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Sheridan Curiosities Blog

Lena Elizabeth Mcdonald

It was a tough winter. Not just because of the cold. Much of the season was dominated by work on my first feature. Mom & Me, the film I have been working on for 12 years, chronicles the metaphorical winter of my life with my mother.

Sitting with the material, sifting through the detritus and difficult memories, watching, analyzing and deconstructing, I was often struck with feelings of anxiety, wondering where my mother was — like flashbacks to the years of searching the streets for her. Was she out there in the frigid night? Who was with her? Was she safe?  When reality would set in and I’d shaken the images for the day I’d realize yes, she was safe – under the covers with a book and tea. And yet somehow, remembering she was safe didn’t stop that nagging feeling from returning. Maybe winter’s presence, its ability to cage you in, often forcing you to internalize feelings, brought back the anxiety and fear I’d felt through years of trying to rescue my mom from the bitterness she faced as a homeless addict. Only with the slow return of spring have hints of calm and forward motion permeated the bubble of worry and nerves that beset the cold season.

“This metaphor feels obvious – the dark and lonely winter of our lives assuaged by the warmth and promise of spring – but it really was spring that revealed a new sense of possibility and optimism” – Lena Macdonald

This metaphor feels obvious—the dark and lonely winter of our lives assuaged by the warmth and promise of spring—but it really was spring that revealed a new sense of possibility and optimism.  Possibly the most fruitful spring development was the announcement of my position as finalist for Telefilm Canada’s ‘Micro-Budget Production Program’. Were it not for Sheridan’s support and for the opportunity afforded me by Telefilm Canada, my winter of drudging through the pieces, of studying hours upon hours of footage archiving my mother’s struggle, and my own struggle to reclaim and empower her, might have continued with no end in sight. Now my anxieties about completing the film, as well as those of my mother’s whereabouts and wellbeing, are alleviated.

Needless to say, all isn’t perfect. My mother and I, we are not perfect. I have much to learn as a filmmaker, but also as a daughter. Our relationship is evolving as we make up for lost or confused time, and as we learn to navigate one another’s idiosyncrasies. And as I’m making Mom & Me I know this film is not the typical point of view documentary of discovery where some dark secret is revealed. On the contrary, I have always known my mother’s dark secrets and troubled history.   But what keeps me fascinated, and even in awe, is learning the ins and outs of her personality as well as the routine, mundane yet surprising and magical things I missed out on while I dedicated myself to searching for her.

Understandably, as this is the month when we celebrate mothers, it makes for a bitter and complicated holiday. Often Mother’s Day reminds me of all those years that celebrating my mother wasn’t a possibility. While perhaps others were sitting down for brunch, I was asking around at shelters to find out if anyone had seen her. Traditional Mother’s Day gifts, flowers, cards and candy, weren’t really my concern while my own blood was homeless and struggling with addiction—what I wanted was a roof over her head. This year though, now that she is sober and sheltered, we have much to celebrate. We have this opportunity to share our story and hopefully help other mothers, daughters and sons who may be going through this unique kind of reunion.

“A step forward for the film means a step forward in my life and vice versa” – Lena Macdonald

As I sit out in the sun to prepare for the weeks to come, I’m struck by the synchronicity between my life and my film. A step forward for the film means a step forward in my life and vice versa.  Spring’s thaw has really seemed to make space to build stronger roots for my career, and for my Mom and me.  I can’t even begin to tell you how ecstatic and ready I am for what’s to come.


Lena Macdonald (pictured at top of page) graduated from Sheridan’s Advanced Television and Film Program in 2012 and is a Toronto-based filmmaker.  For more on the project, read the release about the Telefilm Canada announcement.  Lena plans to pitch ‘Mom & Me’ for a potential release at Hot Docs’ 2015 festival. 

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