Ruth Lawrence kept a childhood secret buried deep inside for more than three decades. She didn’t share her secret with anyone — not even her siblings.
Writing a film script about how, for many years, she thought she’d caused her younger sister’s death was, in some ways, therapeutic the well-known actor, writer, and filmmaker says.
Lawrence’s script is based on two events from her childhood.
Her story is about guilt and letting go; her writing brutally honest.
Lawrence grew up in St. Jacques, Fortune Bay, one of eight children.
She and her younger sister and some friends spent hours playing house on the hills not far from their home.
One day the game of make-believe turned very real when Lawrence accidentlly hit her sister in the head with a rock. The impact from the blow knocked the child over the cliff.
Lawrence was nine at the time. Her sister was five.
“I will never forget that moment of seeing that rock hit her,” Lawrence says.
Lawrence took her sister home, scratched and bloodied.
Those at home concentrated on cleaning the child rather than questioning what had happened. Yet the scene is one that Lawrence has played out in her mind many times over the years.
“Once that happened, that little girl within me went ‘Don’t talk about what happened!’” Lawrence says, putting her hand to her mouth.
The accident is an important part in the film.
A year after the accident, Lawrence’s sister was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called aplastic anemia in which the body’s bone marrow doesn’t make enough new blood cells.
She died at age six — just months after the diagnosis.
When her sister became terminally ill, Lawrence’s mind immediately went back to the incident on the hill.
Her script is based on both the accident and her sister’s tragic death.
“I always carried the guilt because I connected the blood from the fall to her blood disorder. It wasn’t an overbearing guilt but it was always present.”
After writing the script, Lawrence contacted producer Krysta Rudofsky — another well-known name in the arts community in this province. Rudofsky grabbed the opportunity to produce the film titled “Talus & Scree” — words that describe different sized rocks.
Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Cooperative (NIFCO) helped fund the project through its Picture Start professional development program that targeting emerging producers, directors and writers.
Montreal cinematographer Stephanie Weber-Biron came on board as director of photography.
Weber-Biron filled that role in Jason Buxton’s feature film “Blackbird,” which won numerous awards including a tie (between “Blackbird” and Brandon Cronenberg’s “Antiviral”) for Best Canadian First Feature at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
Filmed in Paradise and Petty Harbour between May 3-5, “Talus & Scree” features Emily Dawe, Tegan MacDonald, Claire Donnan, Erin Mackey, Julia Halfyard and Roger Maunder.
While the short film (the finished product will be between 9-10 minutes) was produced on a small budget, Rudofsky says the performances are packed with emotion, including a wake scene where the child is laid out in a small white casket in the family’s living room. The casket is propped on chrome chairs.
“We spent a lot of time in tears… And we had a lot of conversations where we would say, ‘this is not Kate’s fault.’ And that would be good for Ruth to hear,” Rudofsky says of the character based on Lawrence in the film.
Emily plays Kate — the lead role in the film. She loved her part, she says, as Kate takes care of her little sister and loves to go off on adventures with her friends.
“Kate is very independent. She was a great character to play,” the 12-year-old says.
Emily has been in several local theatre productions. This is her first time acting in a film.
It was an amazing experience, she says, even though parts of the film were sad.
“The other actors set the tone and I could react to them. It was fantastic. I was just so happy to be working in those surroundings.”
The film is now in the editing stages. Rudofsky says it will be completed in time to be entered in some of the upcoming festivals.
“Hopefully, we’ll get screenings and everybody will get to see this beautiful piece of work,” she says.