Fuel for the Fire
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Film-maker Harmony Wagner thought filming Victoria Park crows would be the easiest part of her short film, Queen of the Crows. “They’re so abundant down there, I didn’t think it would be a problem,” she says. But when the time came for writer/director Harmony and her partner, producer Jason Rogerson, to weave them into the narrative of a story about an Island family struggling with mental health problems, the crows were elusive. “We definitely had to chase them,” she laughs. “I didn’t realize how quickly they’d pick up on where we were and then move. We really had to rely on special effects.”
The efforts paid off with a short film that not only was selected for the Atlantic Film Festival but also was selected as part of Telefilm Canada’s contribution to the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival in France. “To be included in this group is very prestigious for Canada, as well as for PEI,” Harmony says.
Ironically, “I was very close to giving up,” Harmony admits. “It’s very hard making films. It’s hard to motivate enough money, to get enough cash to pay people well.”
At the same time, when there’s energy behind a project, Harmony believes in letting that energy happen and “getting out of the way of it.” Part of her world-view is shaped by her work as a practitioner of Chinese medicine and her long-time practice of martial arts.
“Chinese medicine is holistic,” she says, “It’s about taking in the whole story.” Doing acupuncture, she says, “I work on the front line of pain, and its solitary, and I’m holding onto people’s personal information. I need a creative outlet that’s expansive, and that’s collaborative… to keep myself in balance.”
While Harmony has experience as a performer, a musician, and a writer, film has been that expansive medium, and the inspiration for Queen of the Crows came with energy behind it. “It just falls through me,” she says of the story. “Something I noticed about society is that we speak more freely about addictions or cancer or other things than mental illness. We don’t let each other know.” Harmony comments, “As a society, it’s like we have a ‘stuck’ feeling. We don’t know what we can do. I wanted to create a window in on a family and their suffering, because every family has its own story.
Harmony says, “I put my feelers out for what thematically I want—a deeper underlying statement and a visual motif—and I ask for that, and the muse delivers the story.” Her laugh is self-deprecating, but she says, “I have abundant story ideas coming forward. That doesn’t stop, it just changes what form it comes in,” whether film, music, storytelling, or writing—and whether the creativity is for the audience of her almost-two-year-old or a film festival.
“I have a vision where I’d like to be an igniter and give fuel to positive change for myself and the world,” Harmony says. She has a humanitarian vision, yes, but also practical dreams for developing the film and television industry for PEI to be a creative outlet, a good employer, and an economic driver. “I would like to see more hopefulness for young people to stay,” she says. “I feel like we’re bleeding out.”
To do so, “We need to be more forward-thinking. We’re really good at looking at the past. We had some really good things happen in the past, and that’s hard to forget… And as an island, with that water lapping inwards, our geography contributes to looking in and looking back.”
But these traits don’t define our future. In Harmony’s view, “Sometimes, being at a disadvantage is an advantage.” Perhaps, she suggests, “Our storytelling is fresher without a deeply rooted TV or film industry, just as storytelling is transforming” with new, connected ways to reach audiences. “The creative impetus changes things.”
“We’re on the crest of a wave of a new way of being and thinking. We just need enough people thinking that way it becomes our collective pursuit.” If we can be as nimble as a flock of crows, we’ll always have a roost.