Deanne Foley’s last two feature films showcased strong female lead characters. In 2012’s “Beat Down,” it was Fran, a determined teenager with a dream of becoming a professional wrestler. In “Relative Happiness,” currently in post-production, it’s Lexie, a strong, witty and fiercely independent plus-size lady looking for love in a small town.
St. John’s-based director Deanne Foley (right) chats with Australian actress Melissa Bergland on the set of “Relative Happiness,” filmed this past fall in Nova Scotia.
— Submitted photo by Duncan DeYoung
“I’m definitely attracted to bringing unconventional female characters to the screen,” director Foley of St. John’s explains, elaborating on her love of the “Relative Happiness” storyline. “We’re all real women no matter what our size, but I think we’re all tired of seeing pencil-thin women on screen.
“I think Lexie will resonate with a lot of people; she’s the imperfect sibling belonging to what she thinks is the perfect family, and I’m one of three sisters, so I understand that family dynamic. Life doesn’t always turn out as you expect. Society tells you what you should have, instead of what you need.”
“Relative Happiness” was filmed last fall in Nova Scotia, wrapping up at the end of November. A joint production between St. John’s-based Wreckhouse Productions and Lady Hammond Entertainment of Nova Scotia, the film was one of 18 lower-budget Canadian films to receive Telefilm funding in the second quarter of 2013-2014, Telefilm announced this week. Total funding equalled slightly more than $4 million.
“It’s such a privilege to be making films,” Foley said.
“I know the pot of money is only so big, and there are so many other deserving films. It’s a huge deal. I believe you're only as good as your last project, so to get the opportunity to develop as a director, it's a vote of confidence.”
The Donnie Dumphy film “How to be Deadly,” directed by Nik Sexton, was another — that film was shot last summer in St. John’s.
Foley, a former field producer for “Street Cents” and a producer for “ZeD,” both on CBC, caught Telefilm’s eye a number of times over the past 10 years, with award-winning short films like “This Boy,” which earned the Best Canadian Female Short award at Toronto’s Inside Out Festival, and “The Magnificent Molly McBride,” starring Andy Jones and Julia Kennedy. During the filming of “Beat Down,” Telefilm’s Gord Whittaker couldn’t say enough about Foley.
“I think Deanne is a young, rising talent in the film industry, and she’s a good writer. This is an interesting progression of watching her grow,” he told The Telegram.
Foley and her writing partner, Iain McLeod (who also co-wrote “Beat Down” with her), created the screenplay for “Relative Happiness” based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Nova Scotia author Lesley Crewe, with help from Crewe and filmmaker Sherry White.
Lexie, who owns a quaint bed and breakfast in the Nova Scotia countryside, is played by Australian actress Melissa Bergland, while the rest of the cast include Susan Kent, Joel Thomas Hynes and Robb Wells, among others.
Foley says there’s a departure from the novel on screen — the film takes different turns, partly because there's only so much that can be explored in a feature-length film, though fans of the book will likely still enjoy it. A romantic comedy, she says her goal was to create an emotionally-engaging and visually-striking film.
Once post-production is completed, Foley and her team are looking at submitting “Relative Happiness” to the film Festival circuit for the fall, and will plan a theatrical release after that.
“Any opportunity to tell a story,” she said, “is one to hold on to.”