Remember last Saturday morning? If you live in Montreal, you awoke to a grey day made drearier still by cold rain. It was a perfect day to stay inside for some extreme wool-gathering. So, what got me out of the house to go to a movie at 10 am? A little movie called Sweeping Forward.
January 20, 2015 update: For anyone who missed seeing Sweeping Forward, you’re in luck. Another Montreal screening is planned in conjunction with Bell, Let’s Talk, a to mental health initiative.
— • —
— • —
Making a feature film takes a lot of moxie and hard work under the best of circumstances. Writing, directing and producing an independent feature on a shoestring really takes guts. If you struggle with an anxiety disorder, such an already daunting task might seem utterly insurmountable. Unless you’re Patricia MacDowell.
I “met” Patricia on Twitter. Say what you will about social media, you can usually spot the real deal from the poseurs and operators. Patricia struck me as authentic and driven. I like that in a person.
So, on a drab and drippy Saturday morning in November, when staying hunkered down over coffee seemed the wiser choice, I took a subway then a bus waaaaay out to the Cavendish Mall. Have I ever written about how I loathe malls? No? For the record, I really loathe malls, particularly malls in high gear for the holidays. I don’t regret the trip.
Sweeping Forward draws on MacDowell’s own experience with a disabling anxiety disorder. The film brings a rich cast of characters together; each struggles with pain and personal demons. A severe anxiety disorder rooted in a difficult past has Bess, the main character, in an excruciating holding pattern. Reluctant to take medication, she gets through her days by doing menial maintenance work at the local curling club and a women’s shelter, and strenuously avoiding any situation that might trigger an anxiety attack. A series of events thrusts her into the role of accidental coach for a ragtag curling team that, ultimately, proves to be her and her team members’ salvation.
I particularly liked how MacDowell handled the characters’ back stories. She uses some flashbacks to suggest complexity without getting bogged down in graphic details. The characters’ foibles and fear play out in other scenes. Mostly, MacDowell just lets her characters do the talking. As they learn to trust themselves and each other, they begin to open up in a natural way and provide glimpses into their lives.
MacDowell also injects some humour into the story. Picture tough women dressed in street clothes—bared midriff, heels, an abbreviated skirt. lacy stockings—stepping onto the slick ice for the first time. Then imagine the looks they attract from the regulars at the club. Deft directing and nuanced acting from the cast turned what could easily have been a setup for slapstick into a truly moving scene.
Finally, and Montrealers will appreciate this, the dialogue is a mix of French and English. Carefully crafted, the languages weave together beautifully making subtitles unnecessary.
In an interview with T’cha Dunlevy published last August in the Montreal Gazette, MacDowell describes writing an earlier screenplay, also set at the Baie d’Urfé Curling Club, that explored a darker, more violent storyline than Sweeping Forward. Writing in the deserted quiet of the ice shed helped MacDowell get to know her characters intimately and discover a more positive narrative.
Getting an idea on paper, then from paper to film takes a colossal effort. And it’s only the beginning. Once a movie wraps, an independent filmmaker has to really hustle to get the work seen. TIFF, a high profile Toronto film festival passed on Sweeping Forward. The Montreal Festival des films du monde (FFM) took a chance. The film went on to win the festival’s People’s Choice Award for the most popular Canadian Film.
Sweeping Forward is a gem of a story. The bigger story, however, belongs to Patricia MacDowell who, despite the challenges, continues to promote the film. The Saturday screening, which drew a nearly full house, was also a fundraiser. MacDowell has set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise more money. She’s aiming for an Oscar.