Barbara Doran, founder of Morag Loves Company (St. John’s, Newfoundland), has been directing and producing documentaries and dramas for the past 25 years. The diverse subjects of her films are a reflection of the breadth of her interests: sweatshops in Guatemala, women prisoners in Pakistan, AIDS workers in South Africa, serial killers on death row, and the music and poetry of Newfoundland and Ireland. When asked how she became involved in the film business, she explained that she entered “through the backdoor”:
I was working as a journalist, and I was involved in the women’s movement. Frankly, I was tired with sitting around a room talking to other women, and we’re all nodding our heads in agreement. You are preaching to the choir, and I wanted to have a further reach, and was fortunate enough to be given that opportunity through the National Film Board .
In particular, the NFB helped to foster her career by exposing her to the social and political consciousness of her colleagues in the organization: “Just having people of that calibre come to your screening and give you feedback on your documentary—when it was your third time out the door—was quite amazing.” She brings the same ethos to her drama productions, with the longstanding belief that “you can tell stories that have some heft…perhaps a moral/ethical questioning, a social/political questioning… entertaining at the same time. I don’t think one necessarily negates the other.”
Even the company name, Morag Loves Company, is inflected with feminist underpinnings. Ms. Doran explained that three “feisty, independent, self-directed” women named Morag inspired the name choice: from her readings in university, the fictional Morag Gunn of Margaret Laurence’s writings; from one of her commissioned biographies for CBC Radio, the historical figure of midwife Morag O’Brien from the Irish Shore in Newfoundland; and from her childhood in small-town Newfoundland, an unmarried woman who had cats, “lived up on a hill by herself” and was rumoured to be a witch. The belief in this woman’s special powers was such that Ms. Doran’s mother sought old Morag’s help when confronted with an outbreak of warts on her daughter’s five-year-old hands. When the warts disappeared shortly thereafter, Ms. Doran “was convinced at the age of five that was a very powerful woman.”
As with her sociopolitical principles, Ms. Doran’s cultural grounding in Newfoundland has informed much of her work. She has collaborated with and celebrated some of Newfoundland’s finest talents; including writer Lisa Moore (Hard Rock and Water); Mary Walsh (Young Triffie); Cathy Jones (Keeping up with Cathy Jones); as well as Joel Hynes and Michael Crummey (To Dublin with Love).
Many of her productions also speak to the close social, cultural and religious ties between Newfoundland and Ireland. Her recently released feature film Love and Savagery (2009; co-produced with Kevin Tierney of Park Ex Pictures, Montreal; and Executive Producer Tristan Orpen Lynch of Subotica Entertainment, Dublin) follows the inhibited attraction felt between a Newfoundland poet and a convent-bound Irish woman. The film was produced in collaboration with director John N. Smith and writer Des Walsh, whose creative partnership has previously delivered such award-winning pieces as Random Passage and The Boys of St. Vincent. Innovatively, the film adapts Walsh’s 1989 collection of love poems, also titled Love & Savagery. When asked about the “Savagery” of the title, Doran answered: “If you’ve ever been in love, and have lost, there is a savagery of the heart.” She added that “relationships end not always because people have fallen out of love…sometimes there are other realities, other pressures, that would force your hand and force your decision.” Such pressures, in this case stemming from the Catholic belief system, are familiar to both Ireland and Newfoundland.
Able to relate to the subject matter of Love & Savagery, Doran herself has had firsthand experience with the type of societal pressures felt by a young woman in a strict Catholic society; during the religion classes of her childhood, “the nun would ask for a show of hands of which girls going into the convent.” With her recovery from a life-threatening childhood illness perceived as almost miraculous, Doran in particular was singled out as destined to serve God. “Now, in the interim, I then discovered sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and I was saved!” Doran jocularly added to explain her life’s change in direction.
Nevertheless, Doran expressed a sympathetic view of Love & Savagery’s Cathleen, a character who takes her vows despite the love felt between her and the poet Michael. With focus-group reactions to the movie sparking arguments so heated that some members had to be excused, Doran’s position is far from uncontroversial. But she feels that such discussions can be productive: “You bring it back to yourself: ‘What would I have done in that situation? Have I been in other situations that are similar? What did I do then? Was it the right thing?’”
Besides such thought-provoking dramas as Love & Savagery, Doran has also recently completed two documentaries: Still Rowdy after All These Years, the story of actor Gordon Pinsent’s life; and a co-production with Josh Freed Inc. titled Where Did I Put My Memory?, a topical piece which explores memory loss and potential measures to counteract its progression.
Further, Morag Loves Company presently has two documentaries in production: The French Shore Tapestry (co-produced with McIntosh Media of Ontario) for Radio-Canada and Growing Up Cold (co-produced with Josh Freed of Quebec) for broadcast on CBC’s Doc Zone.
In addition, Morag is developing several feature films: The Grand Seduction, a co-production with Roger Frappier of Max Films, Quebec; Surfing in Newfoundland with co-producer Pierre Even of Item 7, Montreal; Marg the Movie, a co-production with Denise Robert of Cinémaginaire, Quebec; and The Rescue with Eric Styles of the UK.
In 2001, Doran co-produced Random Passage with Des Walsh as writer and John N. Smith as director. Set in the early 1800s, the eight-hour mini-series traces the journey of an extraordinary woman: beginning with her indenture in England, it moves on to the rough-and-tumble life she adopts in St. John’s, Newfoundland; from there it follows her eventual settlement in a remote fishing outpost in Cape Random, Newfoundland, where she finally finds shelter and a relative degree of refuge. As with Love & Savagery, Doran was drawn to Random Passage in part because it portrays a “strong female lead.” Co-produced with Montreal’s Cité-Amérique and Dublin’s Subotica, Random Passage played to record audiences on CBC Television and earned two Gemini Awards.
In keeping with her tenure as a filmmaker, Barbara Doran sits on the board of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television (ACCT) and holds membership in a number of key industry organizations: the Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA), the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC), the Film Producers Association of Newfoundland (PAN), the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative (NIFCO) and the Atlantic Studios Co-operative. In the words of Barbara Doran, “There are many advantages to being a member of a professional organization. Most importantly, it is to be part of a strong community that represents your interests and gives you a voice.”