When Night is Falling: interview with Pat Rozema  

When Night is Falling : Interview with Pat Rozema
Pat Rozema (Canada) talks about herself and her film
(February 1995, published June 1995)

C.M-S: Can you please introduce yourself?
P.R.: My name is Pat Rozema. I was born and raised in Canada, in a Dutch immigrant community. I studied the standards subjects for most of my life, showed some interest in drama and story-telling, was a liar (That's a good start for a writer!) I believe now that my highest value is honesty; I was always the actress in plays, studied philosophy at a Calvinist high school.

I figured out how to make money out of stories and decided to be a journalist, worked in journalism for a while, veered quite inevitably after a while to cinema because I had discovered images through television journalism ... and here I am.

If you're a singer and you have a big hit song, people want you to sing that song, and that song only, over and over again. Yet we have within us many songs. You can become a kind of prisoner of one song. It may be that it was a catchy song but I think there is also a nostalgia and as things recede into the past you remember things with a certain glow.

Pat Rozema, 1995

C.M-S: Have your movies a common theme like a melody?
P.R.: Oh yes. But I like to think I have a broad range that as a person I'm capable of quite a number of different shades of emotion, so if I take a movie of each of those different shades they will still be different, but I'm still the same person. I think it's like first love, the first time you experience that feeling - mm - there's nothing like it. Every other one is going to be just a little bit tainted because that one didn't work, that one ended. And because that one ended, you will always have just a little less faith in the ones following. There's the song - the first cut is the deepest. People met my sensibility in that first film, and when they meet it again there's not as much as surprise. I can never surprise them again in the same way unless I TOTALLY change my personality. I will  not be able to surprise them in any way.

C.M-S: But at least you surprise them with your movie ending.
P.R.: Well, good I love to talk to people who haven't seen the other ones because their response is so much more pure response.

C.M-S: How did you get the idea for the story? Is it in any way biographical?
P.R.: Yes. It's all biographical or autobiographical, but I've never taught at a college, I've never worked in a circus. I have known the love of women, and I have known the love of men so these are things where I'm drawing on personal emotional experience.

C.M-S: You say that you have a Calvinist background...
P.R.: Yes. I grew up in a family that went to church - the Christian Reformed Church twice on Sunday, catechism class on Tuesdays, Young People with the Church on Wednesdays. When we sang together we sang hymns. We would say Hey! No. 44 and we would all go into three-part harmony and know all the verses of these depressing dirge songs - but these were our folksongs. I had some awareness of pop-cultures -I had a radio - I heard the Bee Gees and we lived close to Detroit so I knew Mo-Town. Didn't have too much awareness of pop culture, or watch much TV. That was quite controlled. We'd see Walt Disney on Sunday nights and so on ...

C.M-S: Weren’t you rather easy on the church after the last 2,000 years...
P.R.: Really? The script was harder on them, but there’s something about fiction that demands that you're kind to people. That character would be completely a cardboard character if he were an absolute asshole. He could love this person, hear a confession from her, and then just damn her irreparably, then the character, as a character, would be less convincing. He would be like a cardboard villain. It was a wild thing for me, and I had this conversation with the actors because there was and extended scene where he wants to pray with her - one shouldn't mention what was cut out - but there is a scene where he sits down with her and prays. And - paraphrasing my own script, he says, "Oh my father, creator of heaven and earth we come before you with humility, We love you because care for us an even the most violent and degrading of acts you can feel it in your heart to forgive, even the most repulsive ... and she's feeling more and more condemned, and stands up and pulls her hands away from his, and he says, Calm down this can't be real what are you going to do join the circus and become a lesbian clown." ... He was much more villainous, but it just didn't feel real. It didn't feel like an intelligent man in 1995, albeit from the church. He wouldn't condemn her immediately, but would try to embrace and then maybe quietly try to convert her to heterosexuality. But no intelligent person - and I have a family full of preachers and teachers - one of my uncles is in the Synod of the Calvinist Church and the position of Calvinists is still love the sinner hate the sin. Homosexuality is OK, homosexualism is a sin. And he was most generous and sweet to my lover of many years. Then there is the whole gay-Christian side of the world. I think that is a bit of a stretch really - like doing some pretty fancy mental gymnastics - to see that the Bible could ever be generous towards gays. It's like this is an abomination, Sodom and Gomorrah.

There is this movie - Priest. It really dealt with this subject quite well - and I'm a catholic myself. When I saw it there was a woman crying through nearly all the movie. We had coffee together afterwards, and she said I'm from England and that is the mentality there.

It was a very illuminating experience for me that fiction demands that you give people subtleties even if you're opposed to the institution. This is what I was trying to convey - that religion was characterised as a hierarchy, as a political enterprise, as a corporation. All the conversation is about whether they're going to get that job, if they cut out this behaviour and go back to company policy or party politics, then they can get this advancement as career Christians. They can elevate through the ranks. That's the scariest thing about religion that it's an empire that wants to grow. The Vatican is nothing if not an empire.  And the Pope goes out to develop new markets all the time. They have company policy statements and it is about power and territory like any other human business. That is to me a frightening thing about religion because it begins in a beautiful way, I think. The coming to the belief that love is the highest priority; that we must find a way to be kind and not to destroy; these are good things but then eventually that becomes institutionalised. They then make decisions like fags, and dykes are horrid and should burn.

The press conference for When Night is Falling, 1995

From left: Barbara Trant - producer;
Rachel Crawford, Pat Rosema, Pascal Bussiéres (actresses)

C.M-S: That’s why I asked you about fundamentalism at the press conference because it's one of my pet theories that fundamentalism will destroy humanity if not we're damn careful. Be it Christian, Muslim, - or political fundamentalism - it will make it very difficult to make the necessary decisions in connection with ecology and so on because of this "one-issue" politics. Decisions which must be made.
I agree with your theory that it is a frightening possibility. I think it is always a danger. It is something to do with the Millennium - that it is a collective human birthday. As with all birthdays we look back, forward, and revaluate. We look back and say well, we've tried that materialism thing with Marxism thro the 60's and in the 80's a kind of materialism again. There might be more and more of a call for a spiritual way. You've got the beginnings of it with the New Age murmurings throughout the world. Then there is this Droermann -a kind of philosopher poet - a good-looking, mischievous ex-priest who is promoting a new kind of Christianity.

C.M-S: How do you get your actors and actresses to do what you want them to do? I'm thinking of the love scene especially.
P.R.: It is a question of trust; a feeling of being respected. I only hire people I like - and people can feel that immediately. Otherwise I'm not going to want to caress them with the camera - actors want to be loved! - And who doesn't? So they're completely human in that. That's this humanising thing of fiction. They want to play characters who even if they are the most evil of people, are interestingly evil, that have reasons for their evil. They have something in their past that made them that way. It's trust; it's extended conversation. In the love scene I spoke to them at the moment - in the script it was described quite explicitly so that they knew this was not going to be a cut to the clock situation but would be extended and detailed. They seem both very comfortable with their bodies too and they way they talked about it too It was oh "I'd love too!"

I think we were all a little nervous on the day but it was a totally private setting - just me and the cinematographer and the focus-puller. These two guys behaved like a machine - they were just there. We had music on, a couple of glasses of scotch and I tried to shoot it so that I didn't have to change the lighting and the technology of film-making was fairly unobtrusive. The cameraman was there, moving on a dolly, and I was just there. I was watching on a monitor and would say quietly too the left here, or pan-off to the sheet. You need to pan off so that you can cut. We just shot half an hour of them making love. It was very this beautiful big circus space and we had heaters on them so that it was nice and warm. So I tried to create an environment that was easy. I told them a painter wants to paint a beautiful nude I want to paint beautiful images of these two women together.

C.M-S: You had a really good relationship with your actresses?
P.R.: Oh yes. We had 5 or 6 days of rehearsals - just talking about the characters, the scenes, and the clothes - actors are very sensitive to clothes. Moreover, they know that I want them to look beautiful. I must say that what was shown here is a lighter version that the one I prefer and have with me so that one sees more. And once or twice I thought "Holy Shit!"

C.M-S: I thought it was very sensitive and loving.
P.R.: Good. That's very important. There is stuff I threw out because for my own personal taste it became pornographic. It is a delicate thing to go back to their faces often enough; to find a kind of intimacy between them that wasn't just bodies mingling. That it became a subjective experience of love-making which was often abstract. If you see two people right there, fucking, (sic) of whatever gender, it is usually a bizarre and ridiculous event, and there's something ugly about it. But when you do it you just see pieces. I had to make it subjective because it is not a spectator sport.

C.M-S.: A lesbian said to me afterwards, I'm slowly getting tired of coming out films ... although I don't think it was that.
P.R.: I don't either. The beginnings are exciting. Cinema, fiction often documents the first few moments because that's where conflict is greatest, and conflict being drama - that's where the drama is greatest. When they've been together for a multitude of years then the issue couldn't be their love anymore, the issue would be something else. It was important to me to show the church environment. I know that the gay world and the straight world doesn't really want another coming out film. They're hungry for a more normalised kind of thing, but I can't pander to this, then I'd just be a marketeer. The greatest fear, energy, dynamism, is at the beginning of things, and as Petra says everything becomes ordinary eventually.

I'm more afraid of the gay press than the straight press to tell you the truth. (They are more aggressive.) Because "Group-think" in a small group can become so much more important. Because I include a heterosexual element in the film, but I really did want to include humanity in this film. I'd be disappointed if I only had a gay audience.

C. M-S: I think potentially it can contribute to more tolerance ... because of the tenderness there.
P.R.: I have problems with the word tolerance. I know that is usually all that we can get but I don't want tolerance. I don't want someone to say "It's OK what you do." I want it t have dignity and glory, to be seen as a superior event.

C. M-S: Do you also have problems because it was two women in the movie? and is classified as "lesbian"?
P.R.: I think it is a little more than a lesbian love story. You could switch the genders and it would work. But it will be called a lesbian love-story and I have no problems with. I guess I would call myself a bi-sexual lesbian because I like men. I'm never going to be completely embraced in a hard-core lesbian community. I think if more people had a more open sexual imagination they could too. I think you are in danger when you start presenting homosexuality as an achievement. Absurd!

C. M-S: What's this thing with Bob, the dog? I didn't know what to make of it.
P.R.: I needed an event - a small-ish event, that would "unhinge" this person. With that dream there is this whole world that's not acknowledged. I think we all have sides of ourselves that we don't dare to look at. I needed something like a rupture - a heartbreaking moment that would trigger a change. The human story is full of people leaving their socks on the floor and someone kills them! There can be so much build up that only a tiny change in the circumstances or your emotional stability Then she doesn't behave normally - she puts the dog in the fridge! We know there is something amiss here. It has become this big symbolic thing for people, but I just thought it was amusing to have it come to life again. It's a kind of miracle, in a film that is about a miracle - this wild change that she has made in her life. But the Bob -thread is small. The film is also so romantic that I needed something morbid, absurd, element in it.

Some people really feel that on some abstract or emotional level "YES, This is right!" - and other people feel that it is wrong, wrong. I don't want to answer it. It is just there.

C. M-S: Good. Thank you for the interview.

Colin de la Motte-Sherman

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