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By Other Voices voices@moviecitynews.com

Shorts … and to the Point: Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre (Passages)

Marie-Josee’s short animated film,Passages begins like an etch-a-sketch primer on the beauty and awe of bringing a new life into the world. Unfortunately, just as everyone who has gone through the experience will tell you – over and over and over again – that’s just the beginning. And for Marie-Josee, thanks to what may be the most thorough collection of incompetent people gathered under one roof to care for the ill and infirm – it nearly became the end for her child. But the film is not simply an indictment on one particular hospital or one woman’s harrowing nightmare of a birthing experience gone horribly wrong. It manages to aim for and hit a trickier target – the wonder and fear, then fortitude and fighting spirit of a new mother and her newborn child.
The film begins as an ode to the wonders of being pregnant and then descends into something of a cautionary tale. Did you originally have an idea to “illustrate” your experience of being pregnant with your daughter as an artistic exercise or were you inspired to make the film after your terrible experience with the St. Luc Hospital?

Saint-Pierre: Yes, I started to work on the film when I was pregnant with Fiona and I wanted to make an animation on motherhood and how it changes your life to have a baby.

Then, when I almost lost my little angel, I could not pass up this opportunity and make a film about it. I am lucky that I am a filmmaker and I have to the tools (filmmaking) to express myself and communicate my story. I am aware I am not the only mother who experienced such birthing difficulties and a brush with an incompetent health care system. This film is for my daughter and all of those woman and their babies that have experienced similar nightmare scenarios.
The story of your experience is told largely through animation with the insertion of the images of your baby or yourself after her birth. Why did you choose not to animate those particular images?

I feel animated documentary is a genre of filmmaking that allows you to tell a story from a different angle. It truly recognizes that the information is manipulated and told through the director’s eyes. Those personal images, to me, give a real feel to the story and a place a human face on it. I also did not want to share real images of our life before a certain point in the film where the audience would really engage and care for us. I have to tell you I do not have a lot of images of us in the hospital because we were so out of it. I wanted to share the photos with the audience in a way that would touch them. Those photos are very special to me and they are a glimpse into my real life. That is why there are only animated lines over them.
Which is worse – Automaton nurses, clown residents or wolf doctors?

All of the above. Making this film has been a battle with the system in the sense that the Error and Omission Insurance was really hard to get. At the end of the animation process, no one would insure the film and wanted me to modify about half of it. My lawyer, Zenaide Lussier did an amazing job at convincing the right people to let me do this film the way it had to be done. No one could be identified or recognized. But at least the institution, the St. Luc Hospital, can be named.

What is worse? An overworked nurse that follows orders and does not really want to be there? A resident who is chewing gum constantly, has no respect for you and sees you as a scientific experiment? Or an indifferent doctor that thinks you are complaining for nothing, that you are young and healthy, and that your baby and you can take (the pain)? I let the audience decide what is worse but to me, one thing is sure, the three of them together are a recipe for disaster.

When things looked their worse, you prayed to your deceased grandmothers to intervene and save the life of your child. Why not ask your grandfathers as well? You didn’t think they could be bothered? You didn’t think they’d be available to lend a hand and help out?

This is strictly personal. I have always prayed to my grandmothers for personal things in my life. I truly believe they saved our lives. This is the first segment that was animated for the film as a thank you to them. This has nothing to do with a negative feminist point of view. To be honest, I ask my grandfathers for help with my filmmaking career and so far they have not let me down at watching over me with Passages and my first professional short film, McLaren’s Negatives.

It seems absurd that the only response you could get (really) was a recommendation to simply not have a baby in July because that’s when most of the doctors are on vacation. Did you ever receive any type of payment or apology from the St. Luc Hospital for their incompetence?

NO!!! I never was offered an apology, any type of payment or any form of follow up for my daughter. It seems we are just numbers and all they want is to get you out of the door ASAP. But to be honest, the only thing that really matters to me is that my daughter Fiona is alive. It is hard to look at her and think I almost lost her.

Yes, this is absurd. This is why I made this film. I could not tell you how angry I was to speak with such an indifferent clerk in charge of investigations at this hospital. But honestly, this is a David and Goliath scenario and I am not able to confront this machine. I am a woman whose only weapon is filmmaking.

What will happen in the feature-length sequel to Passages? Twins? And natural child-birth?

I am in Japan right now for a three-month artist residency in Sapporo, making a short animated film on a Japanese calligrapher named Gazambo Higuchi. I already had my own personal sequel to Fiona with a second daughter, Chloe, who was born in March 2008. Of course, (I gave birth) at a different hospital and, believe it or not, she came out in less then five minutes with three pushes. And yes, there is a feature-length sequel to Passages as I am writing an animated documentary film called Femelles(Females) that documents women in their 30s, from the X generation, who have babies – and how this changes their lives.

PASSAGES screens as part of SHORTS PROGRAM TWO-ADULTS ONLY CARTOON SHOW 3:15PM November 4 @ ArcLight 13 and 9:45PM November 5 @ ArcLight 13.

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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