Jennifer Dale first appeared Canadian screens in 1979 and has never left. There are few Canadian actors who can match her diverse body of work, that has contributed so passionately to the building of our national film industry. Dale was there in the heady ’80s learning the ropes and taking chances when Toronto – Hollywood North – was a creative, competitive and boisterous new hub. She remains a stalwart supporter of film art, evidenced most recently by her latest project, in which she co-wrote, starred in and developed a storyline with collaborator Shelagh Carter. Into Invisible Light focuses on Helen, a widow charged with selecting grant recipients for a major prize within her late husband’s arts foundation. What we learn is that she herself had longed to be a writer, as a young woman, but gave up her dream. At this fork in her life, she is once again inspired to try again but is struggling with anxiety and lack of confidence. In steps former lover Michael (Peter Keleghan), who challenges her to fire up her passion and fight for her long standing dream before she settles for regret. He wakes her up with a start.
Into Invisible Light is a gripping study of a woman at a crossroads. She’s a recent widow, with a huge new responsibility and Michael shows up from the past with a strong message.
I see it as a story in which people made mistakes as we all do and from my point of view, the character of Helen was not able to receive certain things from Michael when she was younger. He was telling her the truth when he says I saw more in you than you did and I was kicking your ass because I wanted her to show up, pull no punches, not pussyfooting or coddle her blossoming artistic ego, he’s being really tough. That’s alright. People sometimes need that and it’s important that sometimes love is tough and demands things of us that we don’s see and understand. The point of this story is that Michael coming back into her life affords Helen the chance to see how their youth botched it all up, and it’s another chance to understand where he’s coming from, to forgive each other and free themselves, especially Helena, to be able to find her own voice as a writer, even by the beginning act of trying to engage this gift of writing that she had abandoned. I’m unapologetic about taking this stance in terms of a female character that just because men can be tough on us, hard on her, she couldn’t do it on her own.
Also, he complicates things. He’s married and they begin a relationship.
His function isn’t to commit to her, neither one of them is looking for a commitment from each other. It’s quite a surprise and almost incidental that they end up sleeping together again, once. In no way shape or form does the story ever demand any kind of commitment; the only commitment that is demanded is that Helen commit to her own creative voice. By engaging together even though it happens to include a night of lovemaking, it’s about getting to the root of their story of the past. One of the underlying themes of the films is the power of forgiveness. There is a lot going on, on all levels.
One of Helen’s grant applicants happens to be Michael’s daughter. She gives her a second chance to make good her audition when her mother asks. Is Helen aware of who they are?
It’s purposely vague, we want you to wonder at the end if she has an inkling who she is. She’s never met her, she does not know this girl, the fact of her giving the daughter a second change is the elliptical flow of her own story. At this moment in her life, she’s given a second chance of circumstances – she is responsible for grants to young artists and meeting Michael again inspires the truth. She recognizes this moment of a second chance and the importance of the choices we make at certain moments of your life. It is pivotal in forming everything that comes after.
Did you know Peter Keleghan before playing this really complex relationship?
Peter and I have known each other twenty years but we only worked together once previously on Made in Canada, and in an episode with him I played his ex-wife. We hadn’t had any work or social interaction at all for many years. When we were casting, various actors’ names were being thrown around and we had the idea of Peter. He’s so handsome and charismatic but he doesn’t very often have the opportunity to play these types of leading man roles. It was exciting to me to see.
How did you build that relationship?
As director and writer, the genesis of the script was that I had met Shelagh Carter in 2009 when she was going through the director’s programme at the Canadian Film Centre and we were in the process of working on that for four or five weeks. We developed an affinity and bond and wanted to do something else, but you know the development of films takes forever and it’s a miracle that any of them get made. We began the process to create a character for me, from the ground up. We talked about films that inspired us, women’s roles that inspired us, actresses and characters we loved. We wrote each other’s stories, stories of our past, stories from other women we knew. Shelagh hit on this notion of adding Chekhovian elements to it. In the plays of Chekov, one character, Yelena in Uncle Vanya, and the characters are fated not to have fulfilled their hearts’ desire. They are always deeply conscious of having wasted their life and what they feel life could be or should be. We wanted to take that kind of character and transfer it into a modern setting, a woman who appears to have everything, well spoken, well spoken, elegant social context but who feels estranged from her own life and inconsequential in her own life.
The American poet Mary Oliver died last week and I’ve been reading a lot of things online. I saw something that resonated for me so strongly with the themes of this films. Mary Oliver says the most regretful people on earth are those for whom their creative power was uprising but was never given any power or time. That is the flaw and dilemma and sadness of Helen, who is kind of drowned in this weight of remorse. She’s only partially conscious of having abandoned something of herself for no good reason she can even defend or blame. There are many of us who come with a certain point in our lives in middle age and later middle age and it’s true for me and for you, we can look back and examine moments and choices that we made and those that made us veer off into what she would have done. It’s impossible not to have regrets of one kind or another. It’s a very adult film, about people with a lot of miles on them, flawed people but it’s also the question of if you had been given the chance to begin again, would you, could you, what would it take to rise to that? It’s not that she suddenly decides to write, she’s also going through the transition of being recently widowed and even though she’s looking at the gift she didn’t give herself wholeheartedly and feels love either, she’s in mourning and grief, the act of writing about her grief.
What does the title Into Invisible Light mean?
It’s a poetic phrase that works as a metaphor on many levels but to me part of that invisible light is the light from the other world, where her deceased husband has now gone, this very strange challenge and demand, in a way his hand reaching across time and space to send her the path that he knows she should be on. That’s what it means to me. It’s also about invisible light that is always working on us. I don’t think people’s hopes ever die, they go on forever, no matter how we self-sabotage or deny or put things behind us, our grief and disappointments, if we’re lucky enough to recognize it, we can see how life conspires to give us another chance.
You mention the difficulty in getting films made in Canada. The volume of features, television, and streaming these days must make it easier?
The people who have been making films for a long time in this country and have made very many films talk in much more awareness than I am able to the difficulty of making films right now but that said, Telefilm and the CBC and most funding organisations are all very much committed to gender parity right now. There are more opportunities for films for women. Certainly, writing women’s stories we two women benefitted. I have another project in development. Whether they come to fruition or not, you spend years and so much energy trying to develop things from script stage to getting funded and out. It’s still tough.
You are a beautiful woman, has your appearance cost you roles?
Well thank you, but that’s something that I don’t ever really know. You’d have to ask casting directors about that, although as you brought it up, certainly it was a part of me this element, this character, the idea as Michael says to her, “I used to be so jealous to you because things came so easily to you.” And I ask “What did you love about me”. He says “Your beauty, you took my breath away”. And that’s not what she wants to hear. It opened a lot of doors for me but maybe not one I should have walked through. Beauty is a blessing and not always a blessing.
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI