Nfld. & Labrador·Video

'Unflinching look' at mental illness: An Audience of Chairs comes to the silver screen

St. John's director Deanne Foley is helping to bring the Joan Clark novel An Audience of Chairs to the movie screen, just wrapping up filming in Tors Cove this week.

Independent film shooting in Tors Cove based on Joan Clark novel

A film based on the novel An Audience of Chairs wrapped shooting in Tors Cove this week. 2:17

Against a sunny sky with whales popping up off the coast of Tors Cove, a film crew shoots a scene for the independent film An Audience of Chairs

It's based on the novel of the same name by Joan Clark, who has lived in Newfoundland for more than 30 years.

On Thursday afternoon, the author watched her words come off the page.

"I'm gobsmacked, to tell you the truth," Clark said.

She's written more than 20 books. But this one, about mental illness and survival, is the first she's had filmed like this.

"I'm fascinated watching how it takes place," she said.

The production crew shoots a scene from An Audience of Chairs in Tors Cove on Thursday afternoon. (Meghan McCabe/CBC)

Clark said making the film is certainly very different from writing the novel.

"You have to be solitary to write," she said. She wrote most of it in a cabin in Baddeck, Cape Breton, where the story takes place. 

The author said An Audience of Chairs is based on her cousin, who was bipolar "and had a hard life."

"Because you know how you are, you're mocked and set aside and so on. She inspired me," Clark said.

"She was a real survivor. And she got her children back. So I was very moved by the fact that her daughters were taken away from her; it was very sad. So I had to do something about that sadness, hence the novel."

'Exquisite novel'

Filming wrapped up in Newfoundland this week and is set to finish in Sudbury next month. It will be released in early 2018.

"I think it's always a miracle that any film gets made, especially in the indie world and in Canada, let alone in our far-flung place here in Newfoundland," said St. John's director Deanne Foley.

"It's just such an exquisite novel and we're just so happy to be able to bring it to life."

Foley said the cast and crew are "phenomenal," with cinematographer James Klopko, Canadian actress Carolina Bartczak — as Maura, the lead character — along with Peter MacNeill and several other actors. 

Musician Duane Andrews will write the original music. 

Author Joan Clark says she's thrilled to see her book An Audience of Chairs become an independent film. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

In an industry where women are underrepresented, they make up many key roles in An Audience of Chairs, including the director, screenwriter Rosemary House, and the story's main character.

"It's an unflinching look at this woman's struggle with mental illness," Foley said.

"I think it's a very timely story. It's about her connection with her daughters, and a chance to really reconnect with the daughters she thought she lost forever."

Although Foley said she's not sure the film is trying to tell a message any more than Clark was, it certainly tells an important, genuine story about a woman struggling with mental illness — one she said many people, especially women, can relate to. 

"It's about a mother and her connection with her daughters, and a really complex relationship with her love and art and her career, and I think any woman can relate to that."

St. John's director Deanne Foley (centre, in Blue Jays baseball cap), says it's important to her to genuinely portray the way a person with a mental illness sees the world. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

About the Author

Meghan McCabe is a journalist who works with CBC News in St. John's.