The award for best screenplay at Sudbury’s 2009 Northern Ontario Music and Film Awards (NOMFA) went to Glendon grad Amanda McLachlan Darling on April 25. She was honoured for Pieces, her original, feature-length screenplay, which has yet to be produced.
She has recently moved to Sudbury from Toronto to be with her husband. "I'm thrilled that in this northern mining community there is a place for art”, said McLachlan Darling in an interview with the Sudbury Star. “And if there is art, there is a place for me."
McLachlan Darling is an unusual combination of academics and athletics. She holds a BA in French Studies from York’s Keele campus (2003) with a double major in English and French, as well as the Bryce Taylor Award for athletic achievement. She is a recent graduate of Glendon’s Master’s Programme in French Studies (MA 2008) with a specialization in literature. “I have a passion for stories and storytelling, although linguistics holds a strong appeal as well. The Glendon Master’s programme allowed me to deepen my knowledge of literature as well as explore my interest in linguistics.”
McLachlan Darling has been writing since childhood and her mother kept her early pieces, recognizing that she had a way with words. She wrote her first novel at the age of fifteen – according to her “a really bad version of Lord of the Flies”, and her first screenplay shortly after - “a really bad script for Star Trek”. “Once I realized that I could not be a professional dreamer, I chose to be a writer instead”, she jokes.
With a strong inclination towards dialogue and visuals, the choice of film-script writing seemed a perfect fit. When a small independent film producer was looking for low-budget scripts, she developed a story focusing on a girl who wanted breast implants, babysitting a boy who needed a heart transplant. The result, Change of Heart is currently in post-production with Sterling Productions in Elora, Ontario.
Right: Amanda McLachlan Darling with her prize for screenwriting
McLachlan Darling’s own story is connected to York University all the way. She met her husband, John Recoskie (Osgoode 2007) through the York fencing club. They were married in December 2006 and she was still finishing her M.A. when he got a job offer with a law firm in his hometown of Sudbury. “I agreed to move to Sudbury, if he would support me while I started my writing career”, she explains. She wrote Pieces when she was new to Sudbury and, as with all of her works, it has an autobiographical component. “My husband was gone all day, working the long hours required of junior lawyers, and I was alone in a strange environment. Pieces shows that isolation, but in a different setting. Cali, my main character, is just as unsure of her future and her identity as I was at the time. At the end of the film, just like at the end of my journey with this award, Cali has a better sense of who she is and where she belongs.”
McLachlan Darling complements her writing time with teaching part-time at Collège Boréal and Laurentian University. She had not considered teaching as a career choice, but she learned to love it through an exchange program organized by York’s undergraduate French department, working as an English-language assistant in Pau, France for two years.
As for next steps, the contacts she made at the press conference preceding the award ceremony turned out to provide her with great networking opportunities. Several production companies are reading the script of Pieces and considering it for filming. As a low-budget film, it has a better chance of seeing the light of day, but it is set in Sudbury in the winter, and a lot of the scenes take place outdoors. “I’m thankful that I’m the writer and won’t have to stand outside all day in -20°C weather”, she quips.
With both of her parents being writers, McLachlan Darling comes to her profession honestly. And although she works alone, once she has finished a rough draft, she welcomes their comments. “Sometimes their criticism is tough to hear, but it always makes my work better. I also received comments from a few Northern Ontario filmmakers about the script [of Pieces] before I submitted it to the contest, and their suggestions were very helpful as well. I’ve heard the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. I think it also takes a village to tell a story.”
McLachlan Darling likes to joke that she began her French education in her mother’s womb. The child of two Anglophone parents who ardently pursued their own French education, she attended French immersion at the primary and secondary level. At the age of 16, she took part in an exchange with a school in Nantes, France which consolidated her French skills. The choice of studying at Glendon, with small classes and a fully bilingual environment just seemed the obvious next step. “French has always been an important part of my life”, she smiles. “Every evening, my mother used to say ‘je vous aime beaucoup’. Eventually, I told her that she had earned the right to say ‘tu’, instead of ‘vous’.”
“Glendon has given me the opportunity to fine-tune my French”, adds McLachlan Darling. “Bilingualism isn’t only a matter of acquiring language skills. It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture; it provides you with an appreciation of the differences between the two linguistic groups, the vitality of communication and the importance of finding the right expressions. When you master a second language, you also strengthen your first.”
McLachlan Darling praises her Glendon experience, and the mentoring and encouragement she received from all her Glendon professors within this small, closely-knit community. She remembers Professor Sylvie Rosienski-Pellerin in particular for her deep passion, contagious energy and their shared appreciation for youth literature, which McLachlan Darling hopes to pursue in her further education. She wants to continue with her screenwriting - writing stories that have an emotional appeal. “I want to share the life lessons I’ve learned with others in a creative, dramatic and entertaining way.” But she is also planning to continue her formal education at the PhD level. ”Glendon is my number one choice. I can’t imagine studying anywhere else.”
In turn, Rosienski-Pellerin, Director of Glendon’s Master’s Programme in French Studies, expresses high praise for the talent that Amanda McLachlan Darling displayed in her course. “I am not at all surprised at Amanda’s well-deserved success”, says Rosienski-Pellerin. “Her so- called ‘first attempt’ at writing for youth in French, Le Souci d’Amélie (Amélie’s Problem), written for my class, brought real promise and will no doubt one day find its place in bookstores. We can’t wait to welcome this talented young woman, with such passion for writing, to Glendon’s French Studies programme at the doctoral level, expected to open its doors in September 2010. All of us who knew her during her Glendon studies send her our congratulations on winning this award.”
Article by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny