In the sensitive and affecting coming-of-age drama “You Can Live Forever,” director Sarah Watts presents a deeply personal story inspired by her own upbringing as a gay individual in a Jehovah’s Witness community. The film revolves around Jaime, a 17-year-old girl played by Anwen O’Driscoll, who is sent to live with her devout Jehovah’s Witness relatives in the Saguenay region after the death of her father.
Watts, in collaboration with co-writer Mark Slutsky, delves into the complexities of Jaime’s journey as she navigates her sexual identity, faith, and the restrictions imposed by her community.
Set in 1992, “You Can Live Forever” paints a vivid picture of Jaime’s life in Thunder Bay, where she finds solace in her love for sci-fi, music by The Cure, and experimenting with drugs. Unbeknownst to those around her, she grapples with her own homosexuality, feeling like an outcast in a world that cannot understand her true self. After her father’s passing and her mother’s subsequent breakdown, Jaime is uprooted from her familiar surroundings and thrust into the tightly knit Jehovah’s Witness community.
At a religious service she reluctantly attends, Jaime encounters Marike, portrayed by June Laporte, the daughter of a prominent Witness Elder. An instant and unexpected connection forms between them, leading to a deep friendship and an intense romantic bond that must be kept secret. As Jaime becomes more entwined in the Witness theology, which promises an afterlife in God’s promised kingdom, she and Marike find solace in their clandestine relationship, escaping into their own little world.
However, their love and closeness do not go unnoticed by the community, and the authorities move swiftly to keep them apart. Jaime and Marike are confronted with an agonizing choice between staying faithful to their beliefs or pursuing their love and breaking free from the constraints of their surroundings. The film navigates the emotional and psychological turmoil faced by these young women, as they grapple with the weight of their desires, the expectations of their community, and the fear of being cast out through the “disfellowship” punishment.
Sarah Watts, drawing from her own experiences, shares her director’s statement, expressing the significance of representing characters like Jaime on the big screen. As a teenager, Watts longed to see stories that resonated with her own identity, but often found disappointment in the limited representation available, with lesbian characters frequently serving as plot points and meeting tragic ends. With “You Can Live Forever,” Watts aims to fill that void and provide a film that speaks to the experiences of young individuals in similar predicaments.
Mark Slutsky, the co-writer, reflects on his initial fascination with Watts’ upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness and the powerful imagery that emerged as they collaborated on the screenplay. Together, they painstakingly crafted a story that captures the reality of Jaime’s remarkable and fragile relationship. The punishment of “disfellowship,” which awaits those who engage in homosexuality within the Jehovah’s Witness community, forms the backdrop for the multi-layered and complex love affair between Jaime and Marike.
Unspoken communication, glances, and touches become their language, as their relationship exists beneath the surface, weighed down by the looming threat of exile.
Watts’s insider’s perspective, rooted in her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, provides an authentic and nuanced portrayal of a little-known and often misunderstood community. The beliefs, rituals, and unique apocalyptic worldview of the Jehovah’s Witnesses add compelling elements to Jaime’s story, shaping the context in which her love affair unfolds and ultimately highlighting the heartbreak inherent in their situation. “You Can Live Forever” serves as a powerful exploration of being a stranger in a strange land, first love, blind faith, and the lengths one
ANWEN O’DRISCOLL (Jaime) is a Canadian actress known for playing Taylor Matheson from 2017 to 2021 on Burden of Truth. She also portrayed the eccentric Cathy MacDonald in October Faction in 2020, based on the cult comic by Steve Niles and Damien Worm. In 2021 she starred as Ashley Reeves in the biopic Left for Dead: The Ashley Reeves Story, and in The Good Father: The Martin MacNeill Story as Alexis MacNeill with Tom Everett Scott. Other credits include guest starring in American Gods (2021), and in Flint (2017) with Queen Latifah.
JUNE LAPORTE [she/they] (Marike) is an actor based in Vancouver B.C. Some of her credits include The Dropout (Hulu), Freaky Friday (Disney +), Lifetime’s Web of Dreams (Leo award winner 2020- Best female lead in a television movie), among numerous indie film projects. They are the writer/creator of the Telus Storyhive funded web series pilot SIGMA, and work to uplift queer and female driven stories while firmly believing that everyone should be able to see themselves represented on screen.
LIANE BALABAN (Beth) created a major splash with her debut in the lead role of Alan Moyle’s New Waterford Girl. For her performance, she received a Special Jury Citation at the 24th annual Toronto International Film Festival. Variety described her performance opposite Kevin Pollak in Gary Yates’ critically acclaimed Seven Times Lucky as “unforgettable”. Recent films include Midnight at The Paradise directed by Vanessa Matsui for Alcina, You Can Live Forever for Prospector Films, Lullaby directed by John Leonetti for Alcon and Mina Shum’s Meditation Park.
Written & directed by: Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky Produced by: John Christou, Barbara Rosenstein, Robert Vroom Director of Photography: Gayle Ye
Film Editing by: Amélie Labrèche
Music by: CFCF
Casting by: Jesse Griffiths, C.D.C.
Production Designer: André Chamberland