When applying to direct a love drama that stars Adelaide Clemens and Suits actor Patrick J. Adams and had its world debut this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, director Lindsay MacKay discusses a near-death incident that was never brought up with the indie film’s producers.
As in real life, one of the main characters in the movie had a brain aneurysm, and MacKay herself nearly died in 2017 while receiving treatment for a traumatic brain injury. In response to reading Kate Hewlett’s original screenplay for The Swearing Jar, MacKay said to The Hollywood Reporter, “Wow, this is the universe telling me I should go for this.”
While MacKay’s brain aneurysm, which struck her like a lightning bolt to the head while she ran on a treadmill in her parents’ house while visiting them in her native Canada, was never witnessed by the filmmaker, she still has strong memories of the event.
Because a paramedic kept MacKay on life support with a breathing tube in the ambulance until they could take her to an intensive care unit, where she lay in a coma for days, MacKay was able to survive the serious brain injury.
The Swearing Jar, starring Carey (Clemens), an aspiring singer-songwriter who falls for Owen (Douglas Smith), a local bookshop clerk, even though she is married to Simon (Adams), is about Carey eventually recovering enough to pitch to direct.
Although MacKay survived a near-death incident, her doctors advised her that she might never again be able to direct films, so she chose to keep her brain damage a secret when applying for the job.
When I was in the hospital, I was informed that I would never be able to work again. And I certainly believed I wouldn’t be able to do this again,” recalled MacKay, an American Film Institute alumna whose debut film, Wet Bum, had its TIFF debut in 2014.
“My life had undergone a lot of upheavals, but I was aware that my sense of creativity remained. My enthusiasm for sharing stories was still present. And those two things served as my life’s motivation, she said. Including Kathleen Turner in her cast, MacKay informed them that she had decided to direct The Swearing Jar.
One day, Jane Loughman, one of the movie’s producers, revealed that although she was aware of MacKay’s health problem, she was unaware that it featured a brain hemorrhage that was directly related to the story and script of the movie.
In some respects, according to MacKay, directing The Swearing Jar was simpler than battling for her life in a hospital. According to her, what she overcame was undoubtedly more demanding for her physical and mental abilities than the challenge of making a movie.
And MacKay will be accompanied by her family and friends as she prepares to screen her second film with a global premiere in Toronto this weekend. That includes her father, who, together with her mother, thought they could have to care for their sick daughter on their own for the rest of their lives. He scooped MacKay up off a cellar floor on that fateful day to bring her to a nearby hospital in time to save her life.
They find it quite amazing that I’ve returned with a film starring Kathleen Turner, who is well-known to everyone. They’re incredibly proud as parents in many ways, MacKay added.
There are still 18 days left in the Toronto Film Festival.