Why do female filmmakers make up only nine per cent of directors in 2015’s 250 highest grossing films? Because the film world is “comprised of 91 per cent men,” quips Maya Annik from The Gaze podcast. Breakthroughs Film Festival, Canada’s only festival dedicated to showcasing short films by new-generation female filmmakers, seeks to address this disparity. Its fifth annual festival, which ran June 10–11 at the Royal Cinema on College Street, featured 17 films from nine countries, including Canada.
“We’re trying to get far more of a balance compared to what has already existed,” says Gabor Pertic, Breakthroughs’ executive director and longtime programmer for TIFF and Hot Docs. “And it’s not only about saying, ‘hey everyone, here are a bunch of young female filmmakers and here are their films,’ but, ‘here is the world, this is what the world’s stories are, this is what these young emerging talents are able to showcase, and we can all benefit from that.’”
The first night of the festival started with the premiere of Stalingrado, a drama set in the beautiful countryside of northwestern Spain. Director Anyora Sanchez brings together an unlikely cast of characters — a rugged Spanish shepherd, an elegant Russian woman with whom he is in love, and his mother — to explore, with tender humour and sincerity, the challenges of a relationship that threatens cultural norms.
Emilie Mannering’s Star takes an honest look at Canadian culture’s pervasive hypermasculinity through the eyes of teenage boys living in Montreal. The film opens with a selfie video using Snapchat or Vine, and its shakiness draws the audience right into the heart of their hectic world. Here, they watch street fights online, write rap music, and struggle to find ways to connect with their peers or stand up for their beliefs. It’s a captivating portrait, right up to its haunting end.
Childhood visits to Pakistan inspired Canadian filmmaker and photographer Zinnia Naqvi to return to her family’s roots and make a film out of a pre-existing photography project. Seaview is a visually striking exploration of identity, cultural differences, and artistic integrity.
2016 Breakthroughs Jury Prize winner Edmond ended the evening on a reflective note. The animated short, written and directed by Nina Gantz, follows a young man embarking on a retrospective journey at a critical point in his life. The childlike spirit evoked by puppetry contrasts the bizarre, often troubling behaviours Edmond relives as he ponders his current desires. Gantz’s creative scene transitions lend the work a surreal tone.
Saturday night featured two other award-winners: Sunday Lunch, by French filmmaker Céline Devaux, won the Audience Choice Award for its portrayal of “a lunchtime gathering with family, complete with generational dysfunction and plenty of wine,” while Ryerson film studies graduate Jasmin Mozaffari received Jury’s Honourable Mention for Wave, which follows a man who has experienced a great loss and finds himself “struggling with his personal demons and anguish while having to maintain responsibilities he may not be ready to take on.”
The quality of Breakthroughs’ films shows that the lack of female representation in the film industry is not due to a lack of talent. On having a film festival devoted to women filmmakers, Zinnia Naqvi says, “It’s nice to have this platform; to be together and have that community.”