Danielle Devereaux interviews Mary Walsh about her feature film directorial debut, which opens this year’s Women’s Film Festival.
Les Québécois, ils aiment leurs films. Homemade films from Quebec hold their own alongside Hollywood hyper-bullies on big screens across that province. Many a movie-goer chooses Quebec handsome-man Roy Dupuis over Hollywood household names like Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston when the wallets come out at the ticket counter.
Lucky for us, it turns out Quebeckers, ils aiment nos films aussi.
Headlining this year’s Women’s Film Festival is a Newfoundland-Quebec co-production called Young Triffie’s Been Made Away With.
Director Mary Walsh says the film wouldn’t have happened without the involvement of Quebec production house Cinémaginaire.
Walsh worked with Denise Robert, president of Cinémaginaire and producer of the Oscar-winning Les Invasions Barbares, on the 2003 film Mambo Italiano. The two got along well.
“[Robert] often supports first-time directors of film,” says Walsh. “I had never directed a film, and so she asked me if I had something I wanted to do. I brought her Young Triffie and she really liked it.
“Of course we did about nine more drafts after that, but basically she took it to the screen.”
Described as a dark murder-mystery comedy, the film is set in the 1947 fictional town of Swyers’ Harbour. The murder victim is a poor young silly person named Tryphenia Maude Pottle (a.k.a. Triffie) who washes up on the beach with 15 stab wounds in her back. The question Ranger Andrew Hepditch is sent out to answer is, of course, who done it?
As the prying postmistress, Aunt Millie Bishop knows everyone’s business, so she might know who the culprit is, or think she does anyway, but given the cast of characters it could’ve been just about anyone in the Harbour. It could have been Old Man Washbourne who keeps to himself in a house out around the point, or young Billy Head who skulks along the beaches, shooting anything that moves and chopping down whatever grows. Not to mention the wacky Pastor Pottle, leader of a fundamentalist congregation or any one of the Americans still hanging around from the war.
Dr. Percy Melrose and his wife Grace seem like a couple of fine upstanding citizens, having arrived from the mainland 20 years to do, as Mary Walsh puts it, “the whole Albert Schweitzer / Grenfell thing, off to some terribly remote area to do good work among the natives.” But are they really?
Shot entirely in Newfoundland – in Trinity and on location in St. John’s, WFF audiences will recognize many local faces, including Johnny Harris, Andy Jones, Cathy Jones and Walsh herself. Fred Ewanuick from Corner Gas stars as the young Ranger, Rémy Girard of Les Invasions Barbares plays the good doctor, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding’s Andrea Martin is his pill-popping wife.
Young Triffie began life as a stage play written by Ray Guy. Walsh directed the play back in 1985 when she was Artistic Director at the LSPU Hall, and although she now wears the film director’s hat, and Guy co-wrote the screenplay (along with Walsh and Christian Murray), she says the movie is not simply a filming of the play.
“I don’t think if you see this movie now you would think it was based on a stage play,” she says. “It isn’t dominated by that kind of sense of being in a room watching actors talk.”
There have been significant changes to the storyline. In the stage version the role of the Ranger was quite small, whereas in the movie, the sweet-faced fella ends up in the spotlight.
“The play was a kind of anti-colonial piece,” says Walsh. “Basically it was all these people coming in from the outside to save the poor benighted locals, and of course they sunk, and the locals went on being the locals and solved their own problems, as was so often the case.”
“But the movie is really a coming-of-age story, where our Ranger goes from zero to hero.”
The process of adapting the stage play to the screen was long. Beginning with its stage debut in 1985, Young Triffie the movie has been years in the making. But the result appears to have been worth it. From the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax to the Vancouver International Film Festival in BC, Triffie has garnered full houses, standing ovations and gales of laughter wherever she goes.
Admittedly, I haven’t actually seen the film. The WFF are not giving out previews of their festival opener and The Scope refused to fly me to either of the Vancouver or Halifax festivals (mean, hey?). But in my experience, Newfoundlanders and Quebeckers do make fine bedfellows (figuratively speaking of course). I’m not sure why – maybe it’s the whole distinct culture thing, or a common sense of being isolated from the rest of Canada – but we seem to go well together.
Walsh agrees, “You know, sometimes I’m a little obtuse I guess, and convoluted but [the people I worked with in Quebec] just used to get me, and I got them. There is, I think, some intrinsic understanding there that’s really amazing, because it doesn’t seem to exist with other Canadians.”
In true Québécois fashion, Young Triffie’s Been Made Away With will be released commercially to compete with the Hollywood bigwigs in the spring of next year.
But you don’t want to wait till then! Tryphenia makes her Newfoundland debut at the opening night gala of the 2006 Women’s Film Festival on Wednesday October 18, 8 pm at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. Festival organizers have been saying they’re thrilled to have a phenomenal Newfoundland woman like Mary Walsh headlining the festival with her directorial debut. Mary Walsh is happy her film will be there. Now in its 17th year, the WFF has become quite the event, and opening night will definitely sell out.
Go get your ticket now, so you can feel good too.