A brilliant flame has been snuffed out by an act of fate so random it defies comprehension.
Filmmaker Michelle Jackson passed away on Friday morning at the age of 34, leaving to mourn family, friends and an entire artistic community that still struggles to make sense of her sudden demise. The anguish is compounded by the fact that Michelle was expecting a child, Christopher Edward, named after her partner, Chris Panting.
She was taken by a disease called myocarditis, an infection of the heart that is not common, yet accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths in young adults. It sometimes presents in patients who have had a recent viral infection, and Michelle was just recovering from a bout of the flu.
Michelle was best-known as a filmmaker, though she also acted, wrote and worked with technology. She was a doer'; a talented organizer who has served as the coordinator of the International Women's Film and Video Festival. According to her bio, Michelle has worked on numerous film productions including Random Passage and The Divine Ryans, and with director/producer Anita McGee on Clothesline Patch, New Neighbours and The Breadmaker. She was also involved in the production of the 2002 and 2003 Juno Awards.
Michelle's first documentary, Mary Power, A Life in Stories, debuted last year at the International Women's Film and Video Festival to popular and critical acclaim. The film profiles Mary Power, a charismatic resident of Branch who passed away in 2006.
According to promotional materials, "the film honours Mary Power's life and in doing so, it helps to preserve the rich traditions and heritage of which she has been a part of all her life, and which is special to the people of Newfoundland. The film is a colourful piece in the mosaic of the diverse Canadian story, and is a must for folklorists, historians, students of women's studies, and for anyone who loves a good story."
One of Michelle's best friends is Danielle Irvine, a local theatre director who has won national awards. In an interview, Irvine said that Mary Power deserves to be picked up for broadcast by CBC, perhaps as a segment of Land & Sea.
"She collected over six hours of documentary footage and has donated all of it to the archives at Memorial University," Irvine said. "We would love to see a Land & Sea episode done with it. It's perfect for them Everyone who saw it thought it was top-notch a great story."
Irvine said that filmmaking was Michelle's first love, though her many talents included writing, acting, photography and working with computers.
"But her biggest talent I think was with people," Danielle said. "She had a really open, warm heart. Everybody who met her connected with her. She was not a frivolous person When she was talking to you, she was looking you right in the eye and was 100 per cent present with you. That's a rare gift and everybody who has met her felt touched by her, warmed by her presence and connected to her. That's why there are so many people everywhere who are so affected by her loss."
When Michelle entered a room, it was changed by her presence, Danielle said. "Yet she was a gentle soul not a mean streak in her at all. Very soft-hearted. Some people would think that is a weakness but it's absolutely not. It's a real strength to be able to walk through life and all its hardships, with your heart open and that's something that she did very well. A real inspiration."
Michelle and Danielle were born on the same day, though in different years, and have been celebrating their birthdays together for more than 10 years. "We became friends instantly and afterwards figured out that it must be because we have the same birthday. Over the years, we kept discovering (new things in common). We bought the same clothes, the same shoes. We were like twins."
She said that Michelle had an ability to know intuitively when she was needed by those around her. "I feel particularly bad about that right now I was at my grandfather's house in November we had a fire over there and within minutes she was at my house. I said What are you doing?' and she said I was driving by and knew that there was something wrong' and she was right. That happened regularly with her and I. But, sadly, I could never do the same for her. I did not know on Thursday night that she was in hospital. It broke my heart broke my heart because maybe I could have been there."
Michelle was more of a spiritual than a religious person, she added. "She was into meditation and studying Buddhism and really connected to a world bigger and broader than what we see with our eyes (she was) very perceptive."
Michelle and Danielle were part of a close circle of friends including Jennifer Deon, Petrina Bromley, Janet Edmonds, Natalie Falk and Kelly Jones who met every week for a few hands of cards. "We called ourselves the Card Bags," Danielle said. "Just this Tuesday night we had a rousing game. Michelle was there in fine form, and where she is four months pregnant, she started having cravings. Someone unwisely mentioned a hot turkey sandwich and that was it she had to have it!"
Michelle was especially close to her partner Chris and her family, Danielle said. "Her parents are divorced but she is extremely close to both of them. She loved her mom, who is now living away but was back for a while in the fall and even came to Card Bags, which is a real honour she is the only outsider who we ever let in. She talks to her dad several times per day, and has told me that he is her best friend. Michelle was a family and friends kind of person. And she was very excited about being a mom very excited. Just glowing with that."
Danielle was born into a single parent family and never knew her father, who was an American soldier. She credits Michelle for bringing them together.
"It was purely because of Michelle," Danielle said. "She had such a great relationship with her dad and family that she decided I needed to have the same thing. So she pestered me and pestered me for ages, and when I finally agreed, she said Okay, I found him!' literally in minutes. She had been looking for him all along! She was really into family trees and loved, loved, loved being a detective on the Internet she could play the computer like a piano a real techno-girl. My father turned out to be an amazingly wonderful man and has become a big part of both of our lives. Every birthday he sent us both a gift. He is really broken up by this too, because Michelle brought us together."
Michelle was in "perfect health" Danielle said, and no one saw this coming.
"She was four months pregnant, glowing, eating hot turkey sandwiches it just hit extremely fast and there was nothing the doctors could do. From what her partner Chris told me, there was an army of doctors there. They knew it was serious and did everything they could but I don't think they could have stopped it. It just hit very suddenly. She had the flu last week but was getting better from that. She was fine Wednesday night and terminally ill Thursday night. It's shocking and terrifying. But she went peacefully surrounded by family... They knew it was serious but I don't think anyone thought it would get that bad. She came into the hospital at 10 that night and passed away at 8 am the next morning."
As if the filmmaking work wasn't enough, Michelle worked by day at Celtx, a company that is pioneering an online script and screenplay tool for media pre-production and collaboration. It was a position that drew upon her skills in filmmaking, technology, writing, communications and more.
Michelle Jackson's funeral will take place Tuesday at 1:00 pm at the Salvation Army Citadel in Mount Pearl. There will be a celebration of her life on Friday, January 25, 7:00 pm at The Lantern, on Barnes Road in St. John's.
The St. John's International Women's Film Festival has announced the establishment of the Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Fund, as part of the festival. To find out more, please go to the Women's Film Festival site.
I am aware that this tribute is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If your life was touched in some way by Michelle Jackson, please tell us how or why by posting a comment below.