Patricia MacDowell had always wanted to work in film production but an anxiety disorder she developed in her late teens forced her to abandon her studies and brought an early end to her dream.
Now, the 43-year-old MacDowell is getting another chance, her first real break in the moviemaking business.
Sweeping Forward is MacDowell’s first feature film, a story that revolves around Bess Lavigne, a gifted curler scarred by childhood abuse who ultimately finds redemption while coaching four down-and-out women struggling with various mental-health issues.
The film is being co-produced by MacDowell’s company, Breakfast Films Inc., and Les Productions Skycron, a small Montreal company that has made a name for itself with music videos and is now branching out into feature films.
It’s a triumph for MacDowell, who for the past eight years has managed the Baie-d’Urfé Curling Club, a 30-hour-a-week job that has allowed her to indulge her passion for writing. MacDowell wrote the screenplay for Sweeping Forward in 2009.
“I’m passionate about film,” MacDowell said as she sat down for an interview one afternoon last week at the Churchill St. curling club, where auditions for several of the roles in the movie were held over the weekend.
“Curling can be seen as metaphor for getting better,” she said. “In curling, you have to work together to get what you want.”
“It’s a feel-good movie,” she added. “It’s about struggle, healing, support and forgiveness.”
She had her first panic attack at the age of 16, and her anxiety disorder worsened to the point that by her mid-20s she was agoraphobic and could barely leave her home.
Getting the movie made has not been an easy task. “It has been a tough sell,” she admitted, half-smiling.
She received a $20,000 provincial grant from SODEC to write the screenplay in 2009 but, since then, had been unable to secure financial backing to make the movie.
She applied twice to SODEC for production grants and was turned down. If you apply and are refused a third time, she said, you cannot apply again.
She said her luck changed when she met a project co-ordinator from Skycron at an industry party, and they hit it off. He liked her and her screenplay and agreed to come in as a co-producer.
With that backing, she said, she was able to go to Baie-d’Urfé, where town officials agreed to provide locations free of charge.
Almost half of the 25 days of scheduled shooting will take place at the curling club. Many of the club’s members have volunteered to be extras.
Cory Carlick is a project co-ordinator with Skycron. After reading the screenplay, he said, he was hooked and threw the company’s equipment and resources behind the project.
He said the film is being made at cost and, if it makes a profit, the proceeds will go toward local organizations supporting people with mental illnesses.
“The d–n thing needed to be made,” he said. “I also have a family member with anxiety issues, so I can relate.”