Writer and Director Heather Young Struggled to Call Herself a Filmmaker

The writer and director explains how she made it happen

Ishani Nath
Heather Young
(Photo: Krista Comeau)

Name: Heather Young

Job title: Filmmaker  

Age: 37

From: St. John’s  

Currently lives in: Halifax

Education: BA in English, University of New Brunswick; BFA in film, NSCAD University

First job out of school: Post-production assistant on Story House Productions’ Main Street Mysteries television show

Heather Young was making films for nearly a decade before she could confidently call herself a filmmaker. “I think it took me a while because I felt like a bit of a fraud for a long time,” says Young, who estimates that she only embraced the title in the past few years. “That kind of imposter syndrome—you know, you’re not a filmmaker if you’re not making a living at what you’re doing.”

Even after graduating from NSCAD University’s film school in Halifax, she struggled with self-doubt. There was this perception that filmmakers should aspire to have big budgets and large crews of people who have been in the industry for years. That was her idea of success, and she chased it for her first two short films. But she soon found that having large crews watch her every move as the director was distracting, and she found it difficult to assert herself. She didn’t enjoy the process—or the resulting films. “I didn’t feel like this was helping me create the type of films that I wanted to make,” she says. 

So for her next project, Young decided to take a different approach, doing the majority of the work herself with the support of a small crew comprised mostly of family members. “It was kind of cathartic in a way, but also I just wanted to give myself the confidence that I didn’t need anyone else to make a film,” she says. “I could do it myself if I had to.”

Young has since found a compromise between the two methods, and that is how her first feature film, Murmur, came to be. She wrote and directed the film, which fuses the genres of narrative and documentary styles, telling the story of a 60-year-old woman who’s struggling with isolation and a complicated relationship with her daughter. Murmur was selected for the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and went on to win the FIPRESCI prize for TIFF’s Discovery program. It was also selected as the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival’s opening night film.

Now having been in the industry for nearly 15 years, Young has grown as a filmmaker and watched the industry shift as well, particularly with moments like #MeToo and Time’s Up. “The fact that people are even discussing it is a huge step in the right direction,” she says. “When I first started, words like ‘gender parity’ weren’t even mentioned or brought up in terms of programming or festivals, opportunities or grants.”

Young now proudly refers to herself as a filmmaker, embracing the chance to create stories on her terms—stories that she’s watched resonate with audiences all over the world. “That’s why I love movies, you know. They make me feel like I’m not alone in the world, and I think that’s the gift of cinema—to connect us together and let us experience other people’s journeys and stories.”

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