‘Seagrass’ Hints at Being the First of Many Successes for Filmmaker Meredith Hama-Brown

12 February 2024 / by Nicole. Soroka
‘Seagrass’ Hints at Being the First of Many Successes for Filmmaker Meredith Hama-Brown
This emotionally-driven film is filled with passion and love from the cast and crew alike.

Following the death of her mother, Judith (Ally Maki) attends a coastal retreat with her husband and two daughters in hopes of bringing their family together during a time of uncertainty. However, the personal struggles that Judith is battling begin to shed light on discord within her marriage and impact her children, who are confronting their own set of difficulties. 


Seagrass is a beautifully heartbreaking film that sheds light on the experiences that racialized Canadians face throughout various stages in their life. It also illustrates household dynamics and the emotional toll that generational trauma can take on an entire family. 


Seagrass is the feature directorial and screenwriter debut for Meredith Hama-Brown, a filmmaker from Vancouver, British Columbia. This film first debuted at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) as a part of its Discovery program, where it was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize. Over the course of the past few months, the film was also named Outstanding Canadian Feature Film at Cinéfes Sudbury, awarded the Prix de la diffusion Québécor at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma and was most recently named to TIFF’s 2023 Canada’s Top Ten list. 


During an interview with Met Radio, Hama-Brown reflected on the experience of presenting her film to a live audience.


“It’s very special after so much time working on it,” said Hama-Brown. “The first draft of this was written in December 2018… I’ve lived with this project for a very long time, so it’s really beautiful to be able to share it with people. It’s vulnerable, but in all the right ways, I think.”


As Seagrass brings Judith’s family together to confront their turmoil head-on, Hama-Brown aims to explore the topic of uncertainty throughout the film. She explained that you cannot find a perfect ending to this family’s story as the main characters are on their own journey of exploring what lies ahead of them in their various stages of life. 


Creating a story of this nature could be very heavy for its writer, especially when a global pandemic was thrown into the mix. While reflecting on some of the roadblocks that she faced along the way, Hama-Brown revealed what she endured during the writing process. 


“Some things that I didn’t predict [was] the writing process was a lot more emotionally challenging than I thought,” said Hama-Brown. “I think I was doing a lot of it during COVID and the height of COVID. And I think, you know, it was a lonely time for everyone… I think that was challenging for me.”


When it comes to the film’s title, Hama-Brown revealed that Seagrass stemmed from a scene that was ultimately left out of the final cut. This scene illustrated a conversation that the children were having about their fears and one revealed their discomfort with swimming through weeds. While this context is not provided within the film, Hama-Brown said that the title is “Still so representational of that metaphor for me on a personal level… I think it’s just a very evocative title. It kind of makes you just think of these kinds of beautiful but eerie things at the bottom of the ocean. And I think there’s a lot of room for different interpretations with the title.” 


In terms of casting, Hama-Brown’s film is filled with brilliant individuals from Ally Maki to Luke Roberts, but it is the two children, Nyha Huang Breitkreuz and Remy Marthaller who truly stand out on screen. 


“The girls we had a very hard time finding…” said Hama-Brown. “We were searching and searching and our Canadian casting directors did such an incredible job. They literally wrote to every single kids acting school in the country, and I don’t know how they found these two, but it was very last minute, and I was panicking, but they came in on time.”


An important factor that Hama-Brown took into consideration while writing this film was the historical context of her storyline. Seagrass is set in the year 1994 in order to match her characters’ ages with the timeline of the incarceration of Japanese Canadians. 


“…Someone in Judith’s position, who’s a parent at that age,” said Hama-Brown. “That’s when that generation, you know, roughly speaking, would be parents and have young kids. And so it’s really because of that story that I wanted to tell as well.”


Hama-Brown revealed that one of the hardest parts of crafting this project was narrowing down their filming locations. As most of this movie was filmed at a fully functioning retreat on Gabriola Island, British Columbia, she and her team began their search for this perfect location about a year prior to filming.


Even harder to find than the retreat itself was the perfect cave that she envisioned for her film. Hama-Brown explained how it quickly became an adventure to find their ultimate destination at Tofino’s Rosie Bay. 


“Norm, the cinematographer of the film, came with me for some of it and we were literally kayaking to a small island…to try to find caves,” said Hama-Brown.


One of the toughest logistical challenges during filming came with the opening shots of the film. After gaining permission from BC Ferries to shoot on a 20-minute route over the course of a certain number of runs, the team worked through many challenges in the sweltering summer heat to capture footage that worked with their vision. 


“We didn’t want to see all of these people with their phones out because it’s set in the 90s,” said Hama-Brown, “So we want to see no modern cars… People unload, the horn is going and the sun’s direction changes… We just had to be very efficient and go in with a really solid plan.”


Through all of the roadblocks, Hama-Brown learned the importance of trusting her own gut. She explained that whether an uneasy feeling is coming from a creative decision or an editorial perspective, it’s easy to get carried away in the fast-paced world of filmmaking and overlook your instinct. 


“If it doesn’t feel right or it feels like you need to take another direction, I think it’s always important to just listen to that side of yourself, no matter what the kind of other pressures are,” said Hama-Brown. “Just do your best to at least acknowledge where that’s coming from, or try to have a consciousness around it.


Following this entire experience, Hama-Brown ultimately hopes that audiences will connect with one of the many themes that she explores within this story. From Japanese-Canadian identity and intergenerational trauma to what it means to be a woman, Seagrass tells a number of stories from various perspectives that many individuals can reflect on. 


Seagrass arrives in theatres across Canada and the United States on February 23. The official trailer for the film can be found on the film’s Instagram page. 


To listen to Met Radio’s full interview with Hama-Brown, follow the link below.