Patricia Rozema’s Singing Mermaids & White Room + Bonus Audio from NCFD 2018

May 24, 2018 | By

Patricia Rozema and Kiva Reardon discuss I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987) at the Revue Cinema, April 18, 2018, on National Canadian Film Day.

Hear their Q&A via’s Google Play, iTunes, and Libsyn channels.


As I explain in a long-winded preamble in my sort-of podcast that’s available via’s Google Play, iTunes, and Libsyn channels, had I seen Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing at 19, I would’ve disliked it – a reflection of where my tastes were in 1987 versus today (which I’d like to believe are more rounded). I had little patience for indie films and disliked documentaries then not because they were bad, but due to professors pushing them on our film school class because ‘that’s what Canadians do.’

As ground-breaking and Oscar-lauded as the NFB was (and still is), it wasn’t the only genre available to explore, and that’s why films like Mermaids are so important: at a time when genre efforts tended to exist as tax shelter creations, the very idea filmmakers could get grants to fund eccentric, genre twisting works with unique personal stamps and not worry about studio or investor pressure seems like a dream – something Rozema excitedly explains in the first part of a lengthy Q&A with The Seventh Art on YouTube.

Just as significant is setting a story in Toronto and making a point in showing unique buildings, parks, waterways, and streetcars that show off the city’s assets as a distinct metropolis otherwise kept hidden by strategic shots and rebranding of areas and vehicles for other cities like NYC.



When Mermaids was one of the free screenings during National Canadian Film Day in April, and slated to screen at the Revue Cinema with the director and cléo journal’s Kiva Reardon offering a Q&A, it felt like to perfect opportunity to see the film on the big screen, especially after it had been digitally restored for Canada 150 last year.


Patricia Rozema’s White Room (1990) looks very French Nouvelle Vague in several striking, beautiful shots.


I’ve edited their conversation slightly and balanced the audio as best as possible – the super-screechy chair and an audience member’s chortling (not me) are still there – and added reviews of Mermaids and Rozema’s second feature film, the critically drubbed White Room (1990). Both DVDs feature engaging commentaries by the director, and both should exist on Blu-ray; even WR deserves the HD treatment for reasons I detail in the review.

A few quick things I want to point out before I sign off. In her commentary for WR, Rozema notes how film (and by extension, even video) becomes an instant time capsule of the locations that have changed, and more than anything, it’s the skyline of Toronto that’s been radically altered, but in watching both films there were two locations that I wanted to track down because 1) they looked very familiar, and 2) I wondered how much they have changed in the passing decades.

The following A/B comparison in Mermaids was very tricky. I initially thought it was Avenue Road and Davneport-ish, but a few days later, BlogTO posted an unrelated piece with an unidentified teaser still that was the exact same street. Talk about serendipity. A friend ultimately identified the street (thanks, Craig!) as Bright Street in Corktown:


Bright Street in Corktown, as seen in Patricia Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987).

Present-day shot of Bright Street, looking rather Mediterranean.


WR features the old City TV building on Queen Street, and I am pleasantly surprised by how much of the surrounding blocks are intact. Move Google Maps father east and west, and you’ll see the invasive glass towers, but dead centre, things are still pretty familiar:


City TV building, circa 1990, as seen in the epic pull-back in Patricia Rozema’s White Room.

Same area, seen around 2017 via Google Maps.


Also of note is the magazine stand where Zelda (Sheila McCarthy) earns her keep. Rozema may have packed the racks with then current stock, but I remember seeing those periodicals when I was working in a book store, including Cinema Canada (long gone) and some of the fashion mags we received for a few months before they completely vanished. (Anyone remember EGG magazine?)


The newsstand in Patricia Rozema’s White Room (1990), packed with CanCon magazines – Toronto Life, the soon-to-die Cinema Canada – and assorted periodicals long gone.

Besides Goldmine for record collectors, note the two Festival program guides for the loose collection of rep cinemas that included the Bloor. Click on the  image for further details on the Festival chain, as detailed by Doug Taylor at


Last point: in the Mermaids audience sat a young filmmaker to my left, and as she told her friend how keen she was to see how Rozema integrated video footage in her film, I remembered Mermaids was originally shot on 16mm and had some video-to-film content (a stylistic and obsessive trait heavy in Atom Egoyan’s early work).

Rozema’s interest in grain and noise (something I also like) gives her video footage a special texture, and I remembered a former classmate’s thesis which was shot on B&W film and had a sequence in which a couple waltzed over Casa Loma. He shot the material on Betacam using a green screen, and paid a fortune to have it transferred to film. In trying to keep the footage clean, it looked very bad, but by embracing the inherent artifacts of video, Rozema’s footage is much more pleasing. Sorry, Tim.

Coming next: two dramas from TJFF 2018 – The Earth Cries Out (1949) and Bye Bye Germany (2017) – and on Blu Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969) from Twilight Time and Lola (1961) from Criterion




Mark R. Hasan, Editor


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Category: EDITOR'S BLOG, INTERVIEWS, podcast

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