Her works have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Harvard Film Archive, the National Gallery of Canada and the Tate of the North in the United Kingdom. Also a freelance documentary filmmaker, Su Rynard directed the National Film Board of Canada-produced Dream Machine, and the Gemini Award-nominated programs Kink, Opening Soon, Little Miracles and The Surgeons. And so it was a great pleasure when Su Rynard dropped by the offices of Northernstars.ca to talk with Contributing Editor, Wyndham Wise about her film, Kardia.
Northernstars – Where did you come up with the idea for Kardia?
Su Rynard – There`s no simple answer to that, because I think the idea came from many places. I had a big Kardia file folder on my desk for a while. One experience I had, that was quite influential, was my job as a documentary television director on a show called Little Miracles, which was shot at Sick Kid`s Hospital. We were shooting stories around kids with illness, and we saw some surgeries. I met surgeons, who told me a story about an operation that had a 200 per cent potential mortality rate, and I thought, “What`s that?” They told me about this surgery that was done in the 1950s in the United States before we had the technology that we have today. It was a surgery in which they used a real human to be the life-support system for another human being during an operation. That image really struck me; that two bodies could be connected together, and that one would be keeping the other alive. That really made me think a lot about the heart and then I went back into the past, looking at kind of the ideas built around the hear, and then into the future looking at the ideas around it, and then collaged the ideas together for the film.
NS – Did you want to make something around science and technology, or specifically about the heart or the specific operation?
SR – It didn’t come from the idea of wanting to do something around science and technology. I think the image in that operation was what really struck me, and I think the heart has such a rich territory to explore, because it is such an interesting thing culturally, past and present.
NS – What is the storyline for Kardia?
SR – The story is of a woman pathologist, named Hope, played by Mimi Kuzyk, Her heart suddenly stops. The film takes place within the moments of death, a kind of reconciliation that she has with herself before she dies. She is someone who had the operation as a child, the experimental surgery where two bodies were connected. That`s a factual thing, those things really did happen, but of course my story is fiction.
NS – And the donor is her father?
SR – Right.
NS – You want to talk a bit about that? The child was abandoned.
SR – Yes. The child was found by a man at the beginning of the film, and she has a medical condition. She is what used to be called a “blue baby.” And the person she believes all her life to be her real father, she only reconciles with the truth at the end of the film that he, in fact, was not her biological father. Part of what happens in the film, in the operation, is thatthey do become connected. So, two people who are, in fact, not related by blood become related by blood. Part of the question of the film is this: What is more true, an emotional truth or an empirical truth? And part of how that works for her is she really believes him to be her father and maybe it is possible because they were connected, because they had this bond that was obviously emotional but also physical.
NS – In the first part of the film you see the operation, the blood passing back and forth between them. Did you come up with that machinery? Does it really exist?
SR – I did research to look at what the 1950s apparatus was, and how it looked so Canadian Tire, it`s just put together with hoses and stuff. I did whatever research I could, but then of course we couldn’t find the real apparatus, so we made our own. It had its own quirkiness, but the same kind of quirkiness that they really used in those operating rooms at the time, which is quite scary.
NS – Tell me about the structure of the film. It uses both flashbacks and flash-forwards but it does come together in the end.
SR – There`s no linear time structure per se in Kardia, and I think actually, as you pointed out in the review, the film is less of a forward-driving narrative than a kind of poem, perhaps. It is also a kind of meditation on the heart. Everything is there for a reason and everything works within its own logic. But it`s not a kind of traditional or epic kind of movie structure.
On the one hand, the film is book-ended by the event that happens to Mimi, which is really the moment when her heart stops. In that moment she is forced to face, to reexamine, her past. Then we start telling, in fragments, the story of her and her relationship with her father and there`s two period settings for that. There`s when she`s a young child, and then there`s herself played as a young girl. Ariel Waller has that part. This is interspersed with her kind of present-day explorations, what happens in her laboratory where she works. She’s a teaching pathologist, so she`s preparing for a lecture and really it`s bringing together all her thoughts around this idea of examining the question of the heart. Could this be true about my life? Did this really happen? It`s a little bit eclectic, but everything relates to her trying to figure that out and answer it for herself.
NS – The premise of the film is the notion that you can actually die of a broken heart. It`s a question that the character played by Mimi is always bringing up. In fact, her assistants challenge her on it because you can’t prove that someone actually died of a broken heart. What do you think about that? Do you think you can actually die of a broken heart?
SR – These days there are some scientific findings being published in those authoritative academic journals that say you can actually die of a broken heart. There’s a medical explanation, which has to do with stress. And it has to do with kind of weakening that happens with the different systems in the body. That stress, and even sadness, places on organs like the heart, which can turn into a physical manifestation, and then you can die. Another explanation is that it`s also a sudden shock. Grief, along with terrible news. People can die of a broken heart. But the discussion in the film is about emotional truths or empirical truths when we’re talking about the broken heart, because the heart is what we mythically and historically have used as the place of emotion and the head is the place of rational thought, so the question is not just can you die of a broken heart, but it`s also about the power of reason over passion.
NS – Tell me about the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Film Prize.
SR – We received the news last summer that Kardia was going to be selected for the Sloan Feature Film Prize, which was fantastic. I don’t think you can ask for more. It started about four or five years ago, and it`s awarded annually at the Hamptons Film Festival, and its presented by the Sloan Foundation. It`s had some great previous winners like Kinsey, and this year it went to The Fountain. They’ve never given it to a Canadian film and one other time it went to a film directed by a woman. Kardia is a low-budget film, so we’re really happy about that. It`s a strange little coup. It was a real honour. The other thing that was great about the Prize is that it was a cash prize, and as a small film in Canada we were very cash-strapped. We barely have money for prints and it saved my life in more ways than one.
NS – Cinemagoers shouldn’t think of this as a medical film, is that right?
SR – We talked a lot about the medical aspects of the film but the film itself is a very strong story about a father and a daughter. The surgery and the other medical elements we talked about make up only a small portion of the film. People who are squeamish should know that that`s only an element of the film.
NS – What are you hearing about from people who have seen Kardia?
SR – When we were touring with the film, the audience responded to the story of the father and daughter. Ultimately, I think that`s what they take home. The father, the daughter, and the power of the imagination.