Europe Film Festival U.K. spoke exclusively with Sheila Houlahan
Do filmmakers have any responsibility to culture? Do you feel that being a creative person requires that you give back or tell a particular story or not do something else? Why or why not?
I absolutely believe this. Art influences culture, and therefore, art has the ability to change the world. We must not forget this when we create art. I fully believe that artists have a responsibility to the world with the stories they choose to tell. Not every story is meant for you to tell; I would never try to write a story about a culture that is not my own, for instance, because it is not my lived experience and I, therefore, wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Indeed, too many films rely on stereotypes when there is a lack of personal connection to the story a particular creative chooses to tell. Why not tell stories from the heart that are from your own lived experience?
As a survivor of chronic ailing mental health, I felt that it was my duty to showcase how bleak depression can truly be. If there was a possibility that my lived experience translated into film could help someone, I wanted to do everything in my power to make it happen. I think that’s the true magic of film; the audience gets to see an intimate, inside-look at someone’s life and find a way to connect. That connection can then in turn cause healing. It is an honor and a privilege to create films that speak to people in need.
What were the challenges in shooting this movie?
This film was created for Twitch.tv, meaning that the majority of the film was actually filmed live in front of an audience of several thousand people. Filming live is such a different skill set than traditional filmmaking! There was no ability to fix lighting, change out props or adjust camera/audio, so we had to make sure everything was perfect before the premiere. Our entire team rehearsed for hours and hours every single day for the 6 weeks leading up to the premiere, and even then, we had some unexpected tech snags that we had to workaround. Interspersing live footage with previously-recorded 16mm film clips was an additional challenge; we almost pulled the plug on all the “memory” clips because they only really worked if they were timed down to the millisecond. While this new “hybrid” style of filmmaking is easier on a filmmaker’s budget, it isn’t for the faint of heart!
What inspired you to make this film?
I could see how the COVID-19 pandemic was already impacting everyone’s mental health back in the summer of 2020, and I knew I wanted to do something to help as many people as I could process what was happening around them. When Ellen McLain approached me with “‘night, Mother”, Marsha Norman’s Pulitzer-prize winning play on which our film is based, I knew this was our chance to create something that could be really impactful. I had resisted filmmaking for many years, choosing just to work as an actor, because I knew that I didn’t want to make a film unless it had a story behind it that I believed could really help people. For me personally, I don’t want to tell a story unless it’s something that could help create positive change in the world.
Our film “Night, Mother” changed everything for me. I knew that the world needed this story, that there were millions of people around the globe who were experiencing depression and anxiety for the first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing quarantines. I wanted people to know that feeling this way is normal, and that there are ways to find accessible and affordable care when life feels too overwhelming. I think if I hadn’t had that personal drive to tell this story, the film would’ve never been completed. Knowing that this story could help people kept me pushing through the inevitable tough days in the filmmaking process. I knew I couldn’t give up; I wanted to reach out to the audience and show them that they aren’t alone in their experience, and that would only be possible if the film was actually completed.
I’ll always be grateful to my team and to the incredible international “Night, Mother” community. What a wonderful reminder that we never truly walk alone and that we are stronger together. This, I feel, is why filmmaking is such a wonderful medium.
Official webpage: https://www.sheilahoulahan.com/