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Monday, October 2, 2023

Reality and myth mix in Leah Johnston’s Mother’s Skin

The Halifax filmmaker's dramatic film short screens as part of the Reel East Coast Shorts Gala at this year's Atlantic International Film Festival.

In our ongoing series, Halifax Presents speaks with local filmmakers to learn more about their film shorts, playing at this year’s Atlantic International Film Festival.

The film explores female subjugation and female liberation through the lens of an ancient myth. It is a journey that feels both intimate and archetypal and felt urgent for me to share. – Leah Johnston

In this latest Q&A, director, screenwriter and producer Leah Johnston talks about her film Mother’s Skin, which screens as part of the Reel East Coast Shorts Gala on September 17 and online from September 18-24.

The 2023 Atlantic International Film Festival runs September 17-24. Visit atlanticfilmfestival.ca for a complete listing of films and tickets.

This interview has been edited.

Tell us about Mother’s Skin. What can audiences expect?

Mother’s Skin is a story about a six-year-old who is living in a troubled home with a depressive mother and an alcoholic father. She spends her days alone, fending for herself, as her father works and her mother sleeps. At night, violence erupts around her, threatening to tear her family apart. But when the girl discovers a secret hidden within their home, her dysfunctional world takes on a strange new meaning.

How did you find the story/What was your inspiration for the film?

The story was inspired in part by real-life events that happened to my mother when she was a child growing up in a similar difficult situation. It is also inspired by an ancient Irish myth. In writing this film, I interviewed my family members and married their true stories with the mythological elements I wanted to explore.

Writer, director and producer Leah Johnston was inspired by true events and an Irish myth for her film short, Mother's Skin.
Writer, director and producer Leah Johnston was inspired by true events and an Irish myth for her film short, Mother’s Skin.

Why this particular film now?

The film explores female subjugation and female liberation through the lens of an ancient myth. It is a journey that feels both intimate and archetypal and felt urgent for me to share.

What was your biggest challenge in making the film?

We shot the film on 16mm film, and we had more technical challenges working with that camera than I ever could have imagined. It was a very hard project to bring over the finish line, but also very rewarding when we finally did.

What will surprise audiences about your film?

There is a surprise in there, but I don’t want to give it away here. You’ll have to watch to find out.

What do you hope audiences walk away talking or thinking about after seeing the film?

I hope audiences will think about the ending and try and figure out what the story means.

What’s next for Leah Johnston?

I’m currently attending the Canadian Film Centre’s Directing Lab, where I’m developing my first feature film.

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