Follow Your Heart
Profile by Jane Ledwell
Becoming a documentary filmmaker and coordinator of the Island Media Arts Co-op were not set goals on a clearcut path for Mille Clarkes, but they now seem to be natural culminations of life choices marked by curiosity, adventure, and community-building. “Looking back,” she says, “I see I had gathered film industry and arts administration jobs, but not on purpose—by default, because I was interested in them.”
Mille has already received acclaim for her documentary, Stalking Love, a road movie/travelogue featuring interviews about love with people in Canada, the US, and Mexico. It has played at five film festivals and will be aired on documentary channels for the next three years.
When Mille conceived of the film, she says, “What I wanted to do was to enter people’s lives and their daily reality, to infiltrate it but not tamper with it. I wanted to pick up on the small details of lives that made people who they are.”
She decided to interview people about love. “I’m a romantic,” Mille says, “so love has always been a question for me…It’s not a question you need hard, factual knowledge about. If you ask people about love, their answer is very telling about who they are as a person. You can’t lie about love—or, if you do,” she laughs, “that still tells something about who you essentially are.
“My first interview took place before I had even concreted the whole idea,” Mille says, “and it was with a prostitute in Montreal…She agreed to the interview if I followed her to her appointment at the methadone clinic. We sat in a private room, and she gave the most straightforward, the most human and humane, the most unapologetic interview. I was amazed by the truths she came out with. It was humbling. And it was hopeful, too. It really set the tone. “In the end,” Mille reflects, “the film is not so much about love as about the people talking about love. Either I’m very lucky or it’s a fact there there are no dull people on the planet, and I think it’s very likely the latter.”
Mille’s next project stalks one of her great loves. For years, she has spent part of her year planting trees. This year, Mille is making a major transition: “I’m experimenting with staying somewhere, in one place, for more than eight months,” she says. To mark her transition, she is making a documentary about tree-planting. “By ‘tree-planting,’ I don’t mean sticking trees into the ground,” Mille says, “I mean the entire life experience. I love that you get brown, beautiful, and strong, that you live in a tight-knit community. You get opportunities you don’t usually get in modern, urban life.”
Mille says, “I want to evoke the sense of community that spontaneously erupts in a tree-planting site, the drama and intrigue and work and celebration that suddenly are created when 50 would-be strangers’ perspectives become one, and the sense of continuous exchange in the community.
“Hard labour is very gratifying,” she continues. “The best thing in the world about tree planting is that it makes the tiniest, simplest things most gratifying things in your life.”
As she completed editing of her new film, her labours will also include coordinating IMAC. “One drawback of making films on PEI is that there isn’t a lot of support here for filmmaking from local government, but in IMAC, a lot of members are emerging artists, with lots of potential,” Mille says. “I want to stimulate a sense of community and excitement, and build the human network first, because that’s the basis for a healthy industry, not just money from the top down.”
In concert with her work at IMAC, Mille Clarkes will continue making documentaries. “I can’t see myself as a narrative-dramatic filmmaker,” Mille says. “It’s not within my nature. I find inspiration from what’s already there.” In a world where no one is dull, she’ll not soon run low on subject matter.