(Jump to Reviews)


From The Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, MB, October 2012) — Director Came Full Circle with Family Film:

Local writer-director Shelagh Carter had to steel herself to examine her troubled relationship with her mother in her film Passionflower, on now at Cinematheque. But there was a symmetry in the experience. After all, it was a movie, seen almost four decades ago, that brought Carter to a deeper understanding of that relationship in the first place.

…at this stage of her life, Carter might not be inclined to use a phrase as dismissive as “just a movie.”

“At the Actors Studio, you learn your inner life is so much a part of your art,” she says. “It’s funny how you can turn a lot of that into gold, to take something that’s happened to you and use it in a way that’s artistic.

“It’s also very freeing because it’s just honest,” Carter says.

From an interview with The Manitoban(Winnipeg, MB, October 2012) — Childhood experiences with mental illness

Shelagh Carter: I really want truth on the screen. I really want people to feel they are actually looking at a situation, it isn’t cinema vérité, but I hope it’s truthful. Therefore you don’t “see” any acting.

The Manitoban: How did you keep performances natural with the actors?

Shelagh: I worked really hard when we were casting to get the right chemistry. I’ve been teaching acting for a number of years now and I’m not coming to the film inexperienced. I’ve made short films [that] have been invaluable in preparing me.

From The Daily Courier (Prescott, AZ, August 2012) — Passionflower and its director win jury awards:

Canadian director Shelagh Carter’s semi-autobiographical picture, “Passionflower,” was honored with the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature. Carter, who was clearly surprised by the award, teared up when her name was announced.

“This is such an honor,” she said.

But if that award was a happy surprise, then Carter was even more taken aback to receive the Jury Award for Best Director on “Passionflower.”

“Oh, my God,” she managed to get out, before again breaking down in tears. “I’m so grateful,” she continued. “I’m crying, which is ironic, because I was going to say I’m the happy ending.

“To reach an audience is a great privilege, and if my film speaks to you, I am so grateful,” she said.

Festival Executive Director Helen Stephenson told her, “People understood the heart of your film, and that’s what the jury talked about – that really came through and you really got that on the screen.”

From The Sheila Variations’ Interview with Shelagh Carter (April 2012):

I was told once to never trust a camera operator who doesn’t know how to dance. It’s really true. I favor moving cameras that feel the performance without leading the performance. The inspiration, finally, for some of that was The Godfather. This came from Andrew [Forbes, Director of Photography]. He was watching a particular scene in The Godfather where they would tell so much information with a very simple camera move. We filmed in order as much as we could, and of course the house was also a character. Every night before the next day, the AD, Daniel Lavoie, who was lovely, I’d worked with him before, and Andrew and I, would walk the next day’s scenes. We’d have a plan and then if something disastrous happened, like we blew a light or whatever, we would improvise, but we always had a plan.

From The Sheila Variations’ Interview with Kristen Harris (April 2012):

You can tell instantly when you finish a scene based on the director’s reaction if they are responding – taking in what they’ve seen and responding to what they’ve seen and want to build on that versus somebody who’s looking at something and they’re superimposing what they want onto it, and their desired effect is for you to conform to what they’re superimposing upon you. There’s so many subtleties of that. You can experience that in so many different ways. And I am not saying it as a pejorative, it’s not necessarily a negative thing. I don’t necessarily like it when people just let me go my own way, but there was something implicit between Shelagh and I. I just felt, “Oh, she’s gonna let me play.” I felt that instantly after the first scene that we did. I think I wanted to do Passionflower because of her.



From The Focused Filmmographer (August 2013):

Taking an important and truthful look at a type of abuse stemming from mental instabilities and insecurities, Passionflower passionately presents a family’s struggle in a bold, realistic and personal fashion…. Tough at times to watch (and meant to be so), the film’s narrative is important, serious, personal and powerful.

From Dorene M. Lorenz (December 2012):

Director/writer Shelagh Carter’s compassionate feature is easily one of the top three shown at this year’s Anchorage International Film Festival… Insightful, thought provoking, heart wrenching – the subtext of this film is “Mommy has issues” and the performances by Kristen Harris and Kassidy Love Brown are outstanding.

From What Do I Know (December 2012):

This film isn’t easy, and it doesn’t offer any easy solutions.  Nevertheless, even though this film didn’t begin until close to 11pm I was wide awake and completely in the film the whole way.  It’s the story of a young girl whose beautiful mom is behaving badly.  Today we have a word for this – mentally ill…  Making the film even more powerful was that I knew from my chat with Shelagh that the little girl was sitting near me in the theater.  BTW, she’s all grown up now, art has gotten her through all this, and she is a professor of film and theater in Winnipeg, Canada.

From Uptown Magazine (October 2012):

What Brown does with the part might appear to be subtle, but is an incredibly intense bit of acting. The story itself is quite personal and is told with nuances that a younger first-time director might rush through. Carter’s years of training as an actress, teacher and filmmaker come shining through in the script and the planned randomness of the shots. The pairing of her vision with cinematographer Andrew Forbes’ more than capable eye give the film a dreamlike realism, falling somewhere between Twin Peaks and Mad Men. One particular scene involving a visit to Beatrice’s mother’s hospital room is especially compelling as Forbes’ work with light is masterful without being overly stylistic.

Passionflower is a beautiful, personal film that will entertain you — and may even send you to places that you might be afraid to visit.

From CBC Manitoba (July 2012):

Winnipeg-based writer-director Shelagh Carter makes an assured debut in this restrained, elegant drama, which explores a young girl’s state of mind as she witnesses her mother’s mental breakdown in 1960s suburbia.

There’s a Mad Men vibe to this drama, but Carter focuses on female experience, with strong performances from newcomer Kassidy Love Brown as 12-year-old Sarah, and from Kristen Harris as her mother, the seductive, magnetic, dangerously unstable Beatrice. Harris turns in a figuratively (and sometimes literally) naked performance as a woman living with mental illness at a time when people don’t even have words to describe her experience. (Everybody just thinks Beatrice is “too emotional.”) There’s also fine work from Darcy Fehr as Sarah’s confused father and Mitchell Kummen as her only school ally.

From Cinema Beach (May 2012):

…gorgeous work done by cinematographer Andrew Forbes, whose lighting and camerawork allows the characters to move and fumble around, deep into the shadows, and speaks to the manner in which mental health issues were dealt with at the time – swept under a rug, hidden in a closet, etc. Production designer Ricardo Alms also deserves a huge amount of credit, as the sharp-eyed attention to detail with early 60s period touches truly help to sell the world… Shelagh Carter does a remarkable job of anchoring her film to a touchstone in reality, which, here is the very real toll that this conflict takes on the rest of the Matthews family. Darcy Fehr, in particular, is strong as the long suffering David who, in his own way, attempts to stay strong for his family while struggling to understand (with what limited information available at the time) what’s happening with Beatrice… one of my favorites at NBFF [Newport Beach Film Festival] this year… you may just be wowed when you least expect it. Such is the case with Passionflower, which you should definitely see if given the opportunity.


From The Sheila Variations (April 2012):

I was blown away by its power. Doing a period film is never easy, but Shelagh gets the details just right: the cars, the kitchen appliances, the home decor, the clothing. Phenomenal performances, too, by all of the leads. It’s a mix of Mad Men and John Cassavetes. Raw and beautiful. I wish I could fly out to Newport Beach to see it. Shelagh has been making the festival circuit now with her film, and it has been racking up well-deserved awards.

From the Vancouver International Film Festival programmers (September 2011):

Sarah (Kassidy Brown) is on the brink of adolescence in suburban Winnipeg, haunted by the example of female sexuality provided by her mother Beatrice (Kristen Harris). It’s the early 60s, just around the corner from the sexual liberation movements; the ferocious Beatrice embodies sexual freedom without the cultural support and validation that would soon come. Torn between repression and its opposite, she’s tearing herself and her family apart. What Beatrice represents is impulse without understanding, a hunger for life without any idea of what it should actually be like.

The obvious touchstone here is Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, and Harris’s harrowing performance recalls the passion and torment that Gena Rowlands put across in that film. But this is really the story of Sarah, the victim of exposure to an adult world that she can’t comprehend except in terms of repulsion. Sarah’s triumph over her fear and confusion comes through art: it’s how she learns to validate her sexuality while controlling it. The movie is a record of her journey, one that mirrors that which our culture would soon go through: from the destructive binary opposition of chastity and sin towards an integration of freedom and responsibility. Movingly personal and provocatively political, emotionally searing and keenly intelligent, this is a powerhouse of a film.

From The Province (October 2011):

Director-writer Shelagh Carter’s feature debut stars wise-beyond-her-years (both actor and character) Kassidy Love Brown as a girl on the brink of puberty in 1962 suburban Winnipeg. But the movie belongs to the incendiary Kristen Harris with her feral performance as the girl’s troubled mother. Guy Maddin regular Dary Fehr is buttoned-down dad, but no buttons stay fastened on Harris’s character. She slices through the small talk at a living room cocktail party, and chews up a neighbour’s husband with a slow laugh. Framed by Carter’s on-the-nose period detail, Harris torches the screen.

From Reel Life (October 2011):

(One of three “seriously fine films” the author recommends from the VIFF lineup):

Passionflower is a realistic portrait of middle class life in the suburban 50s/60s/70s/80s/today… it amply portrays the dysfunction we have inherited and continue to pass on to future generations.

The acting is cold but believable; the patriarchy palpable despite the husband’s attempt to play the good guy.  I love how the film alludes to both committing adultery and how the women play their civilized role perfectly while the men – who have for the most part defined the roles – simply do what they do with impunity.

And, of course, the children suffer the most.  Passionflower is the pet name of the daughter who sees and absorbs everything; I love how the film questions whether she will become conscious of the dysfunction she has witnessed and learned enough to heal from it or simply live it as most civilized folks are doomed to do.

One of the highest commendations I can give you is that my daughter asked to see it again.  She said it was really real…

From the Vancouver Observer  (October 2011):

It is 1962, the sexual revolution is nigh, and Sarah Matthews (Kassidy Love Brown),a Manitoba suburban girl, is on her way to adolescence.

Sarah’s mother Beatrice (a daring Kristen Harris) , a former model, is a profoundly sexual woman who not only faces prejudice within her social circle but also mental instability. After a cocktail party she organized at her home, things start to spiral downward.

Sarah, who witnesses her mother’s shenanigans and troubled ways to deal with her demons, begs her father David (Darcy Fehr) to intervene, but to no avail. She then turns to a school classmate, who shares her same passion for drawing, to serve as her refuge from a wrecked home life.

After serveral mishaps by Sarah, David faces reality and steps up in order to save his family. But will it be too late?

Passionflower is Shelagh Carter’s first directorial effort, based in part, on her own life. “It is the film that had to be done first as an artist,” she commented about the film. “It is personal, honest and very committed to that ‘child’ I was long ago.”