Writer and Director Marilyn Cooke is one of the most in demand indie directors based in Montreal.
Her witty, dark drama ‘” No Ghost in the Morgue” was considered for Best Action Short at last year’s 95th Oscars and she shows no sign of slowing down.
Marilyn has perfected the art of mixing drama with comedy, which only a skilled, seasoned filmmaker can pull off. Having a message and keeping the audience engaged is also no easy task, but she makes it look effortless when she is creating her films.
“I believe comedy and drama are not as far apart as we may think. They can be the flipside of the same coin”.
The Canadian writer and director spoke to us about her films, ideas and what is next on her slate.
What was your inspiration for writing and your last film, “No Ghost in the Morgue”?
I have a very strong connection to both my grandmothers, and I love the idea of the matriarch, of the pillar who holds the family together, which I think is true in many families, and especially in immigrant families. I think that these family bonds are foundational, but they can also generate anxiety. As children of immigrant parents or grandparents, we know how hard our parents and/or grandparents had to work in order to get to this country that we live in. There is this ingrained sense that you need to honor their legacy. When I was writing this film, it was a tumultuous time in my personal life. It was right at the beginning of the pandemic, which was a hectic time for all of us.
I had a personal experience with one of my loved ones passing away, and I kept having very vivid dreams of them. I came into contact with the mortician who was working with my loved one’s body with a lot of compassion and care. It touched me very deeply and also got me curious about people who work with the dead.
So I had these two concepts swirling around in my head. Then I thought, why not explore the experiences around death and family, and bring these ideas together of the morgue and spirits of grandmothers but in a surprising and poetic way. Also wanted to focus on a lead character that is a Black woman finding herself, while also representing parts of Caribbean culture that are related to the conception of death and the importance of dreams.
It is difficult to mix drama with dark comedy, is there a certain process you use while writing a piece like your previous film “ No Ghost In the Morgue”?
I believe comedy and drama are not as far apart as we may think. They can be the flipside of the same coin. Even in the most dramatic of situations, we often go through a complicated mix of feelings. Some things may strike us as completely absurd, and we may erupt in fits of laughter. There is something very uncanny and strange about seeing a dead body, and having that person’s likeness visits you in a dream. Those are the kinds of thing that I started to explore when writing the script.
I wanted to treat death and the morgue very respectfully, but at the same time I wanted to portray it as an intrinsic, undramatic part of life. I didn’t have a process per se, it was more about illustrating a clash between the different characters’ notions around death through humor. That’s why I decided that the characters who work in the morgue would have this mindset.
They fulfill their duty of care in the same way as if these patients were still alive. To me, it’s about trying to find the lightness in the moment with these characters. I wanted this aspect to shine through for them, death is not a tragedy, it’s just a fact of life. I also wrote it so that the older doctor had this talkative jokester energy that would contrast with Keity, the main character who is more introspective. The other woman who works at the morgue also brings a sense quirkiness that throws off Keity’s expectations.
You currently have a feature film in the works after your remarkable short films, can you speak more on that?
Thank you so much for your kind words! Of course, I can tell you more! There are no parrots in my next film (one piece of advice: avoid live parrots at all costs, especially if shooting on film). Right now, I am writing a script for my first feature. It’s a comedy-drama with elements of fantasy, about a young woman who tries to find her biological father who is a climate refugee. It’s set in ann alternate reality in the year 2030, where part of the Caribbean was swallowed up by the ocean because of climate change. It’s loosely inspired by Caribbean oral traditions and magic realism. I love blending genres and that is something I really want to incorporate into my future work.