By Other Voices

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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