Shedoesthecity hosts panel on female leaders in Canadian film

The lifestyle website's event discussed the progress women have made in the industry

Shedoesthecity hosts panel on female leaders in Canadian film

New allegations against prominent men in Hollywood are becoming public on an almost daily basis, threatening to topple the careers of prolific figures such as Ben AffleckLouis CK, and Jeffrey Tambor. All told, recent events have made it difficult not to equate being a female filmmaker with inevitable victimization.

When I arrived at a loft in the west end on November 17 for a panel on female leaders in Canadian film, I was expecting these current events to set the mood for the discussion. The panel was one of several events hosted this past weekend by Shedoesthecity, a Toronto-based lifestyle website, as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations. The event was co-presented by Telefilm Canada and began at 8:30 am, which made it all the more surprising to find that, far from the doom-and-gloom-type atmosphere I was anticipating, the room was buzzing with an excited energy.

The seemingly unending bad news from Hollywood was alluded to briefly before being set aside for a focus on the good: the fact that, slowly but surely, women are gaining ground in the film industry. “This feels like a tipping point,” said Jen McNeely, Shedoesthecity founder and editor-in-chief obefore officially kicking off the event.

The panel discussion, moderated by Amanda Brugel, who plays Rita on Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, featured four Toronto women who have had success in film: cinematographer Maya Bankovic; writer and director Molly McGlynn; Joanna Miles, Vice President of Marketing at Entertainment One Films; and Vice President of Advancement for Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) maxine bailey, who spells her name in the lower case.

As much as this was visibly a woman-centric event — an all female panel, hosted in the shockingly beautiful headquarters of Knixwear, a Toronto-based, women-led lingerie startup — the emphasis was less on the sex of the panelists and more on their identities as filmmakers: their stories, their achievements, and their goals for the future. The fact that the event’s official title makes no mention of gender, simply billed as a “Leaders in Canadian Film” panel, may reflect a deliberate attempt by the organizers to avoid undermining their guests’ accomplishments by placing them in the ‘movies made by chicks’ box.

None of which is to say that gender did not have a presence. There can be no separating being a woman from one’s experience in the film industry. In 2016, women directed a dismal seven per cent of the top 250 highest-grossing films at the American box office. Between the panelists and their audience, almost entirely women, there was a tacit understanding of the travails that are part and parcel of being a female creator — or perhaps just being female — that set the tone for the discussion.

This much was clear in one interesting moment after McGlynn, responding to a question about asking others for help, gave an answer that seemed to resonate: “Don’t diminish yourself to make other people comfortable.” Amid the ensuing applause, a number of people around me let out an audible sigh — a couple chuckled darkly. In both cases, the message was clear: ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about.’

There is still a ways to go before women stand on equal footing in ‘the biz.’ While Bankovic pointed out that advances in technology have made it easier for diverse populations to produce professional-quality films, bigger change still needs to happen for women to get a foothold in bigger-budget movies. “We have to do better. We have to demand better,” said bailey.

At TIFF, bailey has helped create the Share Her Journey initiative to create more opportunities for women in film over the next five years. But she also reminded the audience that the onus was just as much on them to enact change, saying, “It’s about voting with your pocketbook.” Buying tickets for films made by diverse casts and crews tells production companies they’re doing something right — all the more reason to look forward to the Wonder Woman sequel.

Two sides of Canadian cinema

The gap between French and English film is growing larger

Two sides of Canadian cinema

After observing the recent success of Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, it seems that Canada’s independent film industry is thriving. Filmmakers like Dolan, Denise Villeneuve, David Cronenberg, and Atom Egoyan give the Canadian film industry a refined sensibility that often results in international success, recognition, and critical praise. Yet these canonical filmmakers comprise just a small part of the industry. It’s an industry that is divided and, for the most part, unsupported by a large majority of Canadians. 

The Québécois effect

In recent years, there has stood a stark divide between the Québécois film industry and the rest of Canada, which is largely due to the cultural barrier between provincial borders. Since Dolan’s success with I Killed My Mother in 2009, he has consistently produced films that garner international acclaim. In 2014, he won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Mommy, which later became the highest grossing Québécois film that year. Outside of Québec, its release was limited to Toronto and Ottawa.

[pullquote-default]There has stood a stark divide between the Québécois film industry and the rest of Canada, which is largely due to the cultural barrier between provincial borders.[/pullquote-default]

Similarly, Atom Egoyan’s 2014 feature The Captive scored high at the box offices throughout Canada. It quickly became clear that its financial success was driven by support of the large Québécois viewership.

The Québécois are more keen to offer support of local filmmakers. The highest grossing film in Canadian history is Erik Canuel’s Bon Cop, Bad Cop — it made over $11 million dollars in 2006, with almost $10 million resulting from the success of the French-Canadian version in Québec. Outside of Québec, it seems like the rest of Canada is doing little to support local filmmakers, whose artistry is often overshadowed by high budget Hollywood films.

Show me the money

It’s not hard to imagine why Québécois are committed to supporting Quebec artists. Quebec is notorious for taking careful consideration when it comes to preserving their culture, and part of the success of Québécois film lies in the prominent featuring of French-Canadian actors. Since each component of the film is produced largely in Quebec, this works to maintain a sense of solidarity and a shared cultural identity.

This rationale does not extend to English-Canadian films, as they seem to continuously suffer box office failures. One explanation could be the strong professional ties to the American film industry. English-speaking Canada shares many similarities to the US, which results in an assimilation of cultural identity and the sharing of talent with Hollywood.

Villeneuve’s Prisoners and Enemy and Jean Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club both Canadian directors have received international and North American critical acclaim and box office success. Dolan’s first English film, The Death and Life of John F. Donavan, is being produced south of the border and will feature an all-star cast of Jessica Chastain, Natalie Portman, and Kit Harrington. Canada’s film industry remains polarized and is being pulled towards where the money is: Hollywood.

Have some faith

[pullquote-features]Right now, Canada’s method of funding independent films lacks in developing talent. There are only two government bodies that allocate funding for films: Telefilm and National Film Board.[/pullquote-features]

A solution would be for English-Canadians to more actively support its own film industry. Movie theatres across Canada would benefit from designating screens exclusively for Canadian films. Right now, Canada’s method of funding independent films lacks in developing talent. There are only two government bodies that allocate funding for films: Telefilm and National Film Board.

In a recent interview, Matt Johnson, writer and director of films such as The Dirties and Operation Avalanche, mentioned that his “big issue is that every single year 75 per cent of Telefilm’s funding goes to more or less the same kind of cabal of old-school Canadian filmmakers.” This restriction means strict limitations are placed on talent development and diversification of content.

Get your head out of the snow

Canadian films serve as vehicles for the Canadian voice and identity. Over the past couple of years, many films at the Toronto International Film Festival were seen as homogenous and perpetuating the Canadian stereotype.

“You can make films in this country that are not Canadian in the stigma-inducing maple syrup Canadiana kind of bullshit way. But that you can actually make things with a strong voice that can go out, that can play anywhere in the world and stand up because they’re really strong and powerful stories, that happen to be Canadian,” said Andrew Cevedino, director of Sleeping Giant.

The low figures these films generate may be an indicator that the stereotype-dependent formula isn’t working. Dramatic, quirky, coming-of-age, or hockey — none of these genres do justice to the complexity of the Canadian identity.

For the English-Canadian film industry, change is necessary in all aspects of production,  from creation to consumption. There needs to be more funding for a wider variety of films and support from theatres and audiences is key. Canadians are much more than a stereotype, and it’s time for the film industry to reflect this in both English and French Canada.