Veteran filmmaker Patricia Rozema just ‘getting started’
TORONTO — It’s been more than three decades since Patricia Rozema stormed the film world with her feature debut “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing” but the Canadian director says it’s only now that she feels her career “getting started.”
“I feel the difference now. I feel that all of these studio executives are going, ‘Oh my God, we didn’t have any women directing anything forever. Man, we better get a woman. Who can find one?’” she chuckles while discussing the impact of the #MeToo movement. “I now feel this difference when I go into a meeting — they want me to be good.”
Rozema’s latest film, “Mouthpiece,” delves into the current debate about sexism, female identity and empowerment as it explores the inner life of a young woman reeling from the sudden death of her mother.
The story is based on the play of the same name, and stars the same two actresses from the stage production, who also wrote the avant-garde piece. Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken say they wrote the script back in 2013, before the push for equity and inclusion became a dominant siren call for Hollywood. Now they note that equity is a key theme of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where “Mouthpiece” premièred.
Every time they’ve embarked on a new chapter of the play, something from the headlines has fuelled its feminist theme, Sadava notes wryly.
“The first time, Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted. The second time Donald Trump was elected and Hillary Clinton lost. The third time it was remounted, Harvey Weinstein and all this came out. Every time we’ve done it someone has said: ‘This! Now is the time this is important,’” Sadava says.
Rozema gushes over her film adaptation, which experiments with narrative, performance, genre and tone. That’s especially so with its unconventional heroine, a young woman plagued by self-doubt who is portrayed simultaneously by Sadava and Nostbakken.
The veteran director, whose varied credits include the period drama “Mansfield Park,” the real-life tragedy “Grey Gardens,” the post-apocalyptic drama “Into the Forest,” and premium TV dramas including HBO’s “In Treatment” and Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle,” says she relished the chance to push herself in new ways, calling her latest effort an “extravaganza.”
“I just feel freer than I’ve felt since I made my first film,” says Rozema. “Not to denigrate what’s gone before, but there’s something very, very playful about this one. I always regret not going far enough and this one I just tried to go as far as I could.”
Rozema’s gusto extends to her broader career aspirations, noting that Hollywood’s apparent awakening to gender disparity is opening doors previously closed to her. She senses a new-found openness to her work, “which is a very different feeling and I love it and I welcome it and I think, ‘Where were you when I was 30?’”
While Rozema is known for more indie, small-budget fare, she says she’s ready to play in a bigger sandbox. “I love technology, I love CGI, I love magic realism, I love helicopter shots, I really do love some of the expensive toys of filmmaking. I haven’t had it in my tool kit because I’ve had female leads and the general idea was that, ‘Well, that doesn’t sell.’
“I’m just getting started. I’ve tried all these different tones — the comedy, the suspense, the apocalyptic, and now this, whatever this is, I don’t know what to call it, and now I feel like, ‘Oh, OK.’ Now, I actually feel like I can really play. So that’s my plan.”
The Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 16.
Film director Patricia Rozema says her latest effort, “Mouthpiece,” is an “extravaganza.”