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Director, Writer and Producer
"I hate representing anything. Because unless everything that I am can be represented, I don't want to represent one thing." (Redding, p. 208)
Patricia Rozema was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1958 to Jan and Jacoba Rozema, Dutch immigrants who came to Canada after the Second World War. The family soon moved to Sarnia, Ontario. Her parents, very religious Calvinists, took great care to shield their daughter from certain outside influences such as television and movies. Patricia did see the film Snow White as a child, but she did not have another opportunity to see any films until she was 16 and was impressed by the classic horror film The Exorcist.
As a child, Patricia was surrounded by strong female role models who helped bring a feminist perspective to her eventual chosen career. She notes, "I grew up in a fairly feminist household. My father has always loved really strong women, and my mother was one. The whole family had a respect for these sort [sic] of noble, vocal women and their opinion mattered very, very much." (Cole and Dale, p. 178)
Patricia left home to study at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English with a minor in journalism and began her work in television in 1981.
After graduation, she interned at WMAQ in Chicago and WNBC in New York. Upon her return to Canada, she became an associate producer on the program The Journal for two years at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Due to cutbacks, she was laid off and decided that her background in television gave her a solid base of knowledge to pursue her work in film. She started freelancing as an assistant director on many productions and writing as many scripts as possible while taking filmmaking courses.
She initially met with only limited success: "I was absolutely alarmed that I was getting fired because I'd always done well in things. It really pulled the rug out from under me. I was completely shocked. So I decided to go on UIC [unemployment insurance] and do a film." (Cole and Dale, p. 177)
One of Patricia's many scripts secured her a grant and she began production of her first short film, Passion: A Letter in 16 mm (1985). This short, which she wrote, produced and directed, won a prize at the Chicago International Film Festival. Her first feature film soon followed on the strength of this first short.
In a stunning début, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) won the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes in 1987. A poll sponsored by the Toronto Film Festival in 1993 recognized this film as one of Canada's top 10 films of all time. The film eventually generated a commercial profit through box office and video sales — a noteworthy achievement for a small independent film budgeted at $350,000. She wrote, directed, edited and co-produced this comedic drama that tells the story of a backward aspiring photographer and her relationship with her employer.
Her co-producer, Alex Raffé, describes how the audience at Cannes received the film: "At Cannes, it was very clear quite quickly that people were liking it. And we thought 'Okay, we won't be laughed out of here in ten minutes.' And then it just went on for ten minutes, the ovation, people hooting and hollering, and people on their feet..." (Posner, p. 1)
After this surprising success, Patricia felt that she "could legitimately, and without arrogance put 'filmmaker' on [her] passport and it was okay." (Cole and Dale, p. 177)
Her next film, White Room (1990), garnered mixed reviews. With a budget three times greater than her previous film, it was not as well received by Canadian audiences as her previous effort. Told from the point of view of a young man, this dark tale won four international prizes and three Genie nominations.
Her next piece, a short film called Desperanto, was part of a group project Montréal vu par... in celebration of Montréal's 350th anniversary in 1992. Other contributing directors included Denys Arcand, Léa Pool and Atom Egoyan.
Another success came in 1995 with When Night is Falling. This feature film tells the tale of a lesbian romance between a Christian college professor and a circus performer. Again, with Patricia's script and direction, the film won many international awards, including the Audience Award at the 1995 Berlin Film Festival.
In 1998, her project Six Gestures: Suite No. 6 for Unaccompanied Cello, which she wrote and directed, won a Prime Time Emmy in the category of Outstanding Classical Music-Dance Program. It was part of the PBS series Yo-Yo Ma Inspired by Bach.
Patricia wrote and directed a much-acclaimed adaptation/reinterpretation of Jane Austen's classic novel Mansfield Park in 1999. The script was based on Austen's letters, early journals and work. In the director's commentary from the Mansfield Park DVD, she explains her motivation behind the film: "My agenda, my strategy had been to sprinkle fact throughout this fiction and bring out some more of the biographical information of Austen's."
In 2000, she completed filming on Happy Days, part of Beckett on Film: 19 Films x 19 Directors. Part of a collaborative effort to film all of Samuel Beckett's plays, Happy Days is the story of a woman who lives buried up to the neck in a mound of dirt.
Most recently Patricia Rozema took on the title of executive producer on an adaptation of the classic children's novel A Wrinkle in Time (2003) by Madeleine L'Engle.
Throughout Patricia's career, one thread runs through all her work: "My films assume feminism... it's in their foundation. All the assumptions of the characters and everything that happens assumes [sic] that women clearly have the right to do whatever they want to do..." (Cole and Dale, p. 183)
Patricia has recently slowed the pace of her work in order to raise her daughter. We look forward to more films with a strong narrative from this internationally recognized Canadian.
Cole, Janis, and Holly Dale. "Patricia Rozema." In Calling the Shots: Profiles of Women Filmmakers. Kingston, Ontario: Quarry Press, ©1993, p. 175-185.
Monk, Katherine. "Profile Patricia Rozema." In Weird Sex & Snowshoes: And Other Canadian Film Phenomena. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2001, p. 149-151.
Patricia Rozema. www.patriciarozema.com (accessed January 29, 2004).
Posner, Michael. "The Little Movie that Did : I've Heard the Mermaids Singing." In Canadian Dreams: The Making and Marketing of Independent Films. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, ©1993, p. 1-21.
Redding, Judith M. Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors. Seattle: Seal Press, ©1997.
Rozema, Patricia. "Pourquoi filmez-vous?" Cinema Canada. No. 156 (October 1988), p. 6-7. Article written in English.
Smoluch, Agata. "(Con)texts of Hybrid Authorship: Canadian Cinema, Feminism, Sexual Difference and the Dialogic Films of Patricia Rozema." (Canadian theses). M.A. thesis, York University, 1999. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, . 1 microfiche.