The Frontières Co-Productions Market is a small and very friendly genre film market that takes place in Montreal as part of the Fantasia Film Festival. I’ve attended for the past two years, first as one of the 2016 winners of the WIFTV From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition and then to pitch my film, Tricks, as part of the Directed by Women program.
The market is designed to enable connections that facilitate genre film financing and North American-European Co-Productions. A number of successful projects have come through the pitching program including RAW,TURBO KID, LES AFFAMÉS, and the documentary 78/52 which have screened at various 3festivals including TIFF, Sundance, and Cannes.
At Frontières, the morning of the first day is devoted to pitches. Each project has 8 minutes to pitch to an audience of financiers, sales agents, producers, production companies, distributors and other types of film humans. After this, there are lots of meetings. As part of the Directed by Women section for projects in early stages, I pitched along with this year’s From Our Dark Side winners at a smaller pitch session the next day and then we began our meetings.
The market is set up really nicely to be a frame for meeting people. This means your experience will depend a lot on what are looking for and whom you meet. Pitching projects are set up with their own tables where they have a whole series of 20-minute meetings. There are also lounges in the building, restaurants, and coffee shops nearby where you can have more meetings. Also, everyday there is a cocktail party where you can continue to meet people and then people usually gather at the Irish Embassy.
Frontières is a remarkably pleasant film market. The people who run it work hard, are very helpful, and set a quite delightful tone for the event. It’s relaxed. It’s Canadian. It’s genre. This all comes together to mean that Frontières is mostly full of people who just want to make cool things. Not everyone has the same definitions of cool or fun or worthwhile or even marketable, but it’s a great place to go to find people who share yours.
By: Gada Jane
If you would like to find out more information on the From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition click here.
*Content warning: domestic abuse*
Reel Causes, one of WIFTV’s community partners, is screening the NFB documentary A Better Man. This landmark film is the story of a woman, Attiya Khan, who confronts her abusive ex-partner, Steve. Through the candid conversations they share 22 years later, we learn about their respective experiences throughout the relationship.
WIFTV was offered the opportunity to provide Khan with some questions via email, and we were happy to reach out. Given the subject matter, it is not difficult to understand why she would feel more comfortable responding to questions over email. This Vulture article explains it in greater detail.
Join Reel Causes for the Vancouver premiere of A Better Man on November 23rd at SFU Woodward’s (149 West Hastings Street) at 7 pm. There will be a panel following the screening and an active listener will be present.
As you are not a traditional filmmaker and we’ve read that Steve took some convincing to be involved, we’re curious how this film ended up getting made.
I have wanted to make a documentary about my experience for a long time. After years of running into Steve, and eventually talking with him about why it was important to me to make a documentary, he agreed, but not without careful consideration; we knew that this commitment would be difficult for both of us. I had a friend film our first conversation, and wasn’t exactly sure what the next steps would be. I eventually searched for a producer, and we worked very closely to define my goals, navigate the requirements for financing a film, and ultimately manage the overwhelming experience of making a film about myself. It was almost a five-year process, and the commitment from everyone involved was immense.
Earlier this year, WIFTV was thrilled to share the news about the NFB initiative to expand its gender equity plan to include other key creative positions (i.e., cinematographer, composer, and screenwriter). Most of the crew for A Better Man is comprised of women. What process was involved in deciding on the crew?
Sarah Polley introduced me to my producer, Christine Kleckner, who was a very close collaborator throughout the making of this film. We very carefully established a team that would be respectful of my process, and respectful towards women. We spent some time creating a demo to discuss our creative ideas and really get to know each other. My producer, co-director and cinematographer are seasoned documentarians, and they knew how intense the process would be for me, and were incredibly supportive. There were a number of women that were essential, but the entire crew really was a dream team. Further to that, my outreach team – Steph Guthrie (Impact Producer) and Janette Luu (Strategy and Communications) are fiercely driven to push this project. My instinct will always be to work with women first, but I think it’s important to be open to all of the possibilities.
Throughout the film, the responses seem genuine and candid. Was there ever a time when having a camera present impacted your behaviour? Or Steve’s behaviour?
We were both aware of the camera, although there were some moments where we immediately focused on each other and the camera was the last thing we were thinking about. But there were times when Steve struggled to find his words, or I was thinking about how far I might want to take a conversation, and our awareness of being filmed would start to infiltrate. But our cinematographer, Iris Ng, was exceptional at reading these signals, and would make decisions that gave us the space we needed, while really maintaining that feeling of intimacy and authentic feeling of the mood and space that we were in.
[We liked this question Reel Causes used on their blog and decided to ask Khan for her input.] This film is unlike anything we’ve seen before, bringing healing and insight for women – and men, as we watch your courage in meeting your former abuser, as well his voluntary act of taking responsibility for the violence. How do you think Vancouverites – victims, abusers and allies – can work towards healing?
I think one thing we can all do is recognize that people can’t be categorized so neatly as that. We are whole human beings and our identities and histories are complex. People who use violence aren’t just abusers – there are many other characteristics and actions that make up who they are, and many of them have also experienced violence at some point in their lives. Many people who may identify as allies, and some of those of us who’ve experienced violence, have also engaged in abusive behaviour (physically, emotionally or otherwise) at some point in our lives. As a culture, we are getting closer to understanding in theory that people who use violence are not monsters but our friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours. But I think when actually faced with the possibility that someone we care about has used violence, or that we ourselves have engaged in behaviour that hurt somebody else, we still default to very black-and-white responses that validate the “monster” narrative, by either dismissing the possibility (“I’m a good person, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone!”) or by ostracizing the person. I hope A Better Man helps people understand that there are other options available to us besides ignoring and ostracization when we encounter stories about violence happening in our own communities.
How has making this film impacted you?
I really do feel like I’ve started to heal, which I didn’t expect from all of this. This goes beyond a sense of relief – I physically feel better. I feel less burdened and have less anxiety when I’m in new spaces. I’m literally breathing better! I got what I needed from this, and the strength and joy that I feel entering the next phase of my life has a lot do with making A Better Man.
While this film has the potential to be triggering for audiences, it is an incredibly important story. What advice would you give to those who are reluctant to attend a screening?
This is a difficult film for audience members, especially for people who have experienced violence. This is why our team has made an effort to ensure there are counselors available at as many screenings as possible, to listen and offer support to audience members. People who have experienced violence know what is best for them, and I hope they listen to their instincts about whether or not to attend. If they do attend, I encourage them to think about what steps they can take to make sure they have the support they need during and after watching – whether it’s some quiet time alone afterward, bringing a close friend with them to the screening, or anything else they need.
Words by Brianna Girdler and Jennifer Foden
Written by: Ping-Ping Wong & Dechen Khangkar
Nora Twomey is an Irish animator and filmmaker. Her company Cartoon Saloon, has been Oscar-nominated twice for its short film The Secret of Kells in 2009 and its feature The Song Of The Sea in 2014.
We caught up with Twomey at the Spark Animation 2017: Film Festival where she was awarded the Women in Animation Diversity Award – an accolade highlighting and celebrating organizations and artists who are making a positive contribution to diversity in filmmaking. As women of color, it was deeply encouraging to see this much-needed beacon of light in an industry dominated by white, male filmmakers.
Upon arrival at the Scotiabank Theatre in Vancouver, there was a snaking sold-out crowd pressing their way into the theatre. Twomey’s “The Breadwinner” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival 2017 and counts Angelina Jolie as an executive producer. Based on the bestselling novel by Deborah Ellis, “The Breadwinner” is a moving story about a young girl in Afghanistan masquerading as a boy to provide for her family. During the powerful film, we could feel the outrage bristling from the audience followed by people reaching for their tissues. Covering issues such as misogyny, state abuse and children in war zones, “The Breadwinner” was a film that will stay with us and linger in our conversations long after the lights in the theatre went down.
Interview with Nora Twomey
Do you have any advice for women who want to join the animation industry?
Getting into a good college is the key really. It’s not necessarily the college itself; it’s the people that you meet. The people that I met in college I still work with to this day. So those relationships can be extremely important. So my best advice is to go to college and get a degree as well.
Your film is about adversity and overcoming challenges. I was wondering what was the greatest challenge you faced when making this film and how you overcame it?
I had lots of challenges making this film and certainly, one of them was not being able to go to Afghanistan. In order to overcome that I listened to people and listened to as many Afghani people as I could – making sure that their voices became part of the story and that made things quite simple for me.
So I think it’s important to look for the universal in the story as well, finding things that people can identify with and just have compassion for the characters.
It is amazing that you can encourage other women of color to make films like this. Just wondering what changes you would like to see in the industry – in terms of diversity in animation?
I would love to see a level playing field where it wasn’t an issue and we didn’t need to have a quota system. I think we do (need a quota system) in order to reach some kind of balance in a 100-year-old industry that’s always been slanted in one direction. We do need to take action to correct it. For my children’s generation, I would like it not to be an issue anymore and have it more to do with making films about what’s in your heart I guess.
The story has such a meaningful message. Are there certain issues that resonate with you?
As a storyteller, I evolved. With this one, it was such a big challenge and I feel like my life changed since I became a mother and it made me more interested in kids in different parts of the world and in other mothers’ struggles. That’s the kind of perspective I came at this film with. The idea of family is certainly one that is really interesting to me at the moment and the idea of having not particularly happy endings but to convey a complexity in our storytelling that acknowledges the complexity of conflict.
Less than a week after the 2017 Frontières International Co-Production Market in June, Bridget Canning was listed on IndieWires “The Best Horror Films Yet to Be Made” List. Here is what she had to say about her time at Frontières.
Frontières was amazing. I left feeling much more confident in my ability as a writer and storyteller and with more “tools” for getting my work out there. Pitching was nerve-wracking, but overall, the experience was worth it – especially as the pitch session worked as an ice-breaker for meetings. Many meetings went from discussing my project to talking about stories themselves; it was great to get to the heart of why people work in film. I left Frontières with many contacts I feel would be a pleasure to collaborate with.
If I was to do it again, I think I would spend more time researching participants to get a closer “fit” as to what we are both looking for. And I would gladly do it again.
— Bridget Canning; Author
To find out more about the From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition click here.