Heather Young has been screening her shorts at FIN International Film Festival for years, but it still came as a surprise when her feature-length directorial debut, Murmur, was named 2019’s Opening Night Gala presentation.
Young’s tender film will be shown at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 12, to a huge crowd of aficionados and delegates alike.
She says the concept for Murmur originally came from a 2014 short she made.
“It was called Howard and Jean, and it was a documentary/fiction hybrid about my mother and her relationship with her ageing chihuahua. I explored isolation and anxiety, and the way she used the pet for comfort,” she said.
“When I began thinking about Murmur, I wondered what would happen if I took that story to its most extreme outcome.”
When HalifaxToday.ca caught up with Young, she was worrying about a different festival: Murmur screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 7, and is set to play again the 15th at Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto.
Now Magazine gave Murmur a rave on the 3rd, calling it a “quietly shattering first feature” for Young. It was featured as one of the Top 20 films to see by Vulture and a pick for the Top 40 TIFF films to see by The Star.
So for now, it appears, Young’s worries were unfounded. Regardless, she’s still feeling a few jitters about bringing Murmur to her hometown crowd.
Murmur is about a woman who begins rescuing a ton of pets, with all good intentions. But she soon becomes an animal hoarder.
Those involved in FIN have praised Murmur heavily.
“We haven’t even premiered yet there, and to have it chosen in Halifax was such a surprise and shock. I wasn’t expecting it at all,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see that support and enthusiasm from the festival for this small film.”
“It feels really great to show my first feature there, and this is all such a huge honour. I’m so grateful for all the enthusiasm coming from the festival about Murmur.”
The lead, Shan MacDonald, is said to anchor the film and give it a ton of resonance.
“She is in almost every frame of the film. She is the film, and it’s a portrait piece about her experience and struggles. The whole film revolves around that,” she said.
“She gave it her all, and it’s worth mentioning she’s never been in a film. It was a totally new thing, she embraced it and gave it all she had. I’m grateful to her for that.”
From the Ethan Hawke-Sally Hawkins film Maudie to last year’s Splinters by Thom Fitzgerald, she’s in good company as a festival opener.
“One of the reasons we were so surprised to hear we got this slot was because it’s not a film with celebrities in it, and it doesn’t have a big budget. It’s not flashy,” she said. “I wasn’t sure it’d be a huge audience draw. It’s a small, subtle art film. But I think that speaks to how much the programmers at FIN connected with the project.”
With Murmur coming first and Yarmouth-shot The Lighthouse at the end, film workers in the Maritimes are on full display.
“I feel like Halifax is a small film community compared to Toronto, but what makes us special is we really support each other. I know first-hand everyone in the arts in Halifax will go above and beyond to support projects made here,” she said.
“Everyone is rooting for each other, supporting each other, and pushing each other further. It makes this a great, special place to make work. It’s great to be a part of this community.”
She hopes that with this film about a specific character – an unusual character – people will come away affected.
“It’s important to tell the story of this older woman, especially since they may sometimes feel overlooked. It’s important audiences experience this character’s story,” she said. “I just want them to connect to Donna and empathize with her struggle. If they fully engage with her character, that would be the best I could hope for.”