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.

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Lindsay Peters Explains How The From Our Dark Side Winners Got To Pitch Their Projects At This Year’s Frontières Market

When this year’s From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition winners were announced, the five recipients knew that the accelerator program included a trip to the Frontières Co-Production Market in Montreal. What they did not know is that this year they would have the amazing opportunity to pitch their projects at the first ever Directed by Women pitch sessions at Frontières.

Frontières, organized by Fantasia International Film Festival, is a co-production market that provides a launch point for both established and emerging genre auteurs to get their films made through pitching opportunities and networking events. WIFTV had the pleasure of speaking with Lindsay Peters, the Market Director at Frontières, about how this unique opportunity came about and what she sees for future.

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Lindsay Peters – Market Director at Frontières Market

WIFTV: How long have you been working with Frontières?

Lindsay: I have worked on Frontières since its beginning. It began in 2012 and I took over as director in 2014, so it has been for the last 3 years.

W: And this was the first year that Frontières had the Directed By Women pitch sessions?

L: We have had this really nice collaboration with Women in Film & Television Vancouver and the From Our Dark Side since its beginning, where part of the winner’s prize package was Frontières accreditation. For a while, we have been wanting to create a real official space for female-driven projects because we are still not receiving as many female directed projects in our general call as I would like to be seeing. So the idea for creating the Directed By Women sessions was to maybe provide some support for projects and filmmakers at an earlier stage than what we ask for in our main call for projects. For the Frontières Market, we ask that projects be in late development, early financing, and that they have a producer onboard and the script is more or less complete. The idea for Directed by Women came about as a half pitch session, half incubator for female filmmakers and screenwriters.    

W: In the last few years, many of the funding agencies such as Telefilm and the Canadian Media Fund, having committed to gender parity through a variety of measures. Did this play a role in the development of this Directed by Women program or has it always been an initiative to get more women in? I did notice that your team is mostly women.

L: We joke about that a lot actually, we are up to three [men on our team] this year and we felt very progressive about that [laughter]. But no, it is always something that has been a real priority for us. For our main selection process, we have not overtly set out to have more diversity in our lineup. We do just try to make sure that the best projects make it in, and two years ago it just so happened that we have a lot of female-driven projects and a lot of projects from visible minorities and that was completely by chance. Which was fantastic and people really noticed and responded to it. It wasn’t really something we advertised, it was just in our opening pitch sessions where people saw this and they started tweeting about it, it was great. But I realized it was really difficult to recreate that naturally. It has always been something that has been a big priority for us and it seems like good timing this year with Telefilms 50/50 initiative.

I also think that it is so early on that we haven’t quite seen exactly how they plan to accomplish that. There is still the question of whether the original problem with the lack of female-driven projects came from them not receiving enough submissions from women or whether they were not approving enough female-driven projects. That was the thinking for an earlier stage section, to help some of these women find the partners needed to get them to the telefilm financing stage.

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Directed By Women Pitch Sessions at Frontières Market

W: Great! You mentioned the huge response to Directed by Women, who is this response coming from?

L: The people attending and the producers. I think that they liked that there was a change in format as to how the projects were pitched. It was a little more aligned with the early stages of the projects. Directed by Women were at the treatment or early draft script stage, and pitched by the director or screenwriter, and pretty much all of our pitchers were early on in their careers.   


W: Do you have a plan on how the Directed By Women will continue to grow at Frontières?

L: We would really like to have Directed by Women pitch sessions next year. It really went over so great. We had such a huge response to it. Our focus is small, I think having seven projects pitching this year was the right amount. At Frontières we aim to keep things a little bit intimate. We grow a little bit every year but we would really love to continue working with WIFTV and From Our Dark Side.
Words by Kaitlen Arundale

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 Sara Snow

Sara SnowSara Snow is a Gemini and Leo award-winning writer who has worked on drama, comedy, youth, and sci-fi series, including stints as writer/producer on Arctic Air, head writer on season 1 of Mr. D., and a season as show runner of Degrassi: The Next Generation. She has story-edited features and short films, including work by Karen Lam and Sharon Lewis and is currently developing a dystopian sci-fi series with award-winning graphic novelist David Robertson and a comedy series with filmmaker/actor Michael Seater. Sara is particularly interested in adaptation, as well as thrillers, dystopian and supernatural stories, and dark comedy projects.

Sara worked with 2015 From Our Dark Side winner Shereen Jerrett, in 2016 she worked with Ana de Lara, and she joined the mentor pool again for Season 3 to consult with Elle Wild on her project Strange Things Done.  Continue reading

Meet Story Editor and #FromOurDarkSide Consultant Carrie Gadsby

Carrie GadsbyCarrie Gadsby is a Vancouver-based story editor and analyst for feature film, who has lived in Los Angeles, where she worked in development for Oliver Stone. A freelancer, Carrie has also worked extensively with Telefilm Canada and Super Channel.

Working collaboratively and intimately with writers has always been her true passion, says Gadsby in a recent e-interview. Most recently, she was involved in the book adaptation of The Dwelling with Robert Cuffley, and as story editor for WIFTV member Suzanne Crocker’s multiple award winning documentary All The Time In The World. Continue reading

Fanarchy: A Feature Documentary by Donna Davies About Fanaticism, Fantasy and Film

Cosplayers Maria Brine and Zack Young at Hal-Con, Halifax, Nova Scotia during the filming of Fanarchy.

Cosplayers Maria Brine and Zack Young at Hal-Con, Halifax, Nova Scotia during the filming of Fanarchy.

Even before she agreed to meet with me, I imagined that interviewing Halifax-based filmmaker Donna Davies was going to be a magical experience. The writer/producer/director is known for her factual tales of all things genre, with documentaries such as Nightmare Factory and Pretty Bloody: the Women of Horror. She has recently ventured into a different aspect of genre with her 2015 documentary Fanarchy, which explores the phenomenon of the fan film, particularly in the sci-fi/comic book world. With the WIFTV genre contest #FromOurDarkSide on the horizon, I was thrilled to find an excuse to sit down and speak with her. Continue reading

Meet Suzanne MacLennan, VFX producer and #FromOurDarkSide Mentor

Suzanne MacLennan at work with a real bow from the TV series Arrow!

Suzanne MacLennan at work with a real bow from the TV series Arrow!

Suzanne MacLennan is a senior visual effects producer whose recent productions include the television series Arrow, The 100 and Once Upon A Time. Suzanne says she enjoys the entire production process from initial concept script through screening final shots, “except waiting for CG renders, which is never awesome.”

WIFTV is delighted to have Suzanne on the team of #FromOurDarkSide visual effects mentors!

We spoke with Suzanne about her take on genre and what being a mentor means to her: Continue reading

Meet Digital Media Strategist, #FromOurDarkSide mentor, Annelise Larson

Annelise LarsonIf you’re enjoying #FromOurDarkSide’s daily Facebook links to women working in genre worldwide, you’ve got Annelise Larson to thank for! Annelise joined the From Our Dark Side mentor pool last year and has been one of our most prolific mentors – guiding all of the 2015 mentorship recipients towards a successful digital strategy for their films.

Annelise comes from a background as an indie producer and writer but has worked in the field of digital marketing for over 20 years. Her focus is helping content creators and storytellers define, find, attract and engage their audiences and work toward strategic and sustainable digital business models. Her groundbreaking online course, Becoming a Storypreneur: Digital Marketing for Screen Media is running its fourth cohort across Canada, with a cohort from Sweden scheduled to start in the new year. Continue reading