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INTERVIEWS

INTERVIEW WITH SHEREE DA COSTA, BEST ACTRESS IN AN INDIE FILM FOR “DANCING WITH MY MOTHER"

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Sheree da Costa, a warm, heartfelt welcome to this VIP interview at CWFF. Congratulations on your award as "Best Actress in an Indie Film" and for your stellar performance in “Dancing with My Mother”. We see it as a window into a mother’s soul. How does it feel to receive an accolade for a work that is also perhaps the cornerstone of a healing process? Is it received as almost “incidental” or is it, on the contrary, “instrumental” and a healing reinforcement.


Thank you for that lovely introduction and for this opportunity to talk about Dancing With My Mother. This award signifies so many things to me. Most definitely, the honor and recognition after such a long career in the arts means the world. However, that definition would just be scratching the surface. The healing process of losing a loved one, in particular one’s own child to suicide, is a complicated journey and different for everyone. In my case, it’s “instrumental” in that it brings more attention to the process of parental grief and seeking to maintain the connection that is no longer earth-bound and finding some semblance of acceptance with this new reality.






Your Director Richard de Carvalho said, “We hope that audiences will be moved by the story and will leave the cinema with a renewed appreciation for the power of love and the importance of cherishing the memories of those we have lost.” What makes your film a gem is that it has the power to spread love! Feel like commenting?


I love Richard’s words; he has summed it up perfectly. The power of love is what gives us wings, it’s what sets us free, love can heal with its beauty. Yet love also has the power to tear a heart in two. A true conundrum. I believe that Dancing With My Mother demonstrates love in all its beauty and sadness, yet ultimately, I hope, leaves an audience experiencing the unique connection between a mother and her son, albeit now between the worlds of life and death.







The topic of the film is not only grief but also prolonged grief. In some cases, it’s like the loss happened yesterday. Do you agree there is a need to call “a longer lasting or more disruptive form of grief” a disorder? Or would you say that our society is unable to tolerate painful emotions?


Such a great question and one that I have pondered myself. The suicide of my son Joey, age 27 in Oct 2020, affected the entire family and still does to this day. Indeed, there are days when it truly does seem like we only just lost him. In my case, I have found various ways to keep his memory alive and to celebrate him in all his complexity. Our short film, Dancing With My Mother, is part of that grieving and coping process.


In that same vein, I am currently also writing a book of the same name, and last year, produced and directed one of Joey’s short plays. All these activities keep me connected to him on a daily basis. However, there are members of Joey’s immediate circle who most definitely suffered from prolonged grief. I’d certainly dare to call it a disorder, because without professional help, grieving loved ones can easily become stuck for want of the ability or tools to move forward. I have seen this firsthand. Having said that, I am in no way an expert on grief, and can only relate what I have personally experienced and witnessed in others who were also close to Joey.







Now a question we can't wait to ask!

You have built up the resilience to dwell within yourself and find the healing power of dance to reconnect with your loved one’s memory. That is purely and simply sublime. Your choreography is emotionally intense. You have succeeded in turning the tables, and an irreparable loss seems to have led to a hope of self-reinvention. Tell us more.


From an early age I have always found dance and music to be my go-to to express every emotion, from extreme happiness to the deepest sadness. Just a few months prior to Joey’s passing, my oldest son Tobias released an album with his band Glass Ocean. The lyrics of one of those songs “Self & Sacrifice” seemed to embody what every mother knows only too well, i.e., sometimes in our pursuit of keeping our loved ones safe, we gladly sacrifice our own selves, our own dreams.


After Joey left this earthly realm, that first year felt as if I was encased in a glass coffin. I could see and hear everything, but there was a glass wall between myself and the world at large. Everything felt muffled and indistinct. The only emotion that I could feel in all its horror was overwhelming grief. Despite this, deep down the lyrics of Tobias’s song continued to reverberate, albeit the lyrics now took on a different connotation after Joey had passed. Eventually I had the urge to choreograph a tribute to Joey using Tobias’s song, and also as a means to express my grief in a way that felt natural to me.


I wrote a treatment and sent it to Richard & Carol from Lunacraft Productions, asking if they’d like to be involved. They didn’t hesitate. Mental health issues are a big topic these days, and like me, they were keen to shine a light in dark places, including suicide, addiction, anxiety and depression. And of course, HPPD, but more on that below. In a moment of serendipity, I rediscovered a piece of music that Joey himself had composed, called “Before.”


With music supplied by my own sons, one living and one residing over the rainbow bridge, we had the basis of our film. In the first scene of Dancing With My Mother, written by Erik Magnusson, with the wonderful Lex Marinos in the role of The Father, we sought to depict that ‘glass coffin’ feeling. Stuck, unable to go forwards, unable to help myself or anyone else.


Regarding the choreography, my work is always based on my own connection to the music and the lyrics. Therefore, the basis of what I wanted to do and convey came easily, the polishing of same took a bit longer, especially as I was 64 at the time and my aging dancer’s body didn’t always want to match what was in my head. However, I had the greatest motivation an artist could ever need, that being to honor both my sons, and in so doing, perhaps helping others in the longer term, which is my ultimate goal.


Therefore, in the very process of all of the above, I have reinvented myself, not only because I had to, as life had changed dramatically, but also because I have the ability, via this film, to help others who may be going through the same trauma so they can recognize they are not alone. I must mention the genius of composer Jayden Lawrence, who took both my sons’ songs and wrote a beautiful moving original score around their music and my choreography.







Would you tell us about the hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), and is this disorder getting enough attention? Your film is obviously going to help raise awareness immensely. Apologies if this question makes you feel distressed. If that is the case, tell us how you realized that making a film was going to be a part of grieving.


I am so happy you asked me this question. Before I answer, I must state that I am not an expert on HPPD (Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder) but I can speak as to the research I have read, ditto what Joey read when he was still with us, the experts that I (and Joey) spoke to and of course, from my lived experience via Joey. To quote the Perception Restoration Foundation, “HPPD (Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder) is an under-researched neuro-psychological condition involving distressing changes to visual perception following the use of drugs, including and especially psychedelic drugs.”


As stated above, this disorder is very much under-researched, not least because those afflicted with it have, in effect, brought it on themselves by the use of hallucinogenic drugs. There is a great deal of shame attached to that. As the saying goes, “Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.” Unfortunately, there is little sympathy for those suffering from drug addiction, as there seems to be a general public assumption that a person should just say “no” to drugs. As if it were that easy.


Most of us in the Western world are addicted to something, be it coffee, chocolate, spending money, or food. Drug addiction is all of that and much more because, for the most part, addicts are trying to fill a hole that cannot be filled, whether due to trauma, abuse or whatever. It’s a bottomless pit, and drugs are the only medicines that temporarily give some relief. It is my belief the recent sad passing of Matthew Perry from Friends illustrates this perfectly. He had it all, yet that hole could not be filled for him either.

There’s another side to this coin of under-research, and it comes down to money and power (doesn’t everything?). As most of us would be aware, micro-dosing LSD for the treatment of depression is now big business. I have firsthand knowledge, via a well-known researcher and sufferer of this disorder, that there are reported cases of full-blown HPPD from one micro-dose. As far as the most recent research shows, only approximately 10% of hallucinogenic drug users/micro-dosing patients will suffer from this affliction.


In my opinion, that’s 10% too many. Although some eventually recover, or at least learn to live with it if their symptoms are not full-blown, most suffer for years in silence. Some, like my Joey, take their own lives because they are exhausted from life, from trying to act ‘normal’ when visually all they see are sliding faces and walls and worse, yet they are not delusional or suffering from mental illnesses such as bipolar. Consequently, even reading and writing, which Joey loved, became impossible, which in turn meant his acting career came to a complete standstill.


HPPD takes everything away from those that have the most severe symptoms long term, and subsequently, the suicide rate rises exponentially amongst this group. Therefore, about the business of micro-dosing, whilst I am not at all against this being another effective form of treatment for depression or similar, the big pharma businesses that stand to make money from the making of LSD for the treatment of depression are reluctant to discuss HPPD and have openly avoided the subject of further research.


Even worse, some refute that it even exists. It’s a very difficult situation, but I didn’t want my son’s battle with HPPD to be swept under the carpet. Therefore, Dancing With My Mother was one way I could do more to raise awareness. I know for certain Joey wanted this too, we talked about it frequently and originally intended to write a book about his experiences with HPPD together. Clearly, I could ramble on about this subject forever, and the devastating effect it had on my son.







What are your key dance influences?


Ballet was my first love from age 7 and I was lucky enough to eventually be promoted to Principal Dancer with The Australian Ballet in the early 80’s. I also danced for three years with an internationally renowned contemporary dance company, The Sydney Dance Company. After an injury temporarily curtailed pointe work, I sidestepped into professional theatrical musicals, film and television commitments. By doing so and wanting to be the best I could be, I studied acting and singing every chance I got. However, dance has been and always will be the ‘thing I was born to do’ – movement is like breathing for me. Even at age 65 as I am now, if I hear music that touches my soul, my body needs to move.


Would you share your upcoming dance or cinema projects with your audience?


This past twelve months I’ve been very fortunate to have worked on a few feature films, all of them currently either still in production, or in post-production. I played a very small, tiny role in Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes, indeed so small you may not even see me! But I was definitely involved and so grateful to have been part of it, even if don’t appear in the final cut. Due to confidentiality, I’m not able to say more than that, but a remarkable experience as you can imagine.


I’ve just returned from the set of an Australian feature film, directed by a well-known US-based Australian-born actress. This film is currently still in production. Unfortunately, due to confidentiality, I can’t say any more than that for the moment. But I wish I could, as it was a joyous experience. I also had a supporting role in an independent Australian horror film, States Of Mind, now in post-production.


All of the above came about because of my movement skills and acting experience, and happily for once, my age! I have fallen into a strange subset of actors/dancers that can still move to some extent and I’d fathom this particular subset of actors/dancers does not contain a large number of candidates. What I do love about my recent film experiences is that it’s a prime example of age inclusiveness and I’m very grateful that in some creative circles, being of a ‘certain age’ is embraced and valued.



And finally, what is your vision of post-Covid cinema in a short statement?


Never has the escapism of cinema, TV and theatre been more important, given that we have horrific ongoing wars on several fronts, post-Covid economy blues, the threat of AI taking creative jobs away from living, breathing human beings with real human emotions (in whatever form that takes), social platforms that sometimes do more harm than good, the list goes on. Emotional connection will always be sought after, especially in this day and age. There is no better way to do that than to lose yourself in a film that touches and inspires or disturbs and terrifies. People have always fled to the escapism of cinema in times of trouble. I don’t believe much has changed in that regard. “Remember the Future” could not be truer in this case.


Thank you to Cannes World Film Festival for this unique opportunity to talk about Dancing With My Mother in more depth, and for championing the art of filmmaking. Also thank you to Lunacraft Productions for their love and expertise every step of the way.


BIO

Sheree Da Costa, (producer & key cast)






Sheree da Costa is an actor/dancer with credits in film, TV and music theatre. She is an ex-Principal dancer with The Australian Ballet and former artist with Sydney Dance Co. Career highlights include; feature film Risen in role of Governor Williams (2021 - Dir: Eddie Arya, Prod: Aryavision Pictures, Vertical Entertainment); Sydney Dance Co as guest artist (2019) for their 50th Anniversary season; Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge as Assistant Choreographer (2001) with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor; plus various short films including Handled in role of The Maestra (2022) Dir: Glenn Fraser, Prod: 9th Circle Entertainment, Eris Entertainment; and award-winning The Skydiver and The Scarecrow in the role of The Scarecrow (2018) Dir: Ren Thackham, Prod: Ren Thackham, Danny Bolt.


Sheree has just completed a supporting role in indie feature film States of Mind (2023) Dir: Che Baker, Prod: Full Point Films. Following States Of Mind, Sheree joined the cast for Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes, now in post-production (for release 2024 Dir: Wes Ball), and is currently on set for The Deb, a feature film directed and produced by Rebel Wilson.


Of special note is Dancing With My Mother in the role of The Dancer (2022) Dir: Richard de Carvalho, Prod: Carol Jovicic for Lunacraft Productions, Executive Prod: Sheree da Costa. Dancing With My Mother is a self-devised semi-biographical short film tribute to her late son Joseph, which has successfully commenced touring the film festival circuit in 2023, already gaining winner and selection laurels, including a win for Best Actress in an Indie Film at the Cannes World Film Festival.


Recent theatre credits include a popular season of Burn Witch Burn (2022) Dir: Claudia Osborne Prod: Redline Productions/Fervour, at the Old Fitz Theatre in the role of Flora Carr. Review by Suzy Wrong for Burn Witch Burn: “The cast of five embodies that mystery well, willing to be looked at but not really seen, with performer Sheree da Costa leaving a particularly strong impression, full of mesmerising intensity and admirable physical discipline.”


Sheree recently made her theatrical directorial debut with RED YELLOW BLUE, written by her late son Joseph, for Short+Sweet Sydney (2022), which won Judges Choice for Week 1 of S+S. Review for RED YELLOW BLUE by Lynn Belvedere for Sydney Arts Guide: “Superb text, intensive dialogue. Scintillating comedy banter with the best and worst of incorrectly formed relationships. The best of the best on Opening Night.”


Sheree is currently writing an in-depth and intimate book version of Dancing With My Mother. This will be a story of love, hope, talent, potential, humour and family, whilst also highlighting the subjects of addiction, depression, suicide and the nightmare of HPPD, or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder. Most importantly, Dancing With My Mother showcases the eternal bond between mother and son, a bond that not even death can destroy.



FILMOGRAPHY


DANCING WITH MY MOTHER - (2023)

THE DEB (FF) - (2023)

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (FF) - (2023)

STATES OF MIND (FF) - (2022)

HANDLED (SF) - (2022)

THE SKYDIVER & THE SCARECROW (SF) - (2018)

MOULIN ROUGE (FF) - (2001) -Assistant Choreographer)

REBEL (FF) - (1985- starring Matt Dillon)







© ITV 2023 Isabelle Rouault-Röhlich

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