Interview with Montreal filmmaker Eisha Marjara

Can you describe your career up to this point and talk about why you became a filmmaker?

I would consider myself a mid-career filmmaker at this point in time. I started out as photographer but found the photograph limiting because it did not provide multiple perspectives, temporal and spatial context. This was a problem because it did not represent how I viewed the world and the multi-dimensional reality of human experience. While I was studying photography, I tended towards producing photomontages, photo essays and super-impositions to avoid the single perceptive frame. My thesis project became my very first video/film called 24 Hrs which addressed everyday violence against women. My father had bought me a video camera for my birthday and I went out and shot and edited an 18 minute video, without any clue of what I was doing and taught myself in the process. It was during the making of that video when the polytechnic massacre happened at Université de Montréal where 14 women were shot and killed by Marc Lépine. The video premiered at The Montreal International Film Festival of that year and launched me into filmmaking.

Clip from The Incredible Shrinking Woman:

 

In 1994, I made the short film The Incredible Shrinking Woman which was a satirical commentary on anorexia in a sexist culture that humorously appropriated pop cultural and cinematic tropes. Later, I was selected in a nationwide search for innovative documentary filmmakers in a program called “Fast Forward” by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) that gave me the opportunity to write and direct my first professional film which became the feature docu-drama Desperately Seeking Helen.  The film juxtaposed my (fictionalized) search for the Bollywood movie star and vamp “Helen” with the real life experiences of my mother, an immigrant and housewife who struggled to find a home in her adopted country, and her tragic death in the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182, which also took the life of my little sister. It was a deeply personal film that addressed universal themes and took risks in style and subject. It was a hybrid of forms, genres and mediums, blurred fiction with documentary in unconventional ways – something that had never been done before. It was truly post-modern in that sense and could not be put into a box, which I feared might also be its downfall and become a promotional nightmare. I was also nervous about how it would be received and terrified that my life so exposed would be open for ridicule. Thankfully, it was a critical success; it received several awards and had a theatrical run in several cities. After five years in the making however, and no longer at the NFB, I found myself quite lost and alone. It was as though I had come out of a rabbit hole after that difficult process and emerged into a foreign world. I had a hard time finding my place in the industry that had been changing very rapidly in early 2000. Technologies were changing, film was unaffordable, video had limitations and funding bodies were restructuring and downsizing and becoming more heavily burdened. Despite the success of my feature docu-drama, I was not finding much success in my filmmaking career with the subsequent films I was looking to get produced.

Poster for "House for Sale"

Poster for “House for Sale”

Still from “House for Sale.” Photo credit: Bobby Shore

Still from “House for Sale.” Photo credit: Bobby Shore

I felt I had not established an identity as a filmmaker, even after all these years. Was I a documentary filmmaker? Sort of, but not really. Fiction? More likely but I had no actual experience in traditional dramatic filmmaking. I found myself starting over and searching for a “home” within the industry, while producing screenplay after screenplay.  Naturally, I thought training in fiction film directing was in order. I turned to the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto (the CFC) and applied to the Director’s Lab, but because of my lack of fictional filmmaking experience, I was refused and told to “go home and make a short fiction film” and apply again once that was done. Frustrating, to say the least. So “naturally,” I fled to Germany! There, from the success of my NFB film, I met a producer and found a supportive community of media professionals that were excited about helping me produce a short film that I shot in Munich. I invested $2,500 of my own money and with volunteer help and post production grants from Montreal, I made a film aptly called The Tourist which is about a wandering loner and misfit who finds himself in Bavaria during the Oktoberfest and entangled in a couple’s troubled relationship. I have since been developing several feature film scripts, and establishing myself as a feature film writer and director.

Clip from Desperately Seeking Helen:

Clip from The Tourist:

 

How do you see yourself fitting in, or not, to the Canadian film industry or even the Montreal filmmaking community?

I don’t fit in. I have given up trying to fit in and resolved by just producing work that I feel connected to and am passionate about. The most relevant creative work that I will do are films that delve deepest into subjects that most profoundly move me. Those stories emerge from the subjective and idiosyncratic nature and course of my life journey that is unique to me. Not fitting in might be the best thing that could happen to my creative life. Yet when it comes to realizing this “creative life,” I have to believe that my difference is a strength, not a hindrance and convince others of that too, and that my stories have relevance and a place within the cinematic landscape. As women, I think we do set the bar really high and demand 200% from ourselves before believing in ourselves and stepping out taking up our space. From the films that I have been making, I am slowly finding a place within the film community in Montreal which is kind to noncommercial filmmakers because it supports and encourages marginal voices and more creative approaches to film. However, as I develop and grow in my craft, I am increasingly clear that I am a filmmaker without borders. In other words, I am not identified with any nation or culture, but perceive myself as someone who is transnational and sees through the limits of cultural, racial, religious, gender based identities and views a world in which differences give way to universal human experiences.

Does Quebecois film, which is supported so much more than English-language film in the rest of Canada, play a role or have a major influence in your own work?

Quebecois cinema has been influential in my work and has presented an alternative to American mainstream and Indie cinema. Naturally I am proud of cinema that has come out of Quebec that has been quite stellar, however I do find that it’s an industry that has not been easy to penetrate, for someone like me who is not white, male and Francophone. Apart from documentary films, I have not seen much of myself or my experience reflected in most if not all Quebec movies, commercial or otherwise with the exception of films like Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar, which were however both written, directed and produced by white Francophone males who are also my peers. I do think there is a desire for diversity and a multi-cultural and global perspective, yet resources and funds are limited, and they tend to fall into the same hands. I am bent on changing that.

Still from "The Tourist."  Photo credit: Eisha Marjara

Still from “The Tourist.” Photo credit: Eisha Marjara

How do you go about navigating your identities (as you put it to me) as a Canadian South Asian Quebecois feminist woman?  Do you consciously inject your identity into your work, or do you avoid such a personal point of view?

It’s incumbent upon me to avoid consciously injecting my identity into my work, and to consciously seek ways to make implicit my subjectivity in the stories that I tell. Research and development prior to that phase lays the groundwork, shapes my opinions, prejudices, politics and allegiances. I rely on that process to inform the story that my creative brain will end up generating. Viewers and critics are quick to put a film into a box and if it screams “feminist” or “a film about racism” or “a movie about women’s issues,” it will immediately get marginalized and set apart from “regular” boys’ films and not taken as seriously, and more likely receive less exposure, which happens with women’s work in a sexist culture. Such labeling also discourages men and a white mainstream audience, those who would most benefit from the film, access to the films. I am eager for the day when such descriptives as “female” or “black,” “gay” or whatever else will no longer apply to filmmakers.

Have you found or worked with many women within the film industry in Canada? Do you belong to any women’s film or media organizations?

One of my very first jobs was at the notorious Studio D of the National Film Board of Canada, which was a feminist run studio that was mandated to produce documentary films for and by and about women. There I met Kathleen Shannon who spearheaded the Studio, Cynthia Scott and Ginny Stikeman who was the executive producer that the time, director Ann Claire Poirier who was in the French sector and Susan Trow one of the few successful women cinematographers who really inspired me to direct. The Studio produced films like If You Love This Planet, Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives, Academy Award-winning I’ll Find a Way and Flamenco at 5:15,among others.  Sadly I watched the studio shut down in 1996. Since then, I have worked on only a few indie films (documentary) by women as cinematographer, but I am seeing increasingly more women appear in the industry working as cinematographers, producers and directors.

There are a few women’s media organizations, like Réalisatrices Équitables, a Montreal based women directors’ group of which I am member, and Femmes du Cinéma, de la Television et des Nouveaux Médias (FCTNM).

Intvw-Marjara-DSH-poster

Poster for “Desperately Seeking Helen”

What has your experience been with funding your projects? Have you ever depended on any of the numerous and established funding schemes available in Canada?

All of my projects except for my docu-drama that was exclusively funded by the NFB, have been funded by artist grants, such as The Canada Council for the Arts and Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec. There are also grants offered by film coops and the NFB which has resources to assist independent filmmakers. Filmmakers and producers who have a company, have more options available to them for financing. They can approach several other financing institutions like SODEC and Telefilm among others. In most cases, there are up to two deadlines a year, and it takes three to four months to receive the results from the application. If the submission is unsuccessful, the applicant can apply again, which also means that it can take years before a film, even a short film or documentary can receive funding. A new jury or assessment committee is selected for each application period. I have tried my hand at crowd funding, but I need more skill to be truly successful at it.

What is your latest project, and what are you working on next?

My latest project is the short suburban drama House for Sale that is having a successful festival run now. Since its release last February, it has picked up six awards. It is from the momentum and success of this film that I would like to get produced a feature film called Venus which, like the short, centers on a transgender protagonist and grapples with themes of identity, belonging and love. I am also developing the drama Calorie which is about an Indo-Canadian mother who travels to India with her troubled teen daughters, only regretting the trip which turns to tragedy.

Trailer for House for Sale:

Learn more about Eisha Marjara at:

Website: eishamarjara.com
House for Sale: houseforsalefilm.com
House for Sale Trailer: vimeo.com/30089402
Wiki page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisha_Marjara
ImDb: imdb.com/name/nm0548205
Facebook HFS page: facebook.com/House4SaleFilm

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Intvw-Marjara-headshot

Photo credit: Mélanie Robert

Montreal filmmaker Eisha Marjara first drew attention with the witty and incisive The Incredible Shrinking Woman followed by feature docu-drama Desperately Seeking Helen, an NFB production which received the Jury Prize at the München Dokumentarfilm Festival and the Critics’ Choice Award at the Locarno Film Festival in 2000.  The Tourist (2006) was nominated for best short at the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto.

She’s currently developing several features including Venus as well as the controversial docu-drama Lolita Diaries which explores girlhood and sexuality through the lens of Nabokov’s Lolita. Her latest film, House for Sale (2012), has received several awards. (Contact Eisha.)

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Guest post by New Brunswick filmmaker Gretchen Kelbaugh

For years my mother asked me to read Auntie Gert’s memoirs. I knew that the wrinkled woman with a cane who we visited once a year had been a militant suffragette fighting for the right of women to vote. But that era seemed so distant, so unrelated to me. Auntie Gert died in 1977.  Guestpost-Kelbaugh-gertharding

When I finally read her memoirs ten years later, complete with photographs and her own sketches, her story changed my life. Personally, Gert became a beacon to light my feminism and social activism. Professionally, I became committed to telling the world this little-known story of the fight for the female vote. The violent revolt by British women less than a hundred years ago is without precedent, yet it continues to be treated without prestige.

Guestpost-Kelbaugh-bumper

Misfit: The Early Years, New Brunswick and Hawaii (1889-1912)

Gert Harding is born in 1889 on her parents’ farm in New Brunswick, Canada, youngest of six. One simple sketch shows a girl galloping across the field on Old Barney the workhorse, with nothing but a halter and rope. Gert goes camping in the woods alone; she prefers fishing to sewing and hunting to housework. When she is 18 her mother dies, leaving Gert to do all the cooking and housework, with no indoor plumbing, hot or cold. Discovery of a heart murmur turns into a godsend. As such conditions are considered risky in those days, Gert is sent to Hawaii to be companion to her sister Nellie, who has married wealthy Dr. Ernest Waterhouse.

For a few years, Gert leads a life of relative ease: tennis and horse riding, boat parties and midnight walks on Waikiki Beach. But Gert strains against the fetters of financial dependence on her brother-in-law. After sneaking off to her first paid job – selling chocolates at the Palm Cafe – she is found out and forced to quit the job because “Waterhouse women don’t work!” Gert concludes, “And so ended my first sallying forth to gain independence in the year 1910.”

Guestpost-Kelbaugh-campingfishinghunting

Rebel: The Suffragette Years, London and Glasgow (1912-18)

At 23, Gert is invited to go with Nellie’s family to their new home in England to study art. Within weeks of landing in London, Gert sees a poster parade of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the WSPU, whose members are called militant suffragettes. Their slogan, “Votes for Women,” strikes a chord she didn’t know she had. Gert quits art to join up as a volunteer and finds herself in her first poster parade. In her words:

Clapham is a miserable sordid suburb of London and a poster parade of women supplied delightful entertainment to the sadistic-minded men and youths lounging on street corners. From fruit and vegetable vendors they would select the most luscious of overripe plums, tomatoes and apples to hurl at us as we plodded along in the rain trying to be oblivious to all that went on around us. Being the last in line, I was a prime target and received a perfect barrage of these unsavoury objects. Then, without thinking, I did the one thing sure to bring on disaster – I raised my umbrella! With loud guffaws of joy the onlookers armed themselves with fresh ammunition and made a bulls-eye every time. Too late I realized the stupidity of my would-be humourous gesture and hastily put down the battered umbrella.

Having shown her pluck, Gert is asked to join up as one of only 75 paid workers in this organization of thousands. Her six siblings, spread out now from New Brunswick to Malaya, are horrified. Joining any of the dozens of women’s suffrage groups is shameful, but to work for the notorious Pankhursts and their lot — one of only two groups that condone militancy — is scandalous. As Gert joins, the WSPU has just started its ‘campaign of terror’ against property. Women terrorists? How did that happen?

Guestpost-Kelbaugh-posterparade

Since 1867, British suffrage groups have been asking the Government to grant women the basic right in a democracy … and getting nowhere. You can put up with injustice and deception for only so many decades. In the early 1900s, legal tactics had escalated to noisy demonstrations and window-breaking, both in protest and to try to get media attention for the cause. When they were jailed as common criminals, instead of as the political prisoners they were, many militants began to hunger strike in protest. The Government’s response was, and still is in 1912, the degrading and painful torture of forced feeding.

Gert’s first “job,” along with co-worker Lilian Lenton, is to break into the world-renowned Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew and cause as much damage as possible to the most valuable orchids before being arrested. At midnight, during a raging thunderstorm, they break into two orchid houses, smashing glass windowpanes and breaking pots and plants. No police arrive, so they scale a six-foot wall and escape. The next day 12 newspapers report on the ‘outrage’, some claiming that a male sympathizer to the cause must have perpetrated the havoc because only a man could have scaled the wall to escape. (“That was nothing for a farm girl from New Brunswick,” my mother always says.)

Acting on their own initiative, a few extreme devotees decide to up the level of violence even further than attacking public art and gardens. They start to bomb and burn empty buildings. Lilian Lenton returns to Kew Gardens alone and torches the empty Tea Pavilion. Such tactics were and are still used by men fighting for the vote, but with many deaths. The suffragettes ensure that they never harm ‘so much as a canary in a cage’. A feminine form of violent protest, if ever there was one.

The raid on Kew Gardens is Gert’s only act of violence. (She doesn’t say why.) She next joins the staff of the newspaper, The Suffragette, recently raided by Scotland Yard and driven underground. Gert and her colleagues travel through back alleys with soot on their faces to avoid detection. They set up the type and crank the printing press all night in secret flats, always on the lookout for spies and detectives.

Mrs. Pankhurst, who formed the WSPU with her brilliant daughter Christabel, travels far and wide giving rousing speeches, and by now she is the most recognized woman in the world. Each time Mrs. Pankhurst is imprisoned, she hunger strikes and is released. (The Government doesn’t dare force feed this renowned leader, wife of a former Member of Parliament.) When Scotland Yard is given the special unconstitutional power to re-arrest Mrs. Pankhurst on sight, the WSPU decides to form a secret bodyguard of women to prevent her constant re-arrest while pubic speaking. The Pankhursts consider Gert, the colonial from Canada, to be so resourceful and daring that they choose her to head up this bodyguard. Gert is one of only a few Canadians to join the WSPU.

Despite training in jiu jitsu and the use of India rubber clubs, the women soon realize that when pitted against the fists and truncheons of street-tough bobbies, they risk broken bones and concussions with each confrontation. Scotland Yard will have to be outwitted:

It had been advertised that [Mrs. Pankhurst] would speak on a certain evening, and when the time arrived a huge crowd was waiting, and so were dozens of plain clothes detectives determined to arrest her. Mrs. Pankhurst… made her speech, and then announced that she was coming down…. A veiled woman closely guarded by a group of the bodyguard was pounced upon by the eager police and spirited away after a token fight. Immediately afterward Mrs. Pankhurst quietly walked down the steps and I escorted her to a waiting taxi.

Sharp wits beat strength several more times, always with humourous results. Gert and the other organizers are wanted criminals, but they enjoy going about decked in costumes and wigs supplied by the Actresses’ Franchise League. For most of these women, their years as political protesters will be their happiest and most rewarding.

The string of bodyguard successes ends at a suffrage rally in Glasgow in 1914. Hundreds of police storm the hall and overwhelm the combined English and Scottish bodyguard.

It was a fantastic scene of violence, with Mrs. Pankhurst in the midst of milling police and bodyguard trying to protect her from injury…. [T]he audience now began to join in with shouts of disapproval against the police. The elderly ladies (who had no use for Suffragettes) rose up in their boxes and, using umbrellas as weapons, began hammering on the heads of two policemen trying to climb on the platform with the help of the “garlands” strung across the front. They let go in a hurry however when the barbed wire [hidden in the garlands] came to light.

The speaker’s table was overturned, and chairs flew about in all directions. I found myself looking up at a very large policeman with truncheon lifted ready to descend on my head. For some unknown reason he lowered it and tossed me instead into a pile of overturned chairs. Many of the bodyguard had been struck on the head, and some were found later on to have suffered slight concussion. A brave and wonderful fight was put up by these women.

Mrs. Pankhurst is again imprisoned, the bodyguard dispirited. Back in London, Gert soon becomes editor of The Suffragette, as the senior staff is all in prison. It is July 1914.

Within a month, World War I breaks out. The Pankhursts make the controversial decision to cease protest and to help with the War effort. Many women leave for other suffragist groups that continue to fight for the vote. The WSPU scales down but keeps Gert on staff. Christabel Pankhurst, the brains of the organization, moves to Paris to monitor events, and Gert accepts the job of being her private secretary there.

Eventually funds are low and even Gert must be let go. With recommendation from the Pankhursts, now the Government’s allies, Gert is hired on at the huge Gretna Munitions Factory as a Welfare Supervisor to the women workers. She proves exceptional at this job, the precursor to our modern Social Worker. When War ends, the British Government finally grants women a partial vote in 1918, in response not only to their war effort but also to the Pankhursts’ threat that if the vote is not granted, militancy will resume.

Activist: Social Work Years and Retirement, New Jersey (1920-1977)

In 1920, Gert moves back home to the new Harding farm in Hammond River, New Brunswick. After a year, she lands a position as Welfare Supervisor in Plainfield, New Jersey, a job she keeps for 13 years.

Gert Harding’s biography, published under the author's married name.

Gert Harding’s biography, published under the author’s married name.

In her middle years, Gert continues to volunteer with many organizations, fighting for peace, women’s rights, animal rights and the poor. She keeps in touch with her nieces and nephews in New Brunswick and returns there to live in 1976, where she dies of cancer a year later, aged 88.

Guestpost-Kelbaugh-bumper

I was so taken with Gert’s story that I immediately found a Canadian publisher, Goose Lane Editions, and began to write her biography. Researching in London, my Irish assistant, Emily Cargan, and I visited her haunts. We found the glass houses with rare orchids at Kew Gardens and imagined where she and Lilian might have hidden at closing time to await their midnight attack. In museums, we read other firsthand accounts of militants, most of them young, scared and fiercely committed to gender equality. They use the word ‘feminist’, by times, and felt the injustice of being denied the vote as strongly as we would today, were we to suddenly lose that right. If I had been with them, I might have hammered some windows, too.

Here is the single fact that drove home how recent is this history: The WSPU formed in 1903 — the year my father was born. Wow. So Dad was in fourth grade in Maryland when Gert was being mobbed in Hyde Park. He was picking peaches on the family farm when she attended the funeral of Emily Wilding Davison, the renegade suffragette who died trying to tie a WSPU flag to the King’s horse on Derby Day. In fact, on the day of Emily’s funeral, when 6000 suffragists were following the hearse, Gert was in hiding with Mrs. Pankhust. The parade suddenly stopped at Westminster Mansions. “Mrs. P” emerged, gave Gert her handwritten press release and was quickly nabbed by police. This incident triggered the formation of the bodyguard.

Guestpost-Kelbaugh-Hydeparkcorner

As I researched Gert’s militant days, I kept seeing her and her colleagues committing their acts of daring on a big screen in my mind. Where are the movies about women heroines, women with a political story to tell? Women who, rather than being girlfriend to the hero, helped change the world themselves? I crave such movies, such stories.

So the day I mailed off my manuscript to Goose Lane, I began to write a screenplay called Hardie (Gert’s nickname), based on her most exciting 18 months in London. Hardie went on to win an Atlantic Canadian script competition.

In 2018, it will be the centenary of British and Canadian women getting the vote (2020 in the USA). Before then I hope to find producers for Hardie. This farm girl from New Brunswick happened to be in the right place and time to seize an opportunity to join the most radical group of women the world has ever known. Viewers will relate to her, shake their fists with her at those who oppose political equality. We’ll feel the humiliation of having rotten eggs thrown at us and we’ll laugh with the bodyguard at the blundering of Scotland Yard.

In August I was thrilled to find a New Brunswick producer who loves Gert’s story and wants to make a documentary about her. Now I need to find producers for my screenplay Hardie. I would appreciate any help with this.

Gert’s tale has it all: comedy, drama, action, heroes and villains, disguises and subterfuge — even government torture. This fascinating chapter in history is rarely told; this spirited heroine is little-known. Hardie will change all that.

Learn more about Gretchen Kelbaugh at:

Story First Productions: storyfirstproductions.ca
Videos: vimeo.com/gretchenkelbaugh
Twitter: twitter.com/GKelbaugh (@GKelbaugh)

(All images courtesy of Gretchen Kelbaugh.)

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Photo credit: Cindy Wilson

Photo credit: Cindy Wilson

Gretchen Kelbaugh has won regional and national screenwriting competitions. Her teleplay “106 Fire Hydrants” was produced for CBC-TV in 1999. Since then, Gretchen has produced independent documentaries and dramas that have screened around the world.

Gretchen’s screenplay Margaret and Deirdre won the CBC Producers’ Showcase. She then directed this as an ultra-low budget movie, which won Best Screenplay at the Trail Dance Film Festival in 2008.

Piece o’ Cake won Best No Budget Short at the Broad Humor Film Festival. Menocracy (featuring Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell) on women, politics and electoral reform, was recently picked up by Moving Images Distribution.

Review: “Year of the Carnivore” (2009)

A film by Sook-Yin Lee

“Year of the Carnivore” is a coming of age film about Sammy, played by Cristin Milioti.  She is a grocery store detective and is a tomboy and quirky.  Sammy feels different from everyone else because she was ill as a child and has a slight limp.  Her parents are constantly reminding her that the world is not a safe place and she is better off at home.  They want her to quit her job because they think it is dangerous.   Her main goal is try to figure out how she can attract the attention of Eugene (Mark Rendall).  Eugene is an aspiring musician and lets Sammy know that he is not interested in a relationship and that love is a sickness.  His father was heartbroken by his philandering mother and warns him to never get married.  He tells her to just forget about him and get some experience with other people.  Eugene wants to remain friends but gets jealous when he sees Sammy with other men.  She sets out to experiment and her adventure takes many twists and turns.  Sammy gets advice from some unlikely characters including customers that she catches shoplifting.  They obviously don’t want to get busted so they are willing to teach her a little about sex in exchange for letting them go.  Although, when she tries this stunt with one particular customer she gets an unwelcome surprise.

She gets some help from her friend Mrs. Nakamura.  She is an older woman that doesn’t get out so Sammy helps her and walks her dog.  Mrs. Nakamura is very frank and tells her that she just needs to have fun and get some variety.  She lends Sammy some clothes so she can dress more like a lady.  They both find a way to grow and have fun in their unlikely friendship.

I enjoyed the understated comedy in the film.  You want to root for Sammy because she is so awkward and just trying to find her way.  Sook-Yin Lee’s directing style is straight forward and gets you quickly interested in the characters.  Lee is a former VJ for Much Music in Canada and seems to have made a seamless transition into film.  Lee has created a fun and lighthearted film that keeps you entertained from start to finish.

“Year of the Carnivore” was written and directed by Sook-Yin Lee.

(Coming up soon!  I review the 2010 documentary “Bag It,” directed by Suzan Beraza and written by Michelle Curry Wright.)

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Lotus Wollschlager is the official Her Film movie reviewer.  Find her bio on the. HF.Reviews page.

SPOTLIGHT: Little Miss Jihad

Little Miss Jihad is a narrative short film written by Toronto-based writer and filmmaker, Stephanie Law.  Inspired by her experiences dealing with the September 11, 2001 attacks, she has nurtured and developed this project for many years.  This spring, she and filmmaker Jessica Wu moved into production and directed this film, and are currently in post-production. Stephanie is a vibrant and passionate filmmaker who has crafted an insightful and important film; she was a finalist at the 2011 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival’s ‘So You Think You Can Pitch?’ competition.  Stephanie and her dedicated and talented team are currently raising funds for the film.

Stephanie Law (writer/producer/director)

Find a lot more information below, and please help spread the word about Little Miss Jihad!

Check the links at the bottom to connect with Stephanie and help support this important film.

Courtesy of S. Law

Teaser trailer:

 

Crowdfunding through: LMJ website (currently in post-production stage)

Campaign goal: $6,000 (currently 46% funded)

Campaign ends: August 2012

Logline

When 10-year-old, Afghani-American, Sally Khan, discovers that the father she never knew disappeared on September 11, 2001, she becomes convinced that he is a terrorist.  Now if she could only figure out what that means!

Production still. Jasmine Chan as “Sally Khan.” (Courtesy of S. Law)

Synopsis

LITTLE MISS JIHAD is a dark comedy, yes, comedy, about faith, tolerance, and a child’s imagination running away with her.

After her shocking declaration, Sally is not prepared for the backlash that follows.  I mean, who knew wanting to be a terrorist… would make people so mad?  Sally’s Aunt grounds her, leaving Sally cut off from her usual, reliable source of intel: Wikipedia.  So Sally enlists her best friend, Daniel, to help her prove that her Dad was a terrorist; it’s the only logical explanation why he hasn’t tried contacting her.  He obviously went into hiding.  So convinced of her belief, Sally ignores the impact of her Jihad for the truth on her paranoid community, friends, and family.   Nothing is going to get in her way, and if it does, she’ll just blow it up!  Kidding.  Sorta.  Sally has figured it out, and by becoming a terrorist too, her Dad has to come back for her.  But when mysterious men in black suits appear in her neighbourhood, Sally becomes even more convinced that she’s hit the truth…  She was so right! 

But then… where is her Dad?

Production still. Martin Lindquist, Lisa Robinson, Davis Ryan. (Courtesy of S. Law)

On the LMJ website, director Stephanie Law shares how this film came to be, and says:

“It comes out of my own memories of 9/11—where I was when we found out about the attacks (having our school photos taken)—and that clear loss of innocence.”

Read about the history of this film here

Production still. Melanie Leon as “Farah Khan.” (Courtesy of S. Law)

Production still. Rahim Hajee as “Agent Finch.” (Courtesy of S. Law)

Credits

Stephanie Law (Writer/Producer/Director)
Jessica Wu (Producer/Director)
Adam Crosby (Director of Photography)

(Complete crew credits are available on the LMJ website.)

Connect with this filmmaker and learn more about this new film:

Facebook: /LittleMissJihad

Twitter: @LittleMissJihad

Website:  LittleMissJihadFilm.com
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Do you have a film you are trying to finance that you would like to feature here?  Send us an email with a website and social media page(s) for your film.

Bitter Irony: Most women Genie nominees get shafted on International Women’s Day

The Genie Awards were held last week on March 8 in Toronto to celebrate the best of Canadian cinema.  The Genies are best understood as the Canadian equivalent to the Oscars (though I hate saying it like that because not everything should be understood by comparison).  Back in January, I posted about the Genies after the nominations were announced, and I was happy to have seen so many women up for major awards!  But alas, one film seemed to sweep most of the big awards: Monsieur Lazhar, directed by Philippe Falardeau (which actually sounds like a pretty darn interesting film).

Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower was up for Best Picture (with the picture’s two female producers Ceiline Rattray and Christina Piovesan); Kondracki was up for Achievement in Direction for The Whistleblower; Anne Émond was up for Original Screenplay for Nuit #1 as were Kondracki and Eilis Kirwan for The Whistleblower; Élaine Hébert, Sophie Goyette were up for Best Live Action Short Drama for their film La Ronde (the only all-female team for this category); Michelle Latimer’s Choke was up for Best Animated Short as were Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby, Marcy Page, Bonnie Thompson  for their film Wild Life.

It was only Anne Émond out of all the women nominees who walked away with a pretty big Genie: the Claude Jutra Award which goes to the year’s best feature by a first-time feature film director.  (Interesting she was up in the Original Screenplay category but awarded for her direction!)  It’s like other big film awards shows like the Oscars, Golden Globes or SAG Awards, in that a huge favorite like Monsieur Lazhar ends up with a number of awards.  Just look at this year’s Oscars with The Artist winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Costume Design and Music (Original Score). But I can’t fault a film, or the people who vote for it, for being a favorite, but it makes me wonder about how the Genies work.  Are they similar to the Academy Awards with lobbying for specific titles, sending out fancy screeners, taking out advertisements in trade publications like we see every year in Variety with artsy full-page displays offering Academy voters the standard “For your consideration” pick-up line?  I’m not sure, so I’ll have to look into this through some googling and chats with my Canadian friends.

About Nuit #1:

(from the Toronto International Film Festival description)

“Anne Émond’s dazzling debut feature is a bold and intimate study of a one-night stand. Clara and Nikolai meet at a sweat-soaked rave and end their night at his apartment. The first part of the film is an erotic and candid portrait of their lovemaking, but when Clara tries to sneak out without saying goodbye, this typical hookup takes an unexpected turn.”

The film, Émond’s first feature, was acquired by the Long Island City, New York-based Adopt Films (U.S. rights) following the Toronto International Film Festival last year.  A late July opening is expected.  Read the indieWIRE story from October 2011, and their prediction from January this year that Nuit #1 will be included in the list of films to be distributed through the recently inked Adopt Films and GoDigital theatrical/on demand distribution deal.  Nuit #1 was an official selection of the Goteborg, Rotterdam and Toronto and Vancouver International Film Festivals (Winner, Best Canadian Feature Film at Vancouver International Film Fest).

Writer/Director: Anne Émond

Producer: Nancy Grant

Distributor: Adopt Films

Filmmaker Anne Émond on the set of her film Nuit #1. Émond won the Canadian film industry's 2012 Claude Jutra Award (Genie Award).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Anne Émond:

This film is Émond’s first feature-length work, having been preceded by her 2010 short film Sophie Lavoie (Winner, Best Short Film at Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema) and six other short films.  She is a Quebecois filmmaker based in Montreal (since 2011) who works in the French language.  (Sophie Lavoie will screen at the Seen and Heard Film Festival in Sydney, Australia, on March 15.)

Nuit #1 on Facebook

Anne Émond at Eye On Films

Read more on Adopt Films at www.adoptfilms.net/nuit.

What’s sad, though, is the fact that a number of individual women as well as mainly female or all-female teams were up for big awards and only one of them was handed a Genie for their work.  I consider big awards as the ones in directing, best picture, screenwriting, cinematography.  There weren’t actually any women nominated in the Genies category for cinematography this year.  And to add insult to injury, this all played out on International Women’s Day on March 8.  Let’s celebrate women (like we’ve been doing on this day since 1977!)  And the winner is….. Monsieur Lazhar!  I’m not bitter, actually, I just find it to be completely coincidentally ironic while also being par for the course as far as major film awards ceremonies go.  Oh, and who do I speak to about getting Canada to broadcast the Genies on a Sunday evening when they’re not broadcasting the biggest American television shows day and date?  Thursday night Genie Awards?  My god, man, “30 Rock” is on at the same time, even in Canada!

Genie Awards nominations announced

In Canada, there’s an annual celebration of film called the Genies.  The Genie is Canada’s top award for achievement in cinema.  (Those who can’t understand its importance without reading “Canada’s version of the Oscars,” well, there you go, I just wrote it.  Understand now?  Good.)  Canada’s film industry is quite interesting, especially given the presence of Quebec which functions much like European countries do, pouring money (relatively speaking) into its indigenous film industry to support it, and seeing a pretty successful box office return.  Its French-speaking audiences go to see Quebecois French-language films.  But in the English-speaking areas of Canada (pretty much everywhere outside of Quebec), the Canadian English-language cinematic landscape is often savagely mowed over by crushing U.S. competition helped in part by the U.S. ownership of Canadian movie theatres.  That’s why I love to pay attention to stories like the Genie Awards nominations and the First Weekend Club‘s plan to introduce a VOD service to stream Canadian films in order to increase audiences and support for Canadian-made movies.

Today, the nominations for the Genies were announced.  See below for a full breakdown of the nominations — women who were involved in the films are highlighted below.  Some key names that jumped out at me were Larysa Kondracki (her film The Whistleblower is nominated for Best Motion Picture, she’s nominated for Achievement in Direction, and she and Eilis McKirwan are nominated for Best Original Screenplay).  Also, I was extremely glad to see that filmmaker Michelle Latimer’s film Choke was nominated for Best Animated Short.  Latimer gave an interview to Her Film back in April 2011 which you can read here: “Authenticity of Voice.”

2012 Genie Awards nominations (five nominees in each category)

BEST MOTION PICTURE / MEILLEUR FILM (Names indicate producers)

MONSIEUR LAZHAR – Luc Déry, Kim McCraw

THE WHISTLEBLOWER – Christina Piovesan, Celine Rattray 

Trailer for The Whistleblower

ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTION / MEILLEURE RÉALISATION

LARYSA KONDRACKI – The Whistleblower

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY / MEILLEUR SCÉNARIO

ANNE ÉMOND – Nuit #1

EILIS KIRWAN, LARYSA KONDRACKI – The Whistleblower

Trailer for Nuit #1

BEST FEATURE LENGTH DOCUMENTARY / MEILLEUR LONG MÉTRAGE DOCUMENTAIRE

BEAUTY DAY – Jay Cheel, Kristina McLaughlin, Kevin McMahon, Roman Pizzacalla

FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE – Julia Ivanova, Boris Ivanov

THE GUANTANAMO TRAP – Thomas Wallner, Amit Breuer, Patrick Crowe

LA NUIT, ELLES DANSENT / AT NIGHT, THEY DANCE – Isabelle Lavigne, Stéphane Thibault, Lucie Lambert

WIEBO’S WAR – David York, Nick Hector, C.C.E., Bryn Hughes, Bonnie Thompson

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT DRAMA / MEILLEUR COURT MÉTRAGE DRAMATIQUE

HOPE – Pedro Pires, Phoebe Greenberg, Penny Mancuso

LA RONDE – Élaine Hébert, Sophie Goyette

BEST ANIMATED SHORT / MEILLEUR COURT MÉTRAGE D’ANIMATION

CHOKE – Michelle Latimer

WILD LIFE – Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby, Marcy Page, Bonnie Thompson

There were no female directors of photography nominated in the “Achievement in Cinematography” category.

See the full list of Genie nominees by clicking here.  (Opens a PDF).

A Newfound Land

Up in Newfoundland this week the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival is in full tilt.  This festival was founded 22 years ago this year — one of the world’s longest running women’s film festivals — and takes place annually in North America’s easternmost city on the coast of Canada.  Apart from the fact that supporting women filmmakers is a passion of mine, and even apart from the fact that I have always, as long as I can remember, wanted to visit St. John’s, I’m very excited about this festival because it is a true champion of women-made films in Canada.  With Canadian audiences being notorious for not coming out to support their own filmmakers, it’s lovely to see such a festival of Canadian films — women-made!!!! — being so enthusiastically and continuously supported through an organization like the SJIWFF. Some films are not Canadian in origin, but the vast majority are.

The festival began October 18 and runs until October 22.  Have you been?  Let me know!  I’d love to hear from people who’ve attended or who’ve had their films screened in St. John’s.  One film that is screening this year is CHOKE, directed by Michelle Latimer, who took some time to give Her Film an interview earlier this year in which she talked about Indigenous films and filmmakers and especially First Nations/Aboriginal women filmmakers.  Read the interview “Authenticity of Voice,” a collaborative piece between producer Nelson Jack Davis and myself.

I am particularly excited to see (when I can get my grubby little hands on them) Michelle Latimer’s CHOKE and Ingrid Veninger’s follow-up to her 2010 film Modra, I AM A GOOD PERSON/I AM A BAD PERSON which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year (read an interview with Veninger).  Another is Anita Doron’s hilarious SEVEN SINS: LUST (read about her recent funding for Lesser Blessed from the Harold Greenberg Fund) which you can watch below.

This is the list of the official selections at the 2011 St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival:

“NOT JANE.” Director: Helena Astbury / Country: UK
77 Madregot (77 Steps) Director: Ibtisam Maraana / Country: Israel
A River In The Woods Director: Christian Sparkes / Country: Canada
Atasco (Traffic Jam) Director: Anna Peris Lluch / Country: Spain
AWOL Director: Deb Shoval, Dominique LeFevre / Country: USA
Bare Knuckle Duet Director: Lindsey Connell / Country: Canada
Beat Down Director: Deanne Foley / Country: Canada
Busk Or Bust Director: 24HR Film Challenge participants / Country: Canada
Choke Director: Michelle Latimer / Country: Canada
Clipper Gold Director: Joel Thomas Hynes / Country: Canada
Cold And Sunny Director: Jennifer Halley / Country: Canada
Decoloured Director: Allison White / Country: Canada
Evolucity Director: A. Megan Turnbull / Country: Canada
Faster! Director: Marie Ullrich / Country: USA
Félix Et Malou Director: Sophie Dupuis / Country: Canada
Furies Director: Deb Ellis / Country: USA
Grace Director: Meagan Kelly / Country: Switzerland
Hidden Driveway Director: Sarah Goodman / Country: Canada
How Does It Feel Director: Lawrence Jackman / Country: Canada
i am a good person/i am a bad person Director: Ingrid Veninger / Country: Canada
Ida Director: Susan Wolf / Country: Canada
Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy Director: Rob Heydon / Country: Canada, Scotland
Jolly Friends Forever More Director: Kaz Phillips Safer / Country: USA
Kathy Director: Mark O’Brien / Country: Canada
KOOP Director: Katherine Knight / Country: Canada
Kwik Fix Director: Kelly Hucker / Country: Australia
La Nadadora (The Swimmer) Director: Gemma Vidal / Country: Spain
La Tapisserie Du French Shore Director: Barbara Doran / Country: Canada
Las Piedras No Aburren (Stones Are Not Boring) Director: Marta Parreño / Country: Spain
Le Fleuve À Droite (Good Night Truck) Director: Sarah Fortin / Country: Canada
Le Projet Sapporo (The Sapporo Project) Director: Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre / Country: Canada
Less Than Zero Director: Ruth Lawrence / Country: Canada
Levedad (Lightness) Director: Lucia del Rio / Country: Spain
Libangbang Director: Chia-Chi Tseng / Country: USA
Life Model Director: Lori Petchers / Country: USA
Little Heart Director: Janna-Marynn Brunnen / Country: Canada
Little Theatres: Homage To The Mineral Of Cabbage Director: Stephanie Dudley / Country: Canada
Martha & Dee Visit The 5th Dimension Director: Noelle Foster / Country: USA
Melt Director: Noémie Lafrance / Country: Canada
Meters Director: Darcy Fitzpatrick / Country: Canada
Mi Otra Mitad (My Other Half) Director: Beatriz Sanchís / Country: Spain
Micky Bader (Bathing Micky) Director: Frida Kempff / Country: Denmark/Sweden
Miss Representation Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom / Country: USA
Oliver Bump’s Birthday Director: Jordan Canning / Country: Canada
Padres (Parents) Director: Liz Lobato / Country: Spain
Painted / Country: Canada
Painted Houses Director: Rozalind MacPhail / Country: Canada
Petites Vues De Chez Nous (Movies From Down Home: Port-Au-Port) Director: Pamela Gallant / Country: Canada
Phantoms Of The French Shore Director: Barbara Doran / Country: Canada
Point No Point Director: Jennifer Campbell / Country: USA
R Seymore Goes North Director: Rhayne Vermette / Country: Canada
Regarding Our Father Director: Marjorie Doyle, John W. Doyle / Country: Canada
Rescue Wife Director: Lynn Kristmanson / Country: Canada
Rough Skin Director: Cathy Brady / Country: UK
Sarabah Director: Maria Luisa Gambale, Gloria Bremer / Country: USA
Scent Of Strawberries Director: Guy Natanel / Country: Israel, UK
Seven Sins: Lust Director: Anita Doron / Country: Canada
Shades Of Gray Director: FRAMED 2011 participants / Country: Canada
She Said Lenny Director: Jim Donovan / Country: Canada
Signs Director: Tamar Natanel / Country: Israel
Sleeping With Frank Director: Lily Baldwin / Country: USA
St. John’s Women Excerpts: The Bev Brown Cut Director: Louise Moyes / Country: Canada
Super.Full. Director: Niam Itani / Country: Quatar/Lebanon
Tashina Director: Caroline Monnet / Country: Canada
Teamwork Director: Seo-yun Hong / Country: South Korea
Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times) Director: Mahmoud Kaabour / Country: UAE
The Director Director: Destri Martino / Country: USA
The Exit Director: E. Jane Thompson / Country: Canada
The Not So Subtle Subtext Director: Sarah Rotella / Country: Canada
The Price Of Sex Director: Mimi Chakarova / Country: USA
The Ride Director: Marion Pilowsky / Country: UK
The Room At The Top Of The Stairs Director: Briony Kidd / Country: Australia
The Wind Is Blowing On My Street Director: Saba Riazi / Country: USA
Us Director: Mazi Khalighi / Country: Canada
Variations On Elevators And Pink Girls Director: Sarah Shamash / Country: Brazil
Wapawekka Director: Danis Goulet / Country: Canada
Warchild Director: Caroline Monnet / Country: Canada
Watching Emily Director: Elsa Morena / Country: Canada
Wild Life Director: Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby / Country: Canada
yaya/ayat Director: shimby zegeye-gebrehiwot / Country: Canada