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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

Mariel Scammell on Frontières, Fantasia, & From Our Dark Side

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Mariel Scammell

Participating in the 2017 Frontières Co-Production Market at Fantasia this year was both an honour and an incredible opportunity. The five-day market was a whirlwind of industry panels, pitch sessions, networking cocktails, and meetings. As an emerging writer, director, and producer, I gained invaluable insight and experience into the production, financing, and distribution of feature-length genre films.

The highlight for me was participating in the first year of the Directed by Women Networking and Pitch Session. This session provided a challenging and supportive environment to present my first feature project, The Lot, a supernatural thriller developed through WIFTV’s From Our Dark Side Incubator Program. I received expert feedback on the project from industry professionals and connected with an impressive slate of producers, distributors and sales agent in a series of one-on-one meetings. At this event, I also had the opportunity to watch six other fantastic projects presented by incredible and inspiring women. As an advocate for women in genre film, participating in this event was truly inspiring.

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Mariel Scammell’s “The Lot” table for Pitching at Frontières

At Fantasia, I also had the great honour to present Undress Me, a short body-horror film I recently produced with director Amelia Moses at the Born of Woman shorts program. This screening, which featured nine female-directed genre shorts, was an amazing compliment to the Directed By Women Pitch Session.

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Amelia Moss (left) with Mariel Scammell celebrating the screening of their film “Undress Me” at the Born of Woman shorts program at Fantasia

These back to back experiences were wonderful, and express the growing commitment to broadening horizons for women creators in genre film. I was honoured to be a part of of this year’s events, and the experience I gained and the connections I made during Frontières will be invaluable as I move forward with The Lot.

 

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If you would like to find out more information on the From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition, click here!

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

From Our Dark Side Winner, Melanie Jones Shares her Thoughts on Frontières 2017

My thoughts on Frontières …
 
Attending Frontières is one of the most rewarding experiences of my film career so far. When I applied for the From Our Dark Side Competition, I knew that we would be able to attend Frontières as guests to observe and learn. Shortly before we left for the event, myself and the other winners were told that we had been invited to actually pitch our projects, LIVE, to a panel of industry professionals and a room full of producers, distributors and financiers attending the market. We also received official placement in the market guide. Seeing the other live pitches was essentially a master class in pitching: Frontières is a competitive market – filmmakers from all over the world submit and only 20 projects are chosen to pitch to a live audience of industry professionals. This year for the first time, the festival directors added a “Directed By Women” section and we were the first group to participate. To have ourselves and our work highlighted this way was a huge honour and increased the value of the experience tremendously. It essentially transformed me from a guest to a VIP.
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Melanie Jones at Frontières

I love pitching, especially in person, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to pitch my upcoming feature project Switchback to a room full of professionals along with a panel of jurors. I was given immediate feedback and asked questions that allowed me to go into greater detail on my story and understand what resonated with people. I received excellent feedback and encouragement and then had 28 one-on-one meetings with industry people from around the world. Many expressed interest in reading my script, producing it or even funding it. Even those who could not “do business” with me (because they only fund European filmmakers for example) took the time to come by my table and tell me they were intrigued by my script and looked forward to seeing the film when finished. Several meetings allowed me to talk about other projects I have in development or about my previous feature film FSM. Among the most exciting meetings I took were with the head of Fox Searchlight, the lead programmer for the Tribeca Film Festival and several prestigious international distributors and agents whose films have been nominated for Oscars or premiered at TIFF or Cannes Film Festival.
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Melanie Jones’ Switcback table for Pitching at Frontières

A particular highlight for me was popping over to Fantasia Fest to see a short film program in which one of my fellow FODS winners had a film playing. In a weekend filled with possibility, it was inspiring to see something concrete that grounded what we were hoping and dreaming for in a tangible reality. A great reminder of why we are working so hard to pitch our films.
 
I also felt so warmly welcomed by the Frontières staff and programming team – they made such an effort to make us feel like we belonged there and our projects mattered – this is no small thing in a competitive industry! Simply by virtue of being in the company we were in, and treated like professionals, I felt a surge of confidence in my project and in my future as a writer/director not just in Canada, but Internationally.
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2016 From Our Dark Side Winner Gada Jane’s Tips on Attending Frontières the Second Time Around

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. 20171024_153135

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.

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L – R – Samantha Loney, Melanie Jones, Mariel Scammell, & Gada Jane

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.

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.

From Our Dark Side Winner, Bridget Canning, Talks about Projects and Pitching at the 2017 Frontières Market

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.

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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.