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Heather Young’s film slays not with a bang but a Murmur

Her feature-length debut—which opens this year’s FIN Atlantic International Film Festival—shows the Dartmouth-based director is a force.

by

ALYSON HARDWICK
  • ALYSON HARDWICK

FIN AIFF Opening Night Gala: Murmur
Thu Sep 12, 7pm
Rebecca Cohn Auditorium 6101 University Avenue
$50


The opposite of a silver-set Hollywood dream, Heather Young's films have both feet firmly planted in reality. She wants to make movies about "a real person, that feels like someone I could meet in my real life—that both looks like and sounds like someone I could meet in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia." Inspired by "the places that I live—both the look of the place and the people who live there," it's little wonder the writer-director-producer's movies borrow elements from documentary style to create what she calls a "hybrid form between documentary and fiction."

For a decade, she's been crafting shorts that tell stories of women grappling with society's expectations: From a farm worker's anxiety as she deals with an unexpected pregnancy while surrounded by lactating cows (2017's Milk) to a woman whose mounting panic attacks leave her isolated, with her chihuahua as her only social outlet (2014's Howard & Jean).

When Young answers the phone to talk about Murmur—her latest flick and first feature-length offering—she doesn't have long to talk. She's ducked away from the din of the Toronto International Film Festival (where Murmur is debuting). Soon, she'll be elbow-deep in the pool of press and celebrities, having her flick shoulder-to-shoulder with Tom Hank's star turn as Mr. Rogers (that'd be A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood) and director Lorene Scafaria's all-lady answer to Goodfellas. (That's Hustlers, which sees Jennifer Lopez starring as a stripper alongside Cardi B.)

Murmur tells the story of 60-something Donna, who is tasked with doing community service at an animal shelter after getting a DUI. As the plot simmers, the audience watches Donna fill the void in her life by adopting more animals than she can handle. 

Shot at an actual animal shelter in Dartmouth—where Young, a NSCAD grad, is based—and starring all first-time actors,  Murmur acts as a continuation of Young's fertile theme of women carving out their own path, even later in life: "It's important for me to tell the story of an older female character because I feel there's no one more overlooked in our society than older women," she says.

"It's very important to me to tell the stories of women. Filmmaking is notoriously male-centred and throughout the history of cinema, men have predominantly taken the role of the protagonist in films," continues Young. "Obviously, it's more likely for a female audience member to connect with a female protagonist—and I'm not interested in telling the story of men. I feel like that's what cinema has been about for the past 100 years."

It feels rather perfect that after TIFF's red carpet rolls up, Murmur will likely be seen by real people that she could meet in her real life here in Nova Scotia, with the flick kicking off this year's FIN Atlantic International Film Festival. "It's important to me to put women on the screen that look like women that I know or that I encounter in daily life in Nova Scotia," she adds. "It's time to tell female stories, and it's time for women to tell their own stories and try to make cinema more balanced in that way."

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