Patricia Rozema (ROSE-ah-ma) achieved prominence with her first feature film, "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing" (1987). Born to Dutch immigrants in a small town in Ontario, Canada, she was raised as a strict Calvinist and did not see her first film until she was a teenager. After graduating from Calvin College in Michigan, Rozema returned to Canada to work on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's nightly news program "The Journal". She first worked in films as an assistant to producer-director Don Owen on his feature "Unfinished Business" in 1983. After taking a five-week night course in film production, Rozema directed two shorts, "Urban Menace" (1984) and the award-winning "Passion: A Letter in 16mm" (1985). She gained further experience working as 3rd assistant director on David Cronenberg's 1986 remake of "The Fly".
"I've Heard the Mermaids Singing", Rozema's first full-length feature, gained critical praise and attention when it debuted at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival. Centering on a secretary (played by Sheila McCarthy) with an active fantasy life (depicted in grainy black-and-white sequences), the film explores themes of repression, identity and lives half-lived. The timid woman, an amateur photographer, becomes the object of attention of a lesbian gallery owner and learns lessons about the superficiality of the art world. Her second feature, "The White Room" (1990), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Expanding on the themes of artistic repression, dream imagery and secrets, it earned critical praise but gained a limited release in the USA.
After contributing a segment to the omnibus salute to Montreal's 350th anniversary, "Montreal Vu Par . . ." (1991), Rozema directed her third feature, "When Night Is Falling" (1995), about a teacher at a Calvinist college who becomes torn between her love for a fellow teacher and her desire for a black female circus performer. Once again, the director employed dream sequences, religious repression and sexual manipulation. The US ratings board (the MPAA) slapped the film with an "NC-17" rating ostensibly for its sex scenes. The director refused to edit the film and it was released without a rating.