Mary Sexton, Filmmaker: On Life In Newfoundland & Being A Woman In Film

Mary Sexton, Filmmaker: On Life In Newfoundland & Being A Woman In Film

Leadership | Posted by - April 6, 2018 at 12:30 am

This is part three of a four-part interview series with entrepreneurs reinventing the economy in Newfoundland through the arts.

There are certain people who are so true to how they want to live and be, that we naturally gravitate towards them. I sensed Mary Sexton might be one of those people, when she told me to call her cellphone because she was on a morning walk. While we talk, she sorts receipts in her drawer, prunes her plants, and picks up a photo of her brother Tommy. Sexton's openness about her life reminds me of what it's like to connect as human beings, and by the end of our call, she's invited me to stay with her in St. John's. I don't feel like I'm in an interview, I feel like I'm speaking with a friend. 

Sexton, well known for her 2016 film Maudie, based on the true story of Nova Scotian Folk Artist Maud Lewis, speaks honestly about being a woman in the movie industry, why she continues to call St. John's home, and what she thinks is enough success. Sexton has been producing films and television for nearly 30 years, but she tells me her best 30 years are yet to come: 


I compare everything to Newfoundland. I love New York. I love London. I love Cannes. I could move to Glasgow. There's this magnet that is part of my heart and my soul, that brings me back to Newfoundland every time. I don't know if it's because my mom is 94-years-old and I want to stay here until she leaves this earth, or if it's because I'm considered a big fish in a little pond. There's a magnitude to me that makes me Mary Sexton, if I live here. It makes my heart swell: it makes me want to work, make better, and get things done. 


It's a male world. It was always known. It was always talked about, but now in the past months with all the sexual harassment and exploitation that's coming out, women are finally getting a bit of a voice. I've been fortunate. Someone said to me once, "oh, you're on this board." I said, "I didn't go on this board because I'm a female. I went on this board because I wanted to be the best producer--gender was never part of what my psyche was thinking about." 

The feminist in me is always alive and well. I've used my female control to my advantage. I've never used it to be the person that thinks, "Oh, I'm the weak one." I never wanted that. I always wanted to be the powerful one, and be the one that had the last say.

My mother was a strong woman, my grandmother was a strong woman, I'm sure my great grandmother was a strong woman. I've never thought because I'm a woman, "Oh, I get a better take on things." You go, "Oh, okay this is a man's world, and how do I get in on this." 

I've worked on misogynistic pieces, and it was a pay cheque. My heart always goes to showing the stronger female matriarchal role. That's been the backbone of what I've done. That's why I've always worked with people like Mary Walsh. Even doing this film Maudie was about empowering women. She doesn't change. Everett doesn't change. That makes me feel blessed that I get those opportunities and feel we're making a difference, so that my little granddaughter Ruby will grow up feeling the same way I do-- strong and ready to go to work.


I think about the year and the year that's passed, and what I'm going to do next year. And what I'm going to give up and not give up, and what I'm going to be. I constantly go "Okay, this was a good year. I did well. My projects survived. I feel that I have a lot more to give." 

My director once said to me, "you know Mary, don't do anything for the sake of doing it. Make sure when you do stuff now, you do it cause you want to." I feel I'm doing a bit more of what I want to put my time and energy into. And making stuff that I can stand by and be proud of. I've done a few things that I haven't been proud of. 

I don't feel I have that much success. I feel I've been very privileged to work with the people I've worked with.  I'm 55--I've got the next 30 years, and they're going to be my best 30 years, because I feel I have longevity. I feel that I want to do more projects that put us on the map. 

I'm very proud of who I am, and where I come from, and I'm proud of my people. I don't measure success by my bank account. You can't take the money with you. You do what you do because it's part of you. That's what makes me Mary Sexton. I'll see someone on the street, "Oh, OK, I'm sorry you're struggling, so I'll give a few bucks." I'll see someone who needs encouragement for a short film, so I'll give them a few bucks. I'll see someone with cancer, and give them a few bucks. Then there's me, and I don't have bucks, but that's what I'll do. That's what I'm genetically put on this map to do. I was very privileged I had a brother who believed so much in what we were and what we will be. I look at Tommy's picture here--he's going to be dead 24 years this year. 


What it is about us, especially women, is that we have work. We have family. We have friends. We're always quite driven. The males are driven as well, but females really take in family. Family is so integral to our living, breathing, surviving. We always take roots where our family are. We want to better our family, but also everyone around us.

No matter who you are, you still want to be appreciated and loved and you want to make people laugh. My biggest thing on the weekend is when I get together with my friends and make them laugh. And I laugh, and we laugh and we enjoy our relationship. This world has an awful lot of demons and causes all of us to reflect, and when we get to be honest and let our hair down and wear sloppy clothes and not put makeup on, the realness of all of us comes out. 

Tags: entrepreneur, success, female entrepreneur

Kristen Marano

Kristen Marano covers women and their work for publications around the world. She has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders in Canada and the most passionate change makers in towns and cities as isolated as Perth, Western Australia. Most recently she interviewed Canadian businesswoman Zita Cobb about reinvigorating the economy in Newfoundland through the arts. Kristen's work encourages women to share honest and open perspectives about the emotional challenges of their journeys.

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