and spent four weeks rehearsing the film before the shoot.
Kathleen and Elle-Máijá aimed to make their film set “non-extractive”, where it wasn’t militaristic and hierarchical, but inclusive of everyone’s creative abilities. They talked about the importance of hiring indigenous creatives, collaboration, and creating a safe space for everyone involved.
All four women talked about how they thought about feminism in their films, how they thought about depicting women’s bodies on film, and how they worked to decolonize and keep the patriarchy out of their work. As Elle-Máijá said, “It’s more about unpacking the patriarchy at all levels in our lives than a gender binary.”
Mouthpiece’s innovative conceit is that the main character, thirty-something Torontonian Cassandra, is simultaneously played by two actors, Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, who also wrote the film and the stage play it’s based on. This dual performance, where the actors sometimes mirror each other and sometimes diverge or even conflict, allows them to represent two sides of a complex woman who is constantly in conflict with herself. Set over the course of a couple of days in the dead of winter, Cassandra grieves the unexpected death of her mother (Maev Beaty), as she tries to write the eulogy. As Cassandra grieves, she also goes through an existential feminist crisis, realising that so many of her choices have been a reaction to or rebellion against her mother; it goes so deep she doesn’t even know where the rebellion ends and she begins.
The story behind Mouthpiece
Mouthpiece is based on a 2015 Canadian play written by and Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, who run the the theatre company Quote Unquote Collective. The play was originally performed in Toronto; in 2017, Jodie Foster brought the Nostbakken adn Sadava to LA to perform the play for a limited run; the play was also staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In 2018, Nostbakken and Sadava teamed up with director Patricia Rozema to adapt their own play for the screen. Mouthpiece premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and it was later named of of Canada’s Top Ten films of the year.
Where to watch Mouthpiece
Mouthpiece is available for free in Canada on CBC Gem; in the US, you can watch it on Kanopy or Urban Movie Channel.
About The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is a rare film: not only does it centre women’s often invisible experiences, but it also features a cross-cultural encounter between two Indigenous women from different nations and socio-economic backgrounds. It’s also shot mostly in a single, unbroken take. We first meet Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) in a doctor’s office where she’s having an IUD inserted. On her way home, Áila spots Rosie (Violet Nelson) a young, pregnant Indigenous woman, on the street who is barefoot and distressed. Áila invites Rosie home to offer her shoes, clothes, and comfort, and the film follows the pair in real-time during this encounter.
The story behind The Body Remembers
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is based on a real life encounter that Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers had with a young woman on the streets of Vancouver. When it came to interpreting the film for the screen, Tailfeathers brought her friend Kathleen Hepburn (Never Steady Never Still) on board as a collaborator, since Hepburn has more experience with fiction filmmaking whereas Tailfeathers’ expertise had been largely in documentary.
The film premiered at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival and built up steam at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, before it was released by Array Now in collaboration with Netflix. The film was nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards and won three, including Best Director for Hepburn and Tailfeathers.
Where to watch The Body Remembers
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is available for free in Canada on CBC Gem; elsewhere, it’s available to stream worldwide on Netflix.
Further reading after the masterclass with Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn, Norah Sadava, and Amy Nostbakken