passion for documentaries
The Westmount filmmaker discusses her career and her latest film
By Patricia Dumais
Megan Durnford’s career as a documentary filmmaker happened in a rather unorthodox way. The writer/journalist had always loved watching documentary films. One day, while freelancing for a media production company she asked if she could get involved in the filmmaking side of the business. The answer put to her was “You should consider making your own film!” – which is precisely what Megan set out to do.
Megan holds a degree in biology from the University of Guelph as well as another in journalism from Concordia but no formal training in film production. “So I bought a book entitled The Ultimate Filmmaker’s Guide to Short Films and my husband Laurent took a course in operating a professional camera”, recounted Megan. “My stepson Philippe Aubin-Dionne, who happens to be a musician, provided music for the soundtrack. The only pro was an editor I hired.” That was the beginning of her first film Just a Lawn, a documentary short about the dark side of ‘perfect lawns’ and about Quebec activists who fought for a province-wide ban on cosmetic pesticides.
Being involved in environmental activism, the subject was a natural for Megan. “When producing a documentary film you must be ready to invest a lot of time and effort, so you must be passionate about the subject matter”, says Megan. “Often documentary filmmakers have a number of projects simmering on the stove, as some inevitably will not see completion.”
The right stuff
Just a Lawn was presented at 14 international film festivals, which for Megan was confirmation that she had the right stuff for this demanding career. She went on to direct her next film, Une brique à la fois, a documentary that glimpses into the fascinating world of adult fans of Lego (AFOLS) via three Québécois builders. The 45-minute film would be nominated for a Golden Sheaf Award (Documentary Arts/Culture) at the Yorkton Film Festival. It was broadcast on Canal D in Quebec in 2013.
Just a Lawn was presented at 14 international film festivals, which for Megan was confirmation that she had the right stuff for this demanding career
Her next film would be a 12-minute short called Touching Memory, about the American ICAD therapeutic garden designed to help children who had experienced trauma. The garden was composed of landscape features that could be interpreted in different ways. For instance, one patient viewed a small hill as a gravesite whereas another patient viewed the same hill as a pregnant belly. Psychologist Dr Sebastiano Santostefano, hoped that this garden would enable children to ‘touch’ their memories, and thereby initiate the healing process. Touching Memory premiered at the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod.
I am Still Your Child
Her most recent documentary, I am Still Your Child, which aired last fall on the CBC as part of the Absolutely Quebec series, explores the point of view of children growing up with a mentally ill parent.
“I am Still Your Child was particularly challenging. Apart from the delicate subject matter, I had to devote much time establishing a close rapport with the participants to gain trust”, explains Megan. “Interestingly, my degree in biology helped me in my research regarding mental illness.”
‘Her most recent documentary, I am Still Your Child… explores the point of view of children growing up with a mentally ill parent.’
The film explores the lives of Sarah, Jessy and Von and their interactions with their mentally ill parents. According to statistics there are 570,000 COPMI (Children Of a Parent with Mental Illness) under 12 in Canada. Children who grow up with a parent who has mental health difficulties are at risk for a host of grave repercussions, including a higher risk of developing mental illness themselves and reproducing a potentially toxic pattern. These children are vulnerable to lifelong disability and yet they are virtually invisible to our healthcare system.
In addition to the film, there is a dedicated web site, iamstillyourchild.com providing outreach services. Says Megan, “The site allows you to stream the film, view additional material about mental illness and access a list of resources. You can also arrange for a “do it yourself screening”, permitting you to present the film to community groups. The web site, as well as film festival screenings, are a much appreciated source of feedback on the work”.
She is currently working on a new project regarding volunteer search and rescue workers. “It is remarkable how many people are willing to spend their precious downtime doing para-police work during inclement weather!”
There will be a national re-broadcast of I am Still Your Child on CBC on Saturday, March 31 at 1 pm (ET).
Visit iamstillyourchild.com for more information.