Carly Stone on NORTH OF NORMAL, Motherhood and Telefilm Canada – Interview by Liz Braun

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Canadian filmmaker Carly Stone hit the ground running with her first movie. The New Romantic (2018) was a huge hit at SXSW, where Stone was awarded the Special Jury Recognition for First Feature.

Stone was at the American Film Institute in the screenwriting program when she decided to become a writer-director — and that’s exactly what she did. The Toronto native volunteered herself as screenwriter for The New Romantic when it was little more than an idea about the world of sugar-babies and contemporary dating; after she’d proved she could write it, she said she thought she could direct it, too. So she did, creating a delightful rom-com about growing up, female ambition, and the brave new world of relationships.

It didn’t hurt that Telefilm, a Canadian government body that fosters the arts, championed Stone’s work. The certain knowledge that it’s possible to make independent movies in Canada because of Telefilm is one of the reasons Stone moved back to Canada from the U.S.

Talking about The New Romantic and her latest film, North of Normal, Stone said in a recent interview, “It’s been awesome to have creative control over these projects.”

North of Normal — proof that Stone’s Athena-like arrival on the Canadian film scene was no fluke — premiered at TIFF last year. The movie travelled the festival circuit and then was released in theatres at the end of July, 2023. It is currently playing in theatres across Canada.

North of Normal is based on the 2014 memoir by Cea Sunrise Person, who was raised by her teenage mother in a kind of hippie commune in the wilds of Canada in the ‘70s. Her grandfather ran the community. As a child, Person lived at the whim of her immature mother, moving house whenever her young mom bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend. It was tough. Once she was old enough, Person left home and worked as a model in Europe to find her way to personal (and financial) freedom.

North of Normal stars Amanda Fix as a teenage Cea Person, with Sarah Gadon as her mother and Robert Carlyle as her grandfather.

Writer/director Stone faced some interesting challenges, including the pandemic, while making North of Normal.

She shot the film in the summer of 2021 in various black fly/mayfly-plagued locations in the wilds of Northern Ontario, while very pregnant with her second child — and with her two-and-a-half year old in tow.


The pandemic had a direct effect on the movie, she said.

“A bunch of the budget went to safety, and to housing cast members for quarantine. We had to re-work the script to make it covid-friendly, like reducing crowd scenes, for example, and the scope of it got narrower. It evolved.”

That became a good thing in the end, she added.

“It became a more intimate film, and I definitely leaned into that.”

Stone and her lawyer husband had no children yet when she agreed to make North of Normal, and by the time the movie was finished a few years later, they had two kids.

Becoming a mother, she said, changed the movie; by coincidence, she and film co-writer Alexandra Weir both had children at the same time.

“So we went through the whole thing together, working on the script before we had kids and then working on it after, and I think with becoming a mom the perspective change is definite. I wouldn’t have had that perspective on things prior to having kids, and it would definitely have been evident in the script.”

To be specific, Cea’s loving but irresponsible young mother is nonetheless a sympathetic character. Prior to experiencing motherhood herself, said Stone, “I think I might have taken a more black and white stance on her character.”

Being a mom also helped Stone direct child actor River Price-Maenpaa, who puts in a standout performance in the film playing Cea Person at age eight.

“I think the fact that I had, at the time, a two-and-a-half year old with me, made me aware of the rhythm of children, how it’s a lot slower, and takes a lot more patience in the way a day would work, than with a grown up. I would try to get on River’s level physically and stay aware of how short a child’s attention span is. They do need to run around, they do need a snack, they do need to take a break.

“Being a mom came in handy for understanding kid energy.”

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Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.