Whistler Film Festival Interview: Susan Rodgers on STILL THE WATER

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Still The Water is Susan Rodgers’ first feature film. In the film, three young men from a dysfunctional family background reunite in Malpeque, Prince Edward Island, and dredge up unresolved issues from the past. Jordie is a semi-pro hockey player who got fired from his team, presumably for fighting, and returns aimlessly to his hometown. He is the prodigal son with anger and resentment issues that have eaten away at his adult self. Jordie meets his brothers Nicky and Noah, and an ailing alcoholic father, who abused the family growing up. His brothers seem to have made more peace with their shared past, but Jordie just can’t seem to move on. Still the Water is nominated for the EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Feature at Whistler Film Festival 2020.

Jennifer Merin: What your film is about — both in story and theme?

Susan Rodgers: Still The Water is about brothers who reconnect many years after a domestic tragedy drove them apart. Loneliness, forgiveness, and healing are the main themes – in this disconnected world, we need our families more than ever.

Merin: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

Rodgers: I’m a classic storyteller – I shot the film entirely on location with no built sets. This lends a real sense of place to Still The Water. The landscape is beautiful; I wanted my home, Prince Edward Island, to be a strong character in the story.

Merin: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and to the main characters in it?

Rodgers: Between figure-skating and watching hockey, I lived in the rink as a teen. Later, as a single mom, I took my son to hockey games. I guess the action was a little lost on me, because my imagination took flight during one game. I began to think about the players and wonder what their lives were like. Hockey players were heroes in my hometown when I was a kid – they were larger than life. Yet behind closed doors their lives were not always perfect. My Drifters series is similar – I write about singers and actors and the people behind the fame.

As a single mother, I knew loneliness. It captivates me – loneliness is the worst kind of pain, and it’s rampant in our disconnected world. It’s absolutely debilitating, for all ages. Yet it’s rarely talked about. I can’t help but write about it – maybe it’s my way of trying to draw attention to that aspect of mental health. Drawing attention to loneliness by creating respected yet broken characters in a small community is one way of shining a light on something that is rarely talked about, but felt by many.

Merin: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

Rodgers: I learned a few things – one, that some members of the crew were deeply affected by the subject matter, which made it real and brought it out of story world and into the light of reality. It was humbling, and reminded me that integrity and responsibility comes with storytelling. Secondly, I learned that loneliness is lessened when you spend time with like-minded friends. Making Still The Water was collaborative, and some great friendships came out of it!

Merin: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

Rodgers: I learned that patient leadership and calm grace can save a hectic day, and that laughter with friends is a balm for the soul and instantly decreases pressure. I also realized that I have a lot left to learn about the technical aspects of filmmaking. And I learned that I love every second of the process, which makes me hungry to dive deeper into the craft so I can make more – and better – films.

Merin: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

Rodgers: As is the case with most filmmakers, the biggest challenge was raising the funds to get Still The Water made. Second to that was shooting in a remote location with access to very few experienced cast and crew. Thankfully everyone was passionate about the film, so we approached the challenges logically and made do the best we could, in part by hiring a patient and talented DP, Christopher Ball.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Rodgers: I’m currently seeking partnership and funding opportunities to produce a second feature, Kristian’s Cross. I’m also going into production in early 2021 on a short film for the NFB; and I’m working with STW producer Rick Gibbs to develop a drama series called The Dog Catcher that we want to shoot in Prince Edward Island. In addition, my Drifters books series has been optioned by two Ottawa producers and I’m waiting to see where that lands. I’ve also just started pitching my second book series, The Dallas White Series. I’m currently writing my fourth book in that series, and will be publishing books three and four in the new year.

Merin: Who are the filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

Rodgers: Going way back, Ridley Scott’s Someone To Watch Over Me gutted me, and still holds up today in terms of its passion and drama. It probably inspired my Drifters book series on some level. ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ is tattooed on my arm, although in today’s terms it represents a character in my Drifters series. Canadian Anne Wheeler made Bye Bye Blues in 1989; I saw it a few years later when I was working as a museum curator, and I dreamed of directing a film, although I had no idea how a woman like myself from little Prince Edward Island could ever make it happen. Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is hands down one of my favourite films – a particular reaction by Kate Hudson in that film taught me that such details are critical and can carry a lot of weight. I’m also greatly inspired by the women in Atlantic Canada who have made feature films in a challenging, remote area of our country – Gia Milani, Shandi Mitchell, Jillian Acreman, to name a few. Just getting films made here is inspiring! Felix van Groeningen’a The Broken Circle Breakdown) is one of my absolute favourite films. The use of music in that movie is seamless and shattering. It’s what I aspire to! So powerful. And Susanne Bier’s In A Better World.

Merin: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

Rodgers: My advice is first and foremost to believe in yourself. Don’t self-impose barriers because you are working in a male-dominated industry. Just go out and do it. Don’t approach your goals with a chip on your shoulder. Don’t play the victim, and don’t whine about the challenges. When you can’t climb a wall, find a door or go around. Be forgiving and kind and people will want to work with you. Mentor others and help show them the way. And last but not least, Be The Light.

About Susan Rodgers:
A former museum curator, Susan Rodgers’ film career started with a wardrobe continuity gig on the television show Emily of New Moon. Soon a box of wartime letters discovered in an attic launched her first film, the half-hour period drama Bobby’s Peace. A year at Vancouver Film School led to a number of client documentary film projects, a web series, a period short film, a short comedy, and a few music videos.

A storyteller at heart, she dove into writing novels and was named a Finalist in the Atlantic Writing Awards (for unpublished manuscripts) for her as-yet-unpublished first novel, A Certain Kind of Freedom. Fifteen Drifters Series books were next. Rodgers is currently writing the fourth book in her second series, The Dallas White Series.

Rodgers’ inaugural feature film, Still The Water, was completed in the spring of 2020.

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