Filmmaker 5 with River Finlay: Eat Flowers

In 2017, photographer Cig Harvey’s best friend Mary was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. When forced to isolate during her treatment, she asked Cig to send her photographs. Everyday Cig set out to bring color and life to Mary through her camera. Everyday Mary asked for more. Eat Flowers brings us into the vibrant worlds that Cig created for her. The film tells an urgent story about living, all told through the language of flowers.

Eat Flowers, a gorgeous short film and homage to the love shared by friends, is an official selection in the Artscapes Shorts Program at the 2023 Hot Docs Festival. Classic Couple Academy asked award-winning documentary filmmaker River Finlay about the making of Eat Flowers.

Filmmaker 5.1:  The film is adapted from Cig Harvey’s book, Blue Violet. How did you come to this material and how did you know you wanted to make a short film based using Cig’s storytelling?

Filmmaker River Finlay

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, months into lockdown with the virus at its deadliest; Blue Violet, Cig Harvey’s 4th book of writing and photography, arrived on my doorstep. On one quiet morning, I devoured each page and was transported to a place that felt peaceful, hopeful and connected. I wanted more of Cig’s world of flowers.

Mary’s story of terminal illness was just a short intro at the beginning of Blue Violet, but it moved me deeply. Her isolation from leukemia was surprisingly parallel to the isolation we were all living in the pandemic, which began after Blue Violet was published. A premonition of sorts.

In isolation, we are invited to examine what is most important, and who we trust when we are at our most vulnerable. In fleeting moments of clarity, we remember that life is precious. I wanted to create a film that suspends us there, that holds us in the place where we are reminded of what makes life worth living.

I feel drawn to creating work that heals pain, that celebrates the beauty we miss in our plugged in world, that helps us find each other through art and nature. The film brings Maine and Cig’s world of flowers alive and together we exhale.

Filmmaker 5.2:  How did collaborate with Cig Harvey to share her words and photographs on film—what vision did you formulate together?
Collaboration with Cig was a dream. Where it started with bringing scenes to life—like dandelion sandwich and dahlia—it expanded beyond the book to represent the artistic gifts she gave to Mary—all with one responding message—the urgency of LIVING. 

Photo by Cig Harvey in Blue Violet

Filmmaker 5.3: Cig Harvey’s work as a photographer is a study of color and of light. How as a director did you approach conveying her work and the “color play” of her message using the medium of film?
This is a great question. I was initially intimidated by this aspect of the film. How do I make something original in my voice that represents and celebrates HER authentic voice? I needed to do justice to her incredible eye. This became easier than I expected because our process was lusciously collaborative. We had so much fun in the making. I set out to try and show HOW she sees, where she sees magic that most people miss. A field of weeds, a compost heap of dying dahlias  etc. Color became the driver of everything we did—and built a story around the different things that colors bring—white (a rainbow hiding under a sheet of snow), bright yellow weeds reminds us to live, deep red must be used sparingly / it’s a jolt. etc.

Photo by Cig Harvey in Blue Violet

Filmmaker 5.4:  The film shares floral recipes—literal and figurative—and much on the language of flowers. What was your biggest discovery in determining how to present this content? What inside you changed from the process of making this film?
One of the challenges was what to cut (wanted to include everything) and how to balance the humor, the inspirational, the beauty and the ache and sadness of loss. I was challenged with how to bring those pieces in and still tell a cohesive story. Personally, making this film really helped me do what the film is asking us all to do—LIVE, live brightly, boldly because it is fleeting and we are lucky to be here!

Filmmaker 5.5:  The film explores a theme by examining how flowers enable you to grieve and to live. What do you ultimately want audiences to take away from viewing Eat Flowers?
Flowers are perfect metaphors for life. The one contract we have with living—is that we all will die. We don’t like to live thinking about death—but it is what makes life so rich. It’s easy to take for granted and the movie reminds us to live the brightest most beautiful life we can live TODAY because we don’t know what tomorrow holds.

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See Eat Flowers as part of the Artscapes Shorts Program at 2023 Hot Docs Festival

Monday, May 1, 2023
2:15PM Scotiabank Theatre 6

Watch the Eat Flowers trailer

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