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There’s method to filmmaker’s Madness

Short film nabs Brezinski two Leo nominations and Spotlight Image Award for Women in Film

Actor Michelle Brezinski was living in such unbearable agony in 2012 that she begged Vancouver General Hospital to admit her.

The 47-year-old resident of Kitsilano had diagnosed herself with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The illness was so severe that every day I contemplated whether life was worth living,” she told the Courier in an email.

The former personal trainer and competitive bodybuilder was fit but underweight because she had been straining to eat, was struggling with sleep and was already seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist.

She spent three weeks in hospital while her medications were adjusted. When she emerged, she decided a focus on filmmaking would save her.

Brezinski has since shot three short films, written a sitcom and four feature scripts.

She won a $10,000 Telus Storyhive production grant for creating a social media buzz around her short film Madness. The film, which she completed in 10 weeks, has received 26 global awards, won two Leo Award nominations and will see her receive the Spotlight Image Award from Women in Film, June 15.

“It’s given me leverage to now be taken seriously as a filmmaker,” she said.

Brezinski wrote, co-directed and stars in Madness. The 10-minute film is set in the age of Black Death and focuses on a woman who believes her husband has been buried alive and retrieves him from the graveyard.

“I wanted to put my post trauma into a story but I didn’t want it to be me,” Brezinski said.

Inspiration came from seeing a skeleton in a box at Costco, which put the “Ring around the Rosy” song in her head, which made her think how traumatized people must have been during the time of the bubonic plague.

Madness was nominated for best costume design and best makeup in a short drama at the Leos, which held an awards ceremony celebrating excellence in B.C. film and television June 6, with additional ceremonies June 13 and 14.

Brezinski speaks quickly when asked what led to her trauma.

“My mom died in a fire when I was 20, a very horrific fire, my dad had cancer, I woke up with a guy trying to pull a pillow over my face, I lost a child, a guy died while I was giving him CPR,” she said.

A dentist hit a nerve in 2012 and Brezinski says the physiological trauma brought her psychological trauma to the fore.  

Brezinski says she had a great mother who excelled in her career and confided in her teenaged daughter in the early 1980s that other women seemed uncomfortable with her success. That’s part of the reason why receiving the Women in Film award is a great honour.

“I went like, oh my God, maybe women will start to band together and stop competing with each other,” Brezinski said. “Women don’t want to destroy women’s evolution, but they’re afraid of not keeping up with it and they’re also afraid there may only be a few chances of certain people evolving and so they get scared if it looks like someone might get the prize before them.”

Brezinski isn’t surprised past traumas began to haunt her at age 47.

“Apparently, that is the typical midlife crisis time. It could have been that the hormones did a shift,” she said. “What happens is a lot of women hit that time period and a lot of pain and suffering comes up, and a lot of questions, and they don’t know what to do with it, and most of them don’t realize that it’s unresolved issues.”

Brezinski sought hopeful stories of people who’d survived dark times when she was in agony. She hopes her own story inspires faith in those who are feeling hopeless and promotes the healing power of focusing on creative endeavours, and she hopes Madness takes audiences on an entertaining emotional journey.

After the Women in Film gala, Brezinski will fly to Toronto to screen her film at The Female Eye Film Festival, which starts June 16. Brezinski notes her sitcom, Sex Therapy, just had a public reading in Toronto and is also advancing in Los Angeles.

She hopes to see Madness screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival and the Vancouver Short Film Festival.