Exclusive interview with “Never Steady, Never Still” filmmaker Kathleen Hepburn
Blog post by Ross Munro for Wholly Cinema.
The current edition of the Vancouver International Film Fest features a rising wave of young British Columbia filmmakers with a surprisingly rigorous auteur-like vision to their work. And none better than Vancouver’s Kathleen Hepburn with her feature debut “Never Steady, Never Still” as she delivers up a devastating slow-burn drama of the human cost of Parkinson’s disease on a family.
After wowing audiences recently at the Toronto International Film Fest, Hepburn brings her meditative and moving film- based on the director’s earlier same-titled short- back to her hometown and give local indie film connoisseurs a chance to see what the buzz was about.
We here at Wholly Cinema were pleased as punch (I’m determined to bring that expression back…) to sit down at a hip East Side coffee shop- no corporate java chain for us ink-stained wretches here at WC!- with the extremely personable and talented filmmaker for a one on one interview.
Wholly Cinema: Your new feature began life as a short film. Was it always your plan to eventually evolve that into a feature?
Kathleen: It had always started as a feature- I had the feature script done and was waiting to get the funding and not knowing if we were going to get it. So then I applied for funding to make a short so we were able to go ahead and make that first. It ended up being a stand alone short- it was a good exercise to allow me to figure out what tone I was trying to get at and also what was and wasn’t working.
WC: In terms of making the current feature version, what were your biggest challenges?
KH: The biggest challenge was that we needed a location of a lake that froze enough that we could film on it. We had to travel twelve hours north to find that- we ended up shooting two hours from the closest airport and there was no cell phone reception, no wi-fi, no running water at the location we chose. So logistically it was extremely challenging just getting the cast and crew up there.
It’s a huge endeavor to shoot a feature- it’s such a crazy thing to do in so many ways. So emotionally I’d say it was also quite challenging.
WC: What are some of your artistic influences?
KH: I look to the social realist filmmakers- people like Mike Leigh, Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach. In terms of influences for this film, I used literature and poetry quite a bit to get the mood and emotional tone I’m looking for. A book that I was reading while writing the script was “Tinkers” by Paul Harding which is a wonderful book about death and memory and family.
WC: What was the reaction to “Never Steady, Never Still” when you premiered it at the Toronto International Film Festival recently?
KH: It was pretty emotional- there were a lot of tears in the audience as it’s a pretty heavy film. There were some real strong reactions- a lot of people really loved it so overall it was pretty positive. I think in particular to the performance of Shirley Henderson and the whole cast as well.
WC: What’s next for the film after the Vancouver festival screening?
KH: Right now we have Canadian and UK distribution and we’re looking for international as well. But for now, we’re taking the film to festivals in Korea, Chicago, and Spain and wherever else we can bring the film to.
WC: How did you feel being on set while directing your first feature?
KH: I had such a strong creative team around me that I was able to really focus and my producer kept me from a lot of stress- I felt like I had a protective bubble around me that allowed me to concentrate on the actors which I hadn’t been able to do before in my previous work. The cast was all so wonderful and also so different so trying to adapt my directing to each individual actor was a challenge.
WC: What was your post-production like?
KH: It was long because we had a hiatus in the middle of it because we shot in the winter and then took a bit of a break and shot again the following spring. So we did a month of editing after the first shoot and then shot again and did another two months of editing after that. We had twenty one shooting days in total- two ten day shoots and then another pick up day in the summer. And then colour grading and sound took a few more months as well.
WC: What project do you have lined up next?
KH: I do a lot of writing so I’m working on a few scripts for some first time directors. And then I’m co-writing/co-directing a film with Elle-Maija Tailfeathers who also has a film at the Vancouver film festival.
WC: What are some of the life influences that touched your film?
KH: I think my mom- who has Parkinson’s- was a major influence. And family in general as well as my experiences growing up North and seeing the people that lived up there and observing the tension that exists in my family and other people’s families where there’s so much love there but also this sort of tension that exists between what you can say and what you want to say. That was the tension I was drawing from when writing the script for this movie.
WC: What advice would you impart on a filmmaker about to embark on their first feature?
KH: I think it’s all about the script. I think a lot of people get ahead of themselves and worry about how they’re going to get funding or find a producer and I feel sometimes the script gets left by the wayside a bit. So focus on the script.
Upcoming Vancouver International Film Festival Screenings:
Saturday, October 7, 2017 at 12:15 PM -International Village 8
Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 6:45 PM -International Village 9
Buy Tickets https://www.viff.org/
Viva La Cinema!