An Interview with “A Better Man” Filmmaker Attiya Khan

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*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

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Samantha Loney, From Our Dark Side Winner, Dishes about the Highlights (and more) of the 2017 Frontières Market

We asked Samantha Loney some questions about taking her project Married to Murder to the 2017 Frontières International Co-production Market and Networking Platform and here is what she had to say. 

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What were your Top 3 Highlights from your time at the Frontières Market? 

1 – Seeing a rough cut scene from George A. Romero’s Road of the Dead!!!

2 – Getting the chance to pitch my project alongside some amazing ladies and be berated in front of an audience by an amazing group of judges. Was a great learning experience.

3 – The Femme Fatales ladies only gathering was amazing. It was a safe space to discuss our period cramps, and how to overthrow the patriarchy. Stay tuned world.

What was one of the lessons learned through the experience?

Grey Nuns Residence is a great place to stay because you’re a block away from all the events at Frontières, but is it worth it when you have to lay awake at night dressed in nothing but your own stank? For lazy people like me yes, but warning to future participants Grey Nuns has no air conditioning.

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If you had to pick only one, tell us about your favourite moment.

The farewell dinner. After spending four days of talking we got to eat some amazing food, and dance away all the calories from the wine we had consumed all week.

What impact do you feel being at Frontières Market had on your project?

I’ve made quite a few connections, and have been in talks with a director, which I hope works out well so we can take Married to Murder back to Frontières next year to beg for some money on the big stage!

 

A Look Back at the WIFTV Actor Career Mentorship Program With Michele Povill

With applications currently open for the WIFTV Actor Career Mentorship Program, I contacted actor and former WIFTV Actor Career Mentorship Program Mentee, Michele Povill, to discuss her experience in the program.

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Michele Povil

Michele shared three aspects of the program that stood out to her – the first one being the application process itself. She explained that filling out the application was a great exercise because “it really made me clarify my goals and identify what I wanted from the program.” At the time, Michele was looking to get back into acting after a 35-year break; and expressed, in her application, that she wanted to be paired with an older mentor. Considering that one of Michele’s stated goals was to get an agent, the jury determined that, although Johannah Newmarch was a younger mentor, she would be an excellent match for Michele. Having taken a 10-year hiatus from acting herself, Johanna had the knowledge and experience to guide Michele towards achieving her goals. “Johanna was terrific as a mentor,” raved Michele, “it was great that she was aware of what it was like getting back into the business.”

The second feature of the program that Michele found beneficial was the required monthly volunteer commitment. “Volunteering at Quest Outreach Society was something I might not have done otherwise, and I am very appreciative to the program for this opportunity. It gave the mentees an opportunity to get to know each other while giving back to the community. It felt like we were having a positive impact. “

Lastly, Michele landed an agent and succeeded in meeting her goal. She credited the program director, Krista Magnusson, for developing a program that focuses on meeting goals and individual growth. “Throughout the program, you are tasked with looking at where you are, where you want to be, and whether you are on track to getting there,” recounted Michele, “If the program was going to be effective, you, as a mentee had perform these tasks and answer these questions for yourself.” This was a valuable lesson that continues to guide her as she pursues her career.

Find out more about the WIFTV Actor Career Mentorship Program here.

 

Heather Hatch on What She Learned at #Banff2017

We caught up with Heather Hatch, the 2017 Banff World Media Festival Mentorship recipient. This mentorship awarded Heather a pass to attend the Banff World Media Festival, June 11- 14, 2017 at the Fairmont Banff Springs. Prior to the festival, she had a chance to consult with her mentor, Cynde Harmon, Producer and CEO for “Really Real Films Inc.” (Stranger In The House, If I Had Wings), as well as meet with members of the WIFTV team both before and at the festival. Here is what Heather had to say.

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2017 Benff Mentorship Recipient, Heather Hatch

How was the Festival? What was the biggest highlight for you?

The first meeting I attended with my team, I did not say a word, I just smiled and nodded, but the BBC can be overwhelming for a first meeting. So, at first the festival was very intimidating but attending the parties and meeting people in the industry at these event made it easier. The biggest highlight was meeting people who have sat on committees for some of the grants I have gotten and getting good news in a pitch meeting.

 

What did you learn throughout your Banff World Media Festival Experience?

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From left to right: Tami Gabay, Cynde Harmon, Karen Wong, Heather Hatch, Pamela Jones

You have to put yourself out there, and working as a team makes it easier. Even if your pitches are not what somebody is looking for, asking them what they are interested in can help you choose projects you want to invest in creatively. Write down on the business cards, something about the person and your conversation so that you can remember them, and make possible connections after the festival. If you have meetings, look them up so you know what they look like, and can talk about some of their projects to break the ice. When booking a meeting, pick a location or it can get hairy trying to find them. Attending the workshops is full of information and can help you meet people.

 

Did the mentorship benefit you? What did you learn from your mentor and how did she help you?

The mentorship with Cynde Harmon, was unbelievable, she was a bubbling well of information, from how to organize my computer files, pitching advice, getting business cards, how to navigate the Banff media website, and how to keep track of and schedule meetings. Mentorship is so important in this industry, you can learn so much form a veteran of the trade, its knowledge that you can not gain through education alone. My Banff experience would not have been as successful without her guidance.

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Heather Hatch (centre) with her mentor Cynde Harmon (left) and WIFTV Treasurer Karen Wong (right)

Do you have any new projects on the Horizon? Or further development of current projects because of this experience?I was lucky enough to get the Telefilm micro grant this year to make a feature length documentary, the story of an Elder who wants to fight for her land that will be flooded by the Site C Dam in British Columbia which you can follow at #DellaFilm. The show that Women in Film and Television sent me to Banff for was a successful pitch meeting that turned into development, which was unbelievable. This show involves indigenous language and storytelling for children, and was created with alliance between myself and my team which you can check out at catapult pictures and open sky pictures.

Meet Story Editor and #FromOurDarkSide Consultant Nikki Saltz

By Peggy Thompson – Project Consultant

Nikki Saltz is a screenwriter and script consultant based in Toronto. She is the founder of the script consulting agency, House of Stories, and is an alumnus of the prestigious Writers’ Lab at the Canadian Film Centre. Nikki has worked in Script Development for Darius Films, Amaze Film + Television, Whizbang Films, and New York’s Goldcrest Films, as well as with countless producers and writers. When she’s not story editing, Nikki produces horror films written and directed by women with her company, Ikki Pictures. Their film “The Tease” played at the Calgary Horror Con and the Chicago Horror Film Fest last year, and the company has just completed post on a new film. Nikki was the creator of the digital series, Slutty Book Club, produced by Smokebomb Entertainment. Her writing has appeared in Chatelaine Magazine, on the CBC and in the Toronto Star.

This year Nikki is consulting with From Our Dark Side winners Melanie Jones and Mariel Scammell on their respective projects: Switchback and The Lot.

You love horror – why is it an important genre for women?
Horror is undersold as a genre for feminists. It’s a genre where filmmakers often feel like outsiders, and as a result, they tend to be less afraid to be critical, and more willing to tell stories that are critical of society and the status quo. The genre lends itself to disruption, which I love. When you add feminism into that already delicious mix, the results are very exciting to me.

Do you have any favourite horror tropes?
It’s less of a trope and more of a sub-genre, but I’m particularly interested in rape-revenge films. It’s obviously very dark subject matter, but I’m fascinated by how these narratives are depicted in horror, especially because most of the time, they’re written by men and exploited for thrills and scares and titillation. I always have my eye on women who are taking control of narratives that reflect our own experiences… but I’m also a sucker for classics like I Spit On Your Grave, Ms. 45, and The Last House on the Left (which still holds its own as one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen!).

Why are you involved as a story consultant with From Our Dark Side?
I think it’s extremely sad that there’s still this perception that horror is a boy’s genre, and sadder still that we even have to have female horror filmmakers instead of just horror filmmakers who happen to be women. When we make films at Ikki Pictures (my production company), we crew at least 75% female, and it always makes me laugh to see the men on our crews turning away and being grossed out by our gore effects, whereas the women don’t even blink an eye at blood and guts. Another reason I’m involved is because every year, I wait to see what films get programmed at Midnight Madness (at TIFF) and every year, I’m sorely disappointed to find maybe one woman director in the program. I’ve asked the festival why this is, and their response was that there simply aren’t lots of women submitting horror films. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but if it is, I want to be involved in anything that will change that.

Who are some women working in horror who inspire you?
I’m really inspired by Jovanka Vuckovic, who just put out the female horror anthology XX. Beyond being a talented filmmaker, she’s extremely generous and supportive of other women filmmakers, too. The Soska Twins are another favourite(s) of mine. Then there’s Marina De Van (In My Skin) and Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day). I’m also really pumped to see what Julia Ducournau, who made Raw, does next.

And anything else you’d like to add.
Just that I’m so glad From Our Dark Side exists, and I can’t wait to see the films that come out of this incubator!

VIWIFF 2017 Festival Highlight: A Revolution in Four Seasons

By Emily Bignell
Tunisia/USA

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This inspirational film traces the struggle for democracy, activism, and self-sacrifice for the sake of revolution.

For those who don’t know,  The Arab Spring was a revolutionary wave of both violent and nonviolent protests, riots, coups and civil wars beginning with the Tunisian revolution. A major slogan of the demonstrators in the Arab world is “the people want to bring down the regime”. Many demonstrations were met with violent retaliations from authorities, as well as from pro-government militias and counter-demonstrators. These attacks were answered back with violence from protesters in some cases, continuing the vicious cycle of conflict.

A Revolution in Four Seasons follows two women with opposing political views as they fight for different versions of an ideal political future in Tunisia. Over the course of Tunisia’s critical post-revolution years, Emna Ben Jemaa, works towards a country governed by free speech and dreams of dismantling corruption of the former regime. In contrast, Jawhara Ettis of the Islamist party Ennahda works towards a Tunisia guided by traditional Islamic principles.

On a public level, both women must navigate how women are treated in their society. Through the journey, they must make difficult choices to balance their public, political roles with marriage and motherhood. As for anyone involved in the political world,  the threat of extremists means that all they are working towards is teetering on the brink of break down and all they’ve worked for could be lost. This timely and insightful documentary traces their paths from public figures in the Arab Spring to opponents in its wake, and the common obstacles they face as outspoken women.

Post Tunisian involvement many large-scale conflicts resulted including the Syrian Civil War. There was an ongoing power struggle after the Tunisian Revolution/Arab Spring. While leadership changed and regimes were dismantled, power then was offered up to another potentially corrupt leader across the Arab world essentially coming down to a contentious battle between the consolidation of power by religious elites, and the growing support for democracy in many Muslim-majority states. As of July 2016, only the uprising in Tunisia resulted in a transition to constitutional democratic governance.

Director Jessie Deeter from California, is a Berkeley Masters graduate in journalism specializing in the Middle East and Africa. After grad Deeter produced stories for Frontline and Al Jazeera, and then moved on to become a Fulbright scholar in Oman, Morocco and Tunisia where she began A Revolution in Four Seasons.

VIWIFF 2017 Festival Highlight: A Trip Along Exodus

By Emily Bignell
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The multimedia, political memoir A Trip Along Exodus takes a heartfelt and intimate dive into the last 70 years of Palestinian politics. Looking at the hope for peace, love, heartbreak and loss, Director Hind Shoufani tackles one of the most difficult topics of this generation from a personal, poetic approach, all through the lens of her father’s life. Her father, Dr. Elias Shoufani, was the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and an academic leftist. Born in Ma’liya in the Galilee and educated at the Hebrew University as well as Princeton, the multilingual and erudite Dr. Shoufani was also the Arab world’s leading analyst of Israeli affairs for more than a generation.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is the unresolved struggle between Israelis and Palestinians that began in the mid-20th century. It is one of the modern world’s longest standing, irreversible, conflicts in history. The war is wide-ranging but one of the persisting issues at the core is between the Jewish yishuv and the Arab population under British rule. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been powering on for 50 years despite scattered intervention, peacekeeping missions, and cease-fires.

In many ways, the film is a conversation between father and daughter – an open-ended discussion about what peace looks like in the Arab world. Though Hind takes a more feminist approach to her journey to peace for the Arab world, her father held very similar value at the core and was extremely progressive for the time. The result is a touching though complicated take on intergenerational discourse and peace in complicated times.

Director Hind Shoufani from Lebanon, lives between Dubai and Beirut, in the Middle East. She is a poet, director and producer. Born from Palestinian activist parents, her father having graduated from Princeton became the leader of the PLO, Shoufani received her masters of filmmaking and directing at NYU from Tisch school for the Arts. Her main focuses are on freedom of Arab people and transnational feminism.

VIWIFF 2017 Festival Highlight: Anishoara

By Emily Bignell

Moldova/Germany
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Anishoara is a fairy tale-like love story, coming of age hybrid, set against the changing of the seasons in breathtaking Moldova.

Minimal dialogue and simple landscapes stand in stunning contrast to the character’s busy relationships. Anishoara, is a 15-year-old girl from a small village. Outwardly, her life is calm, and of a dreamy aesthetic concealing the archaic feelings within. Alone with her old grandfather and her little brother, we follow Anishoara through the seasons as she falls in love with different parts of the earth. The melon harvest, the sea, and, eventually, a man.     

A must-see for foreign film fanatics, travel bugs, and anyone who is feeling nostalgic for summer days and young love.

Director Ana Felicia Scutelnicu from Moldova, graduated from German Film and TV Academy and went on to live in Benin, West Africa, before returning to Moldova to pursue her career in film and directing further.