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By Posted on: Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

Rhonda Buckley on Making “Terranova Matadora”

Rhonda Buckley’s documentary, “Terranova Matadora” will screen as part of SJIWFF’s Late Shorts on Friday, October 23rd from 9-11pm at the LSPU Hall. 

“Terranova Matadora”  investigates the life of Carolyn Hayward, a woman who moved from Newfoundland to Spain in the Sixties and became a world famous bullfighter. We talked to Rhonda about tracking down her subject, how she worked around Carolyn’s refusal to go on camera and Rhonda’s own feminist desire to leave a mark on the world.

Rhonda cropped

SJIWFF: Can you tell me a bit about your film?

R: My film is called “TerraNova Matadora”, it’s about a female bullfighter from Newfoundland, named Carolyn Hayward. She went to Bishop Spencer School, here in St. John’s in the Fifties. Upon graduating she went to Spain to teach English. While she was there she became interested in amateur bullfighting and learned to fight smaller bulls. She went on to become a major bullfighter, she fought 900 pound bulls in Mexico. There are many posters that say she was one of the highest paid bullfighters in the world.

Ultimately, I’m interested in feminism and Carolyn is a woman who decided to do something different. She was one of fourteen female bullfighters in the Fifties and the number of female bullfighters hasn’t increased since then.



SJIWFF: Is Carolyn Hayward still alive?

R: She’s alive, she’s just over eighty. Bravo Canada funded me to make this documentary and they were brilliant to work with. When I found out I had the funding I started my search for Carolyn. I thought she was in Lima, Peru but it turned out she and her daughter had moved to Ontario. It took me a month and a half to track her down. I used the media to try and find her, for example I posted an ad in The Telegram and did CBC Radio interviews looking for anyone who had information about Carolyn’s whereabouts.

A man in Corner Brook who is from Lima got on board and tried to find out where she was through his crowd in Peru.We had someone go up and knock on what we thought was her door in Lima. We eventually found her in Ontario.

Oddly and challengingly for me as a documentary filmmaker, Carolyn wouldn’t go on camera. There was nothing that I did not try. She’s elderly, she has some confusion and she’s just not comfortable being on camera. There was a sound production house a kilometre away from  where she lived but she didn’t even want  her voice recorded.

What ends up happening in the documentary is that I tell the story through her granddaughter,Valerie, who was living with her in Oakville. Valerie was able to ask Carolyn lots of questions about her bullfighting years for me.

SJIWFF: It adds an interesting layer, having the story told by her granddaughter.

R: Yes and Valerie is very contemporary, she has a nose ring. She wants to be a filmmaker.

SJIWFF: Approaching this film you knew Carolyn Hayward was a wild, unpredictable force was there anything you learned about her that surprised you?

R: Someone wrote me anonymously and said you shouldn’t push this person to go on camera or give an interview because a bullfighter has a sacred relationship with the bull. Their articulation about their relationship with the bull is what happens in the ring. Carolyn is a very closed person. I understand that because my mother is eighty-eight and my aunts are in their nineties. They’re all very spry but they don’t talk about their personal lives. Older people are more reluctant to divulge things about their personal lives. I didn’t find out if Carolyn went to Mexico because she was in love. I didn’t find out if she stayed in Spain because she was in love.

A lot of the shocking things I learned about Carolyn I learned through archival images. I found a picture of her kneeling in front of a nine hundred pound bull. I went to see some bull fights and kneeling is a very courageous move, not all bullfighters do that.

I found a picture of her where it’s obvious that she enjoys the lifestyle, there’s a guitar player in the corner and she’s at a dinner party, surrounded by people from Mexico. In that way Carolyn and I are similar, we both enjoy that kind of lifestyle.

I did get to talk to some of her colleagues from her time at Bishop Spencer. Her family was in Gander so she stayed in a beautiful dormitory on Circular Road. Apparently she was a bit of a wild card, she used to sneak out at night and go on dates at the Blue Putee, which was a bar. She did that in a very strict environment, where you’re not allowed to have your skirt a millimetre above your knee. So she was certainly defiant.



SJIWFF: Do you see anything of Carolyn in yourself?

R: My immediate answer is no.

SJIWFF: No desire to fight a bull?

R: Definitely not. Valerie said she has no desire to be a bullfighter but she does wish that she had something she felt equally passionate about and that she would receive notoriety for it. I admire that Carolyn chose to be a bullfighter at a time when the career options presented to her as a woman would have been secretary, teacher or nurse. Those options would be really ambitious, most women were home taking care of kids, which is also difficult.
She left for Spain as a teenager with her cousin. That was very courageous –  to leave Newfoundland for Spain at that time as a young woman. So I don’t think of myself as being like Carolyn but like Valerie, I do have an aspiration to do something that’s remembered. I want to put a flair on the world.

SJIWFF: Can you tell me about your next project?

R: I’ve started work on a project called “Avon Ladies of Rural Newfoundland”, it has a CBC broadcast license. If you’re an Avon lady in a larger city, you can just walk along the sidewalk going from house to house but in rural Newfoundland you’re going up over cliffs and through fields, around wells and around fish plants. The geography of Newfoundland makes it bizarre to be an Avon lady. In Newfoundland some Avon ladies go on all terrain vehicles, in Labrador some Avon ladies take skidoos. I’ve always been interested in stories about rural Newfoundland women and their robust nature. I’m fascinated by their ability to handle everything from finances to childcare, to chopping wood. They’ll just cook up a big feed for everyone in their community. All that imagery will be in the film but it’s also about selling beauty products in an environment that doesn’t always prioritize aesthetics.

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By Posted on: Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Lisa Vatcher on “Long Term Care”

Lisa Vatcher’s short film “Long Term Care” will be screening as part of SJIWFF’s Late Shorts on October 23rd from 9 -11pm at The LSPU HALL.

We talked to her about the inspiration for her film, collaborating with her partner and the challenges of re-creating the past on the screen.



SJIWFF: Can you tell me a little bit about your film?

L: I wrote and produced “Long Term Care”, it’s a story about a father and son who are coming to terms with the fact that the father has dementia and needs to be admitted to a care facility. While it’s a heavy topic, there’s a lot of Newfoundland humor peppered throughout because that’s how Newfoundlanders deal with things.

SJIWFF: How important is place to the story in “Long Term Care”?

L: It’s really important, one of the biggest challenges we faced in pre-production was location. My grandmother was admitted to a long-term care facility in St. John’s. I wanted to find a location that could capture the way that place looked and the visceral feeling you get when you enter one of those spaces. The Centre for Nursing Studies eventually came on board and they were incredibly supportive. We were able to use one of their study floors and turn it into a long-term care facility.  

Setting the film in Newfoundland was also really important to me. I wanted to show the way that Newfoundland families deal with this stuff. We tend to turn to dark humor, there was a lot of that when my grandmother was admitted to a home. I wanted Charlie, the father character, to have that dark sense of humor.

SJIWFF: Charlie is willing to joke about his dementia but sometimes it feels like a way of hiding his insecurity about the loss of control he’s experiencing.    

L: I’ve noticed my relatives aging with a sense of humor. I think that humor partly comes from a desire to make it easier on everyone else. They’re not thinking about themselves, they’re trying to lighten the mood and elevate everybody else.

SJIWFF: What made you want to tell this story as a film?

L: I mentioned earlier how visceral it is to walk into a long-term care facility. The sights and smells are completely different than anything else you’ve ever experienced. Those places are trying so hard to cultivate a sense of home and failing at it. The visual nature of a short film really captures that.

My partner Ian Vatcher directed the film and did the cinematography. We’ve been together for a long time and we work very collaboratively.

He was around when my grandmother went into the home. We had just graduated from university and gone backpacking across Europe. I was more of an audience member in that situation. I watched my mother and my grandmother going through that experience together. I wrote about a father and son but that was partly because I was thinking about Ian directing it.

We were really lucky to find John Pike who played Charlie, this was kind of his acting debut. He had done some work on Republic of Doyle as a stand-in and a few years ago he was in a play of Death of a Salesman. It was also me and Ian’s first time making a short film.

We would all sit down together and talk about the character. John was really interested in the backstory; what regiment Charlie would have been in, what kind of relationship he would have had with his family. He showed up on the day and did a great job.



SJIWFF: Can you talk a bit about filming the scene set in the past?

L: Our art director, Debbie Vatcher (who also happens to be my mother in law), worked on Republic of Doyle for years and lots of other films. Period pieces are her passion. She did a lot of research on wartime hospitals. She was able to find out exactly what regiment Charlie would have been in. She found out what hospital in Britain he would have ended up in and how it would have looked. The flashback is short but I think it’s very effective.

SJIWFF: What are some things that were done to make the set look authentic?

L: The set designers and painters did a great job.

One thing that helped make it look authentic was the medical equipment. The Centre for Nursing Studies was great for flimming the present day stuff but they also have a museum of medical equipment in the school that  we were able to avail of. One thing that stands out to me is the I.V. stand and glass that hangs from it. There are all these little details that you add in as a writer without thinking about how props are going to be sourced. We just screened “Long Term Care” at the Atlantic Film Festival and it was really nice to see people’s reactions when the narrative switches into the past. It’s a big moment in the film.

SJIWFF: Who are some of your influences?

L: Jonathan Tropper, he wrote This is Where I Leave You . He writes a lot about family, the sadness and humor that you can pull out of family dysfunction. I thought a lot about his work when I was writing this.

This film came from a really personal place, I let it percolate for a long time. My grandmother unfortunately passed away in 2010. It wasn’t until I started working in production that I realized I had the tenacity to actually write something about it. I let it sit in my head for a really long time before I actually wrote anything down.

SJIWFF: What’s next for you?  

L: I just saw Rhonda Buckley’s “TerraNova Matadora” at the Atlantic Film Festival, it’s a short form documentary about a Matadora from Newfoundland. I found that film really inspiring. There’s a lot of funding out there for digital and interactive projects so I’m thinking about doing something like a webseries or a short form documentary.  

Rhonda Buckley’s “TerraNova Matadora” will also be screened during SJIWFF’s Late Shorts on October 23rd from 9-11pm at the LSPU Hall. Stayed tuned for an interview with Rhonda on the making of her film.

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