UBC alumna and director nominated for Prism Prize award

From Mike Nichols’ The Graduate all the way to Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, water imagery has persisted as cinematic shorthand for alienation and isolation, so much so that it’s almost become cliché. But in the music video for Kandle’s “Not Up to Me,” which has been nominated for a Prism Prize for Best Canadian music video, director and former UBC student Natalie Rae Robison uses that same imagery to explore a much less discussed topic: women’s mental health issues.

“I think it’s rare that a song really speaks pretty openly and honestly about women’s mental health issues and it’s something that I think a lot of girls struggle with at various points in their lives,” said Robison, who has known the artist, Kandle, since before they had each pursued their respective careers. “A lot of times in high school and when you’re young, you deal with body issues, confidence and depression … and it’s something that both Kandle and I had dealt with. So I really wanted to do something that was going to illustrate the lyrics.”

Running just under five minutes, the video depicts a young girl (played by Haley McPherson) battling depression and gradually being overtaken by her emotions. It’s filled with surreal, oneiric imagery, and culminates in an underwater sequence where the girl is submerged, drowning, and her friend (played by Kandle) needs to pull her out. It’s simultaneously beautiful and haunting, an effect that Robison said was very much intentional given the story at hand.

“It’s sensitive subject matter obviously, so I think that it’s a little bit easier to speak to [these issues] in terms of metaphors and ones that people will want to watch and see,” said Robison, who noted that having the video appeal to a mainstream audience while still making it a powerful experience was a balancing act.

When asked what it was like shooting “Not Up to Me,” Robison recalled the unique sensation of having the chaos of a normal film set drowned out underwater.

“As stressed out as your little heart may be … nobody’s going to hear anything, and it’s totally quiet. It actually puts everyone [on set] in this interesting state [where] you have to end up figuring out ways of communicating.”

Despite growing up on film sets, Robison hadn’t always planned to become a director. It was only after experimenting in photojournalism and writing that she eventually came back to film. Since graduating with a communications degree, Robison has worked with artists like Serena Ryder, Tegan and Sara and Gold & Youth; and although she has been up for other awards before -- previous MMVA nods and a Juno nomination for “Not Up to Me” -- she said that as a director, getting nominated for a Prism Prize is a different experience.

“[The Prism Prize jury has] done such a good job with curating music videos that speak to the directors, as opposed to … other kinds of awards that are more speaking to the artists,” said Robison. “It’s just amazing to be nominated … because I feel it merits more for the video and more for the director than anything else.”

But even beyond the recognition, Robison is looking forward to the opportunities that come with it, especially ones that allow her to engage with issues that she’s passionate about. Even now, she has just finished directing a PSA for UN Women promoting female leadership, which is to be part of a global initiative that launches later this month.

Prism Prize winners will be announced on March 29, 2015.