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).

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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.

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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.

INTERVIEW: Ingrid Veninger (“i am a good person/i am a bad person”)

Her Film:  In a nutshell, what is your newest film i am a good person/i am a bad person about?

Ingrid Veninger:  I’m not sure that I can synopsize the film any better than Greg Klymkiw, Canadian Film Corner, does here: “The movie, i am a good person/i am a bad person, is funny and heartbreakingly moving… The world is, of course, replete with father-son pictures, but mother-daughter relationships – in terms of numbers and quality – pale in comparison. This is a film that contributes admirably to this relatively rare tradition. Ruby is a loveable scatterbrain. Her film, a crazed, seemingly political avant-garde celebration of – ahem – the penis, is set to premiere overseas at the Bradford International Film Festival in dear Old Blighty. Eighteen-year-old Sara is dragged along on the trip to be her mother’s assistant, though one gets the feeling that deep down, Mom craves some one-on-one quality time with her burgeoning daughter. Sara is decidedly serious – in general, but especially on this trip – and Mom’s carefree spirit is driving her up the wall. Mom, not totally oblivious to this, is still intent on having a good time. Things in Bradford reach a bit of a head and it’s decided that Sara will go to Paris on her own to visit with relatives and Ruby will forge on to a screening at the Arsenal Cinema in Berlin. As mother and daughter each face personal challenges, it also becomes glaringly apparent how much they need and love each other. I suspect it might not be too much of a spoiler to suggest that hard decisions are wrought and events inspire more than a few tears from even the most hardened viewers. Those who stick with the seemingly freewheeling spirit of the picture are rewarded a thousandfold during the extremely moving finale.”

HF:  As an independent filmmaker, how do you typically approach marketing and public relations?

IV:  I approach the marketing aspect of filmmaking with as much intensity as production. I have a great respect and appreciation for what Sales Agents and Distributors do, but I have never been able to hand my film over to someone and sit back. Working as a producer on Peter Mettler’s GAMBLING, GODS and LSD over ten years ago, I remember hitting the streets with my kids after school (my daughter was 10, my son was 6) armed with posters, stickers, and postcards we’d make the grassroots marketing an adventure. More recently for MODRA, my mother dressed in a traditional Slovak costume and sang folklore while handing out postcards; it’s old-school showmanship. With i am a good person/i am a bad person my son and his friend wore the pink good person/bad person sign from the movie and handed out stickers and buttons, which lead to sold-out screenings at TIFF [Toronto International Film Festival]. Directors sometimes feel embarrassed about promoting their films, but it’s our responsibility to do it. We owe it to our cast and crew and investors to maximize the exposure of the movies we make. The Toronto International Film Festival has been an essential platform for me as director with i am a good person/i am a bad person (TIFF 2011), MODRA (TIFF 2010), and ONLY (TIFF 2008). Festivals have been a springboard for my work to reach audiences, the media, and distributors both in Canada and overseas.

To maximize the promotional opportunities of an international festival it helps to join forces with a publicist; I work with Ingrid Hamilton at GATPR. Honestly, we cannot do too much to build awareness of our films; the key is to find the marketing avenues you enjoy, whether it’s social media or hosting parties, or both! Likely, you’re broke at the marketing stage and exhausted, but you have to keep going! Embrace your community and take every opportunity to celebrate. You cannot force people see your movie, but you can do everything in your power to make sure people knows it exists; that’s the full commitment of the job.

HF:  Can you talk a bit about your $1,000 Feature Film Challenge and why you’ve launched this initiative?

IV:  I am in a unique position with i am a good person/i am a bad person; I funded the production, post, and marketing 100% with my own money, and I am the sole producer. So, there is an opportunity to do something outside the box. The $1000 Feature Film Challenge is the perfect extension of the process of making i am a good person/i am a bad person. I am more excited about the run at The Royal because I know that 50% of every ticket sold is funding the Challenge. The audience is directly creating the possibility of more movies being made. If we can average 100 people per screening, then we will be able to finance 5 feature films. To guarantee that, at least, 5 features happen, I am putting up my Jay Scott Prize money of $5000, which I received from the Toronto Film Critics Association in January. Intentionally, the Challenge imposes close to impossible budget and schedule restrictions to force a different kind of inventiveness. I am inspired by responses from the Toronto filmmaking community so far. The deadline to submit is June 21st. Seeking the fearless. You will find the guidelines here: www.punkfilms.ca.

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To connect with this filmmaker and to support her work, visit these links:

Website:  pUNK FILMS

Facebook: /punkfilms2011

Twitter: @punkfilmsnow

PDF download:  $1000 Feature Film Challenge