Beauty & EQ: WIFTV Members with Films at VQFF 2018 Part Two

The 30th Vancouver Queer Film Festival is officially underway and one of our WIFTV blog writers, Hanna B, recently took a moment to catch up with five WIFTV members with films screening at the festival. 

Beauty, directed by Christina Willings, is a short documentary exploring the lives of five gender-creative kids through their understanding of themselves, the changes they are going through, their thoughts about how others perceived them, their daily challenges, and their hopes and dreams.

Beauty1

The film not only tells incredible stories of understanding and acceptance, it is also a timely piece that reflects on current issues as we watch the kids talk about dealing with bullies or discussing relationships and gender with their parents. A notion the director was also personally familiar with, “I’ve always kind of felt gender was a bad experiment – the way it can lock us into being caricatures of ourselves,” explained Willings. She then added that having children at the center of the film to relay this message was crucial, “Listening to a child really has the power to make irrelevant concerns fall away, leaving only what’s important behind – their survival, their happiness, their thriving. Love.”

The film features animated details and surreal sequences that bring something magic, almost like a modern fairy tale, where a child gets to be what they want to be – their true self. Through ups and downs, with beautiful and heart-wrenching moments that illustrate how far we’ve come to have kids be able to freely express themselves and be accepted for who they are. Yet, the world is far from perfect and more changes need to happen, as some discussions in the film surrounding “bathroom issues” and parents not wanting their children “playing with gay kids” will remind us. But this is the right time, a time when these changes can happen, and as Willings stressed, “We now have this window of opportunity as things have allowed it and changes in society.”

Regarding the animation, Willings mentioned she was quite thrilled about the creative freedom she had. “Thanks to the National Film Board of Canada’s involvement in the project, I didn’t have to produce it or finance it. I had the luxury of writing and directing only, which was amazing.” While she had the idea of including the drawings from early on, she explained, “I had never worked with animation, so figuring out how to create a parallel ‘narrative’ track was a new avenue from me.” Moreover, she confirmed that the ideas and imagery, from mermaids to astronauts, all came from the children, who either drew them or gave instructions. “I really drew on collaboration with the children for the animation. I had them send me images, and chat with me about [what] they were really into … I also love the idea that the children somehow had to break through to another dimension, where they could create a reality of their choosing and bring it back with them, to change the way things are, and their own experience, here on earth with the rest of us.”

Another striking thing about “Beauty” is how well-spoken all the kids involved are, even the younger ones. Seeing kids managing to pinpoint and articulate their feelings with simple yet meaningful phrases, such as “I have a girl body, but a boy brain,” or “I think there’s more than one gender” (a sentiment that will be echoed through Orene Askew in ‘EQ’ discussed below) or that they wanted to be “reborn as a boy”, is not so common and the director indicated that what these children have gone through has forced them to mature and find words to describe/define themselves. Willings noted, “I began to meet kids who had such a deep knowing about themselves – that something about who they were told they should be just wasn’t right – and they knew it with such clarity, so early, I knew I had to amplify their beautiful voices.”

“Beauty” was shot in 10 days over a period of roughly 2 years as Willings had to gain the trust of each subject to ensure their best unfiltered unpolluted representation. She had to make sure that they were comfortable being who they are and feel safe, but as they were all kids it proved to be a challenge that she willingly took on. “Working with kids, although delightful, was also a challenge, but a good one. I had to be really present and willing to adjust on a dime, kids don’t stand around waiting for you to make your mind up – and when they’ve had enough, they let you know!”

Beauty2

“Beauty” Director Christina Willings

As Willings reiterated, the idea of “feeling safe” was fundamental for the kids and parents alike. Although the first half of the film surprisingly does not really feature the parents, she included them later on to highlight the importance of showing that “the kids were loved and safe” in their environment. They probably would have not become who they are, so comfortably or openly, if it wasn’t for these amazing parents who decided to trust her with their family-stories. She described this process: “I pulled the threads of a few connections I already had and made some more – I reached out to people within the gender creative community and began to work to establish trust … and they put me through quite the extended family smell test! I loved it actually! I loved all of it – I was thrilled to have deep conversations about trust and exposure with all of the parents. It’s an indispensable part of earning the right to tell anyone’s story in my view – particularly children’s stories, and most especially trans children’s stories.”

As challenging as a project like “Beauty” can be, Christina Willings succeeded in delivering a very touching and informative piece displaying her knowledge and expertise. She has worked in various companies (as a legal editor, doing poetry on the side, working in a health food store, in women’s shelters and Rape Crisis centres) but has been in the film & TV industry for more than 20 years, She has done it “the long way!” learning through experience, starting as a locations PA “like everyone else,” working in nearly every department before settling in set decoration and becoming a senior Union member (Art Direction). She, also started her company with a colleague in 2011 as she realized she “wanted to be closer to the creative process” and went on to write, produce, direct multiple acclaimed films, broadcast documentaries and also factual TV programs for Discovery, History, Slice, HGTV, Discovery ID, Global and OWN.

Willings is now working at TELUS, commissioning and producing original stream of content, but she revealed that she still has a plan for another important and profound project in the vein of “Beauty”: “I’m fully occupied with other peoples’ projects at the moment! However, when I look down the road, after this experience with “Beauty”, using a more drama/doc hybrid style of shooting, I know I’d love to explore that more.”

“Beauty” screens at The Coast is Genderqueer on Friday 17 August 2018 at 5:00 pm
At SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.


EQ”, directed by Anika Syskakis, a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker specializing in social justice and inclusivity, follows local DJ Orene Askew aka DJ O Show.

EQ1

The short documentary observes and explores the interesting life and career of the Indigenous-African-Canadian/American multi-hyphenate (DJ, entertainer, entrepreneur, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation council member, and music instructor) as she talks about her work, her identity, her sexuality, and her understanding of the world. As Syskakis explained “This film originally started as a documentary focused on female and gender non-identifying DJs in Vancouver. Orene Askew, better known as DJ O SHOW was one of the subjects of the film. After spending time with her, I realized that her story needed to be told individually.” As the camera follows Askew in her daily activities and through the various interviews, viewers get a sense of the person she is, learn about her path to finding herself and her passion for empowering people like her or encouraging the youth in her community.

While delving into the duality or multitude of her person, her ethnicity, her self-identification as a two-spirit person, the film also addresses questions and issues around representations or lack of diverse representation in the media; especially when it comes to First Nations peoples.

EQ” not only presents us with a portrait of a complex individual but it also manages to put things in perspective with its self-conscious or self-reflexive style, which might be why Syskakis was the right director. She remarked, “Film is such a vehicle for empathy and understanding – it allows the viewer to be part of something, be it a movement or worldview, outside their everyday experience.”

EQ2

“EQ” director Anika Syskakis

Being first an Anthropology graduate, Syskakis mentioned that she has “Always been so intrigued by humans and their stories, from our own local communities to worldwide.” She then studied Documentary Film Production as she understood that it was a great way to blend her two passions. “I yearned for a deeper worldwide cultural understanding to build upon my worldly experience … filmmaking would allow me to support the sharing of stories, while promoting human connectedness, with such potential of reach,” Syskakis added.

Now, a seasoned filmmaker described as “Committed to shining light on topics that spark empathy through diverse stories,” Syskakis has work featured on platforms including CBC ARTS, Out in Schools and various festivals before making “EQ” – that she said was not so easy to make: “I made this film with a VERY small budget. This meant that the filming, sound, lighting, and editing were all executed solo. This definitely proved to be a challenge, but it also taught me so much about all sides of the filmmaking process.” – is ready to tackle a new empowering story. “My current project is a documentary film named “Dancing Through”. It is the story of powwow dancer and metis jigger, Madelaine McCallum, and her journey through cancer of the breast.”

“EQ” screen at The Coast is Queer on Friday, August 17 at the York Theatre at 9:00pm.

Hannâ B works in the industry and writes about Films & TV Shows on her blog What2watch2night.com.

Advertisements

VIWIFF Screenplay Competition 2019: 5 Tips Before You Submit

By Joan Macbeth, VIWIFF Screenplay Competition Coordinator

The next deadline to submit your script is approaching! Here are 5 tips to follow before you press that submit button on ISA, FilmFreeway or Withoutabox.

  1. This may seem obvious, but double-check the rules! Page-count matters. If you have over 120 pages, or under 80 pages, chances are your script needs another edit. The VIWIFF Screenplay Competition is for feature-length screenplays, so please don’t submit your TV pilot or short film script. And a “blind” title page? What does that even mean? It means that when we assign your script to our jury readers, they don’t know who the author is, so they cannot be influenced by what you might have written before, whether or not you have representation or if you are a total newbie. The focus is on your storytelling ability. All three submission portals allow you to upload different versions of your script, so include one with an anonymous title page.
Screenplay Lily

Lily Mercer, 2016 VIWIFF Screenplay Competiton Winner

  1. Make the first few pages count. Grab the reader with action and a hook. A strong opening image is great; but no need to waste the first few pages world building – you can circle back to that after page 10 or later, if it’s necessary. Introduce your protagonist on the first page, or second at the latest. Readers tend to latch onto the first character introduced, so if it’s not the protagonist, then you risk confusing the reader when the heroine shows up with a late entrance. Jump right into the story.
  2. Apply the Bechdel Test. Some years we’ve used it in the judging criteria, other years not. But it’s always a good policy, particularly if you might be a male/female writing team. (We do accept submissions as long as the team is at least 50% female.)

The Bechdel Test:

The movie has to have at least two women in it,

who talk to each other,

about something besides a man.

  1. How’s your white space? If scene descriptions run long, try to pare them down. Avoid writing camera angles. Give just enough descriptive information for the reader to “see” what’s going on. No need to get inside the characters’ heads or explain their emotions or back-story. Try to keep the narrative to four lines or less per paragraph. While you’re at it, proofread for typos and those little errors that can distract the reader and take them out of the story: their, there & they’re, etc.
  2. Check your dialogue. What’s that you say? Do characters repeat things back to other characters? Not necessary. Are the scenes buttoned with a snappy line of dialogue that propels the story to the next scene? Eliminate extra words like yes, no, um, and overuse of a character’s name. Dialogue should sound more natural than natural speech.
Unknown-3

VIWIFF Screenplay Competition Coordinator, Joan McBeth (left) with the 2018 VIWIFF Screenplay Competition Winner, Jill Taylor

 

Our mission at the VIWIFF Screenplay Competition is to encourage women screenwriters to hone their craft and elevate their careers. We look forward to reading your submissions! The top ten Official Selections will receive a pass to the 2019 Vancouver International Women in Film Festival and the 1st Place Winner will receive a prize package that includes cash, a 12-month ISAConnect membership and other industry bonuses.

 

Next Deadline: July 30, 2018

VIWIFF 2019 is committed to highlighting the best stories the world has to offer that are written by women. Check out our submissions guidelines here!

 

 

VIWIFF 2018: Best of the Fest On the Shore

This year’s Vancouver International Women in Film Festival was a great success—in turnout, audience participation, and cinematic skill. I miss it already! Luckily, I don’t have to lament it’s end for long. Keeping the festival flame burning is VIWIFF’s Best of the Fest on the Shore, a special presentation at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre of some award-winning festival films. Now is your chance to catch three films that perhaps you missed the first time around.

Best of the Fest on the Shore will include a trio of VIWIFF picks: Mascha Schilinski’s Dark Blue Girl (darling of the festival’s award ceremony, winning the IATSE 891 Award for Best Feature, the DGC Award for Best Directing, the Bron Award for Best Screenplay, the CCE Award for Best Editing, and the CFM Award for Best Musical Score), The World in Your Window (a New Zealand short film directed by Zoe McIntosh, which won the Side Street Award for Best Short), and local filmmaker Crystal Lowe’s The Curtain (winner of one of the Matrix Awards).

From its first images, elemental and disorienting, Dark Blue Girl leads us into a world both familiar and startling. When Luca’s separated parents, Jimmy and Hannah, finally find a buyer for their holiday home on the Greek volcano island of Santorini, the disjointed family returns to the place where they split up two years ago. Suddenly, the young girl faces an emotional environment now much changed, as her mother and father reignite a dormant passion. The magic and intensity of childhood provide Dark Blue Girl’s through-line, as Luca’s viewpoint reveals the strange ties that bind people together, whether they like it or not.

DarkBlueGirl - Header

“Dark Blue Girl” directed by Mascha Schilinski (Germany)

Jury response to Dark Blue Girl was strong. It was said that “the pacing of the film was exquisite. It was deliberate and on point within the context of the story… many scenes were cut so perfectly that they linger in the mind for days. [Dark Blue Girl] was a brilliant film [containing] beautifully observed characters and many poignant and memorable scenes. A rare and deeply moving look at this family triangle. The jealousies of childhood are brilliantly captured in this film. Illuminating!”

The World in Your Window follows eight-year-old Jesse, who lives in a twilight world of sadness and silence, squeezed into a tiny caravan with his grief-stricken father. They’re in limbo, existing more than living. The child intuitively understands that looking forward is harder than looking back; that’s where life happens. But they are stuck until an exceptional connection unlocks the means for Jesse to liberate his father and himself. A hopeful story about a surprising act of kindness.

TheWorldinWindow - Header

“The World in Your Window” directed by Zoe McIntosh

The jury loved The World in Your Window’s subtlety and storyline. In the words of the jury: “The World in Your Window speaks of loss and connection. With little dialogue, this satisfying film visually leads you through a story of a father’s grief, a child’s ability to cope, and an unlikely friendship. [It is a] film that surprises and touches your heart.”

And finally, The Curtain tells a tender and moving tale of two hospitalized strangers who develop a unique understanding of each others’ experiences. Through the safety and anonymity of the room’s curtain divider, they reveal painful, intimate details about their lives.

A012_C010_03198R

“The Curtain” directed by Crystal Lowe

Winner of one Matrix Award, jury members found The Curtain notable for its “lovely, subtle moments between two people whose lives are more similar than they know. A story about pain that is also a story about hope and connection You see it in the performances as well as the colour palette of the film. [The Curtain displays a] very creative and satisfying concept and excellent execution.”

Come! Revel once more in these three films’ drama, intrigue, and warmth! Thank you to the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, for providing yet another opportunity to engage with outstanding cinema made by women.

Check out the full list of VIWIFF award winners here and get your tickets here for the Best of the Fest on the Shore.

This event has been made possible thanks to the support of

VIWIFF 2018: Symbols and Survival

In keeping with the theme of heartening stories from all corners of the globe, the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival’s bloc of films on Friday, March 9th—titled Symbols and Survival—fits the inspirational bill, and even pushes a few boundaries. Packed with seven outstanding films (six shorts and one feature) from an exceptionally diverse pool of filmmakers, Symbols and Survival offers cinematic energy and thoughtfulness in spades. Here are a few flicks, picked from the bunch, that I think you should know about.

Laymun - Header

“Laymun” directed by Catherine Prowse

Laymun, a short film by U.K.’s Catherine Prowse, tells the beautifully animated story of a gardener working amidst the crumbling walls of a Middle Eastern city, affected by the destruction of war. Her plants, left on doorsteps and window-sills, give hope and point to the promise of growth; life can flourish even in the darkest shadows. See it and admire the skilled animation technique, warm sentiment, and humanitary resonance.

TheWorldinWindow - Header

“The World in Your Window” directed by Zoe McIntosh

Another festival treasure is Zoe McIntosh’s The World in Your Window, a stirring film from New Zealand talent. Eight-year-old Jesse lives in a twilight world of sadness and silence, squeezed into a tiny caravan with his grief-stricken father. They’re in limbo, existing more than living. The child intuitively understands that looking forward is harder than looking back; that’s where life happens. But they are stuck until an unlikely friendship unlocks the means for Jesse to liberate his father and himself. A hopeful story about a surprising act of kindness and connection, The World in Your Window is not one to miss.

ANISSA2002 - Header

“Anissa 2002” directed by Fabienne Facco

Finally, I recommend Anissa 2002, directed by France’s Fabienne Facco. Closing out the Symbols and Survival bloc, this feature (clocking in at a lean 48 minutes) follows 16-year-old Anissa as she suddenly rebels against her parents’ wishes and runs away into the French countryside. She befriends two travelling strangers who, without understanding the consequence of their actions, help Anissa find the independence she seeks. A poignant and tender presentation of adolescent desires and the turbulence of familial expectations, Facco’s film sticks with me in a strong way.

There you have it. A perfect Friday evening spent munching on popcorn and taking in the powers of great storytelling, with these three titles nestled in amongst a collection of similar gems. Symbols and Survival showcases cinema at its best and most deliberate, highlighting filmmakers from varying paths of experience who create films of great significance. You’re welcome, in advance!

-Sarah Bakke

The Vancouver International Women in Film Festival runs from March 6th – 11th at the Vancity Theatres in Vancouver. Click here for the full festival schedule.

Get your tickets now!

Sarah Bakke currently interns at WIFTV, where she gets to write all kinds of film-related material––a cinephile’s dream! When she’s not scribbling film notes or watching movies, Sarah can be found at The Cinematheque as a weekend theatre manager and online at SAD Magazine, in her role as web editor.

VIWIFF 2018: Resistance and its Many Expressions

Cinema has the power and privilege to influence the way we understand the people and conflicts of the world, hopefully for the better. By turning a considerate eye towards life both near and far, filmmakers can offer what the boundaries of our own lives cannot—an open and ever-changing perspective. To meaningfully engage with the world is oftentimes to know someone else’s sorrow and, with confidence, their triumph too. This year’s Vancouver International Women in Film Festival offers an outstanding line-up of documentary films, both feature-length and short, sure to change the way we experience the struggles and successes of people across the globe. Here are a few of those titles!

VIWIFF’s program of critical and affecting films, titled Resistance, will be screening on Saturday, March 10th at 12:00 p.m. and features outstanding works from three international filmmakers followed by a panel discussion.

“Irina Patanian’s short documentary, Little Fiel, examines the civil warfare which lasted in Mozambique for sixteen years, beginning in 1977 and ending in 1992, and celebrates the resistance and hope found in the toughest of times. Artist Fiel dos Santos creates sculptures from decommissioned guns used during wartime, usurping their original purpose and turning them into expressive figures. Fiel uses these sculptures to tell meaningful stories based on childhood memories of perseverance, family, and respect through immersive stop-motion animation.”

LittleFiel - Header

Second in the program is Objector, another short documentary with political resonance, directed by Molly Stuart. With articulate precision, the film tells the compelling story of Atalya who, at nineteen years of age, chooses prison over obligatory military service in the Israeli army. The film offers a window into the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine from the perspective of a young Jewish woman taking a stand against it.

Objector - Header

Finally, VIWIFF’s Resistance bloc ends with Tatiana Chistova’s Convictions—a sharp take on Russia’s political and social traditions. Russian men are required to serve in the military once they reach the age of eighteen. An alternative to military service is offered to conscientious objectors, but they must first prove the validity and strength of their convictions to a staunch draft board. Chistova follows four brave young men as they each make their case.

Convictions - Header

It’s rare to find such galvanizing material, and all in one place. Don’t miss the Resistance series at this year’s festival! All three films provide a peek into the often tumultuous, always inspiring lives of foreign folks. You and I are lucky to know them in this way!

– Sarah Bakke

The Vancouver International Women in Film Festival runs from March 6th – 11th at the Vancity Theatres in Vancouver. Click here for the full festival schedule.

Get your tickets now!

Sarah Bakke currently interns at WIFTV, where she gets to write all kinds of film-related material––a cinephile’s dream! When she’s not scribbling film notes or watching movies, Sarah can be found at The Cinematheque as a weekend theatre manager and online at SAD Magazine, in her role as web editor.

Opening Night & Beyond: an Introduction to VIWIFF 2018

Cinema is multi-faceted and varied in its expression—thank goodness. If not for the compassion and insight of filmmakers from all political and cultural experience, much of the world’s creative spheres would be unknown to those outside of them. It is an honour to be able to peek into the lives of beautiful, strange, troubled, joyous, and extraordinary people; to whom we are introduced by skilled and singular filmmakers.

This year’s Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (#VIWIFF) will be an excellent opportunity to reach out and metaphorically shake the hands of people all across the globe, and revel in their remarkable presence onscreen. In fact, it will be such a gathering of great minds and personalities, it may become a bit overwhelming. And so, here are a few suggestions, in case you’re unsure of where to start.

DarkBlueGirl - Header

“Dark Blue Girl” directed by Mascha Schilinski (Germany)

Where better to begin than opening night? Mascha Schilinski’s Dark Blue Girl is slotted to break the festival ice, on March 6th. This feature film from Germany has a surrealist bend, appropriately so; seven-year-old Luca is the film’s fiery lead (it’s dark blue girl), and the turmoil of her youth takes you in often bizarre directions. When Luca’s separated parents, Jimmy and Hannah, finally find a buyer for their holiday home on the Greek volcano island of Santorini, the disjointed family returns to the place where they split up two years ago. Suddenly, the young girl faces an emotional environment now much changed, as her mother and father reignite a dormant passion. The magic and intensity of childhood provide Dark Blue Girl’s through-line, as Luca’s viewpoint reveals the strange ties that bind people together, whether they like it or not.

Kis

“Kis” direced by Svetlana Bolycheva (Russia)

Speaking of strange ties, Kis, Svetlana Bolycheva’s short documentary, peeks into the delightfully intimate relationship between a Russian Orthodox priest and his cat. Priest Konstantin Michailov and his companion, Kis, get along as equals in a life of happy solitude, save for each others’ company. The two friends banter with one another, share meals together, and muse over the oddities of life, though only one speaks out loud. Perhaps strange is not quite the right word—remarkable should be used instead.

As a final addition to this list of must-see’s, may I suggest the festival’s program of local short films? Some gems include: Akashi, directed by Mayumi Yoshida, which examines the strength of family connections, as well as secrets: Jean Parsons & Jennifer Chiu’s Memory of the Peace, a close look at the intersecting lives of three people living with the reality of the impending Site C hydroelectric dam: Mental (Jax Smith), a fantastical interpretation of one woman’s insecurities and instabilities, as she fights to break through depression and anxiety’s formidable cycle: and Unintentional Mother, directed by Mary Galloway, which poignantly tells of a young Indigenous nanny’s struggle to decide between her responsibility to the little boy in her care and to the demands of her father.

VIWIFF - Blog 1

Clockwise from top left – Akashi (Mayumi Yoshida), Memory of the Peace (Jean Parsons and Jennifer Chiu), Mental (Jax Smith), & Unintentional Mother (Mary Galloway)

These are just a few of the many outstanding films screening at this year’s fest. Quick! Mark them down on your calendar! I’ll see you at the theatre, fellow film-lovers.

– Sarah Bakke, VIWIFF Blogger

Dark Blue Girl is screening at 7pm on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, Mascha Schilinski.

Kis is programmed with the feature-length documentary, In the Shade of the Apple Tree, at 8:30pm on Wednesday, March 7, 2018.

Mental is screening in the From Haunting to Horrific block with many other local short films at 5pm on Friday, March 9th.

Memory of the Peace is screening in the High Stakes Block at 3:15pm on Saturday, March 10, 2018

Akashi & Unintentional Mother are screening in our Family & Friendship block at 4:15pm on Sunday, March 11, 2018.

For the full festival schedule, click here.

Sarah Bakke currently interns at WIFTV, where she gets to write all kinds of film-related material––a cinephile’s dream! When she’s not scribbling film notes or watching movies, Sarah can be found at The Cinematheque as a weekend theatre manager and online at SAD Magazine, in her role as web editor.

Day By Day at the Whistler Film Festival with WIFTV Whistler Film Festival Film Market Preparation Mentorship Recipient, Shannon Walsh

Shannon Walsh is not only the recipient of the 2017 WIFTV Whistler Film Festival Film Market Preparation Mentorship but she was also one of eight directors chosen for the Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC) script development and directing mentorship program, Story & Leadership. Both opportunities were in collaboration with Whistler Film Festival and included participation at the festival.

Here is what Shannon had to say…

I had no idea what to expect at the Whistler Film Festival – I’d heard it might be something of a Sundance Lab of the north, and that felt like a good description. Nestled in the snow and the beauty of the mountains, it was an absolute treat to pitch my script and meet a ton of new people along the way.

Shannon1

Shannon Walsh with her mentor Robyn Wiener (left)

My WIFTV mentor, Robyn Wiener, and I sat down in Vancouver a few weeks before the festival and had a great lunch getting to know each other. With all that is happening in the industry right now around women, sharing stories of some of the uglier parts of the film industry, it was so good to connect and feel the importance of female mentorship. Mentorship offers support without an agenda, meant to lift us up so all of us can be better together. That kind of community-building spirit is so important to me and it was such a key component of being part of this mentorship opportunity.

After meeting up, I sent Robyn the materials for my film “Unidentified Minor”. It was really great that Robyn took the time to read the script I sent her and give me detailed feedback. I was really pleased with her enthusiasm, and it made the project feel that much more doable. She had lots of comments and insights to share around the story and the potential she saw in the project.

Day one at the Whistler Film Festival got off to a great start. The morning was filled with a WIDC roundtable and one-on-one meetings with Mehernaz Lentin from CBC, which was exciting and inspiring. After that, we met with all the other Talent Labs from the festival and had the rather nerve-wracking opportunity to pitch our work to the room! After lunch with CBC and the WIDC cohort, I returned to the Conference Centre to meet up with Robyn as soon as she arrived at registration. The centre was abuzz, and we took the opportunity to grab some photos, and to catch up.

Shannon2

Shannon Walsh (middle) with Pamela Jones (left) and Carolyn Combs (right)

After bags were dropped and sorted, I met up with Robyn in the evening and we had dinner, where I shared with her what I’d been doing the last few weeks as part of the WIDC “Story and Leadership” lab. We met up with a few other women in the industry there, before heading to the evening festivities at the Grill & Vine at the Westin. Robyn introduced me to a range of people at the party, and I quickly found my way through some new, and some familiar, faces. Already we were off to a good start, as the chilled out and open vibe at Whistler made it easy to mingle and meet people.

Day two started with a very early breakfast and one-on-one meetings with Lauren Davis from Telefilm in the Maury Young Arts Centre. My next meeting was cancelled, so I slid over through the mix of rain and snow to the Conference Centre for the next few hours of meetings with the WIDC script editor and acting coach. Then straight from there to the Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre for the Whistler Film Fest’s “Got Talent” Luncheon, which brought together groups from all the Talent Labs happening at the festival. This was an awesome lunch; there was so much talent in the beautiful space. Robyn introduced me to a number of people at the lunch, including some of the “Stars to Watch,” like Julia Sarah Stone, and I had the chance to have a great chat with her.

Robyn and I walked back to the Maury Young Arts Centre, chatting about the film and possible connections along the way. That evening we went to the Apres Networking event at the Grill & Vine, another great opportunity to pitch the film and meet new people. I attended films in the evening and supported some of the local talent to watch on the big screen!

Day three was an early morning once again, with scheduled meetings with WIDC mentors and the Harold Greenberg fund, as well as a group lunch. Between films, watching pitches, panels, and meetings, I caught some parties, and celebrated awards given out at the Apres Networking sessions. Another day filled with great new contacts and energy about pushing the project forward.

Shannon4Day four and the “Women on Top breakfast and Keynote” was a stunning way to round off the festival. Inspiring talks and again new contacts and discussions with some incredible women who are leaders in the field. I left feeling like I had renewed energy and connections. Back down on solid ground, I caught up with Robyn about the events of the last few days, and again attended panels and a number of films, soaking in all the inspiration I could.

Shannon3The final day on Sunday started with early breakfast and a few hours of industry immersion meetings with WIDC, before supporting some of my own students with work in the BC Short Student work segment, and listening to the stunning panel on Screenwriting hosted by Variety. Then films, films, films! Taking in as much as I could as the day sped by!

Each day held such a range of connections, inspiration, and networking, and it will take me some serious time to process it all. I’m thankful to Robyn and to the many women who have paved the way for folks like me to come up in this industry. It was a truly transformative experience and one that I believe has sparked just the beginning of my relationship with the film industry in Vancouver! Many thanks!

Shannon Walsh

Find out more about WIFTV mentorship opportunities here.

An Interview with “The Breadwinner” Director Nora Twomey at the Spark Animation 2017: Film Festival

From left to right: Marge Dean, Co-President of Women in Animation, and Nora Twomey, Director of Breadwinner

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.