By Sandra Ignagni
Once a month Vancouver filmmakers gather at the Film & Media Showcase to watch a selection of short and feature-length films in a casual and supportive environment. Co-hosted by three artist-focused British Columbia organizations – Women in Film + Television Vancouver, Cineworks and DOC BC – the event offers filmmakers an opportunity to screen their work and discuss their creative process – both successes and challenges.
Last summer, WIFTV selected my short documentary One Step at a Time: A Story About Women and Shoes for screening at the showcase. The film, a portrait of four young women in Toronto and Vancouver who are embarking on unconventional careers in the traditionally male-dominated fields of cobbling and shoemaking, was decidedly in rough-cut stage. As a new documentary filmmaker, I had in isolation wrestled with my limited footage, novice FCPX skills and basic story editing knowledge for many months, attempting to weave four stories into a tight 10-minute format. I could see clearly that the outcome of my efforts was a somewhat confusing, lackluster, heavy on “talking head” documentary, but I nevertheless felt compelled to continue working on the film. After all, despite my frustration, I felt it was important to honour the stories that had been shared with me.
I felt both nervous and vulnerable at the screening, showing a work in progress to a room full of strangers. Before the film played, I asked the audience to consider three simple issues – the likability of each of the characters, the clarity of the story arc, and whether there was anything novel about the subject matter. Then I uncomfortably watched people watching my film and held my breath as I gauged reactions at key emotional moments during the screening.
My dialogue with the audience following the film was revealing: to my surprise, people actually enjoyed my work! The story arc was clear, the characters relatable, and the subtext on gender and work had impact. But the film did have problems, largely related to the fact that the stories spanned two cities and it was not clear if and how the women had worked or trained with one another. Yet the effort required to take the film from rough to locked cut was entirely manageable – and within close reach. I implemented nearly all of the suggestions from the audience, including simple but effective changes: adding chapter titles to give the film structure; cutting a small portion of redundant dialogue to reduce drag; and adding selective b-roll to enhance the film’s visual story.
Using the positive momentum from the Showcase, I resumed editing and soon crafted applications to several festivals I thought might appreciate a short documentary about feisty women who love to work with shoes. Almost immediately, I heard back from the Canadian Labour International Film Festival, who accepted the film as part of their nation-wide roving festival.As a result of the CLIFF screenings, I was invited by a large Canadian union to speak publicly about the making of the film and the elements of dignified work and respectful workplaces.
Shortly thereafter I received exciting news from the Whistler Film Festival, who had selected the film as part of their Student Shortworks program. The film played for a packed house in Whistler last December.
And this coming March, the film will have its USA premiere in Palmer, Alaska at the Equinox Festival of Women in Film.
As the film screens around North America, I consider each success one for the WIFTV, DOC BC and Cineworks community, whose members provided thoughtful feedback to me while I struggled with a creative rut. Even though rough cut screenings can be a nerve-wracking experience, with proper timing, tailored questions, and an open attitude towards constructive criticism, the collaborative process can help build a festival-worthy film.
Sandra Ignagni is a documentary filmmaker based in Vancouver and is a member of WIFTV. She holds a Certificate in Digital Film Production (Langara College, 2015), a PhD in Political Science (York University, 2012) and a Master of Arts in Canadian and Indigenous Studies (Trent University, 2004). She is currently working on a short music documentary about The Carnival Band – an inclusive community activist brass band based in East Vancouver. In 2015, Sandra was awarded the WIFTV VIFF Short Film Mentorship this film; You Are Already in the Band! You Just don’t Know it Yet.
Her short documentary Sniff! The Art of Air Tasting will screen at the 11th Annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (#VIWIFF2016) on Sunday March 13th at 3 PM.
The FILM AND MEDIA SHOWCASE: CINEWORKS | WIFTV | DOC BC is held on the 4th Wednesday of every month at Cineworks and open to members of one of the three organizations. The next event is scheduled for February 24, 2016.