Category Archives: Women filmmakers

Trailblazing ‘Mabel’ (2016) Breaks Barriers For Women And Seniors

There once was a time in Canada when you could work at one or maybe two jobs until retirement, collect your pension and enjoy the golden years of your life. There was also a time when very few women worked outside of the home. If they did, it was most likely part-time work where the income was supplementary to her husband’s income. Today, Canadians can expect to work well beyond the traditional retirement age. Also, Canadian women have entered and succeed in all kinds of professions. They have even launched their own successful careers while juggling family responsibilities at the same time. Mabel Robinson, the energetic 90-year old star of Teresa MacInnes’ 20-minute short film Mabel (2016), is one of those pioneering Canadian women who did just that.

Using a mix of animated photos, archived footage and in-salon interviews, Mabel documents the life of Mabel Robinson as Hubbards, Nova Scotia’s first female entrepreneur and her 70-year career. Knowing at a young age that the wanted to be a hairdresser, she was determined to make it happen and made the sacrifices to do so. By attending hairdressing school in Boston, Mabel laid the foundations of her lifelong career. Moving back to Hubbards, not only did she get to pursue her dream career, she established her own hairstyling shop and raised a family while doing so. Despite her aging and the death of her husband, Mabel shows no signs of calling it quits. Watch the entire film below:

 

Teresa shared some of her thoughts and experiences surrounding the film, and revealed some interesting details about Mabel Robinson that didn’t make it into the documentary:

Short Film Fan: What motivated or influenced you to make Mabel?

Teresa MacInnes: I have always been attracted to the wisdom and charm of older people. I had a close relationship with my grandparents growing up and three of them lived out their final years in our family home. So, when I met the iconic beautician, Mabel Robinson, I immediately saw the potential for an engaging documentary about her and the elderly clients she continues to serve. Like my grandmother, Mabel made me laugh and inspired a deeper perspective on work, life and beauty. She also reminded me of the importance of having older women in my life and on the screen.

When I brought the idea to Annette Clarke at the NFB Atlantic Studio, she was also charmed by Mabel and felt it was an important story to tell – a story that highlighted not only women in their golden years, but also people living in rural Nova Scotia. Annette’s support and encouragement gave me the time to shape the story and to create the film.

SFF: What challenge or challenges did you face when you were making this film?

TM: I have been making feature length and television documentaries for 30 years, so I think the biggest challenge was keeping the film under 30 minutes. Mabel is an amazing woman and the story I tell is only one aspect of who she is. She is an accomplished knitter who sells her gorgeous hats, mittens and sweaters at the farmer’s market. She plays poker and bingo. She is a dedicated volunteer and has a rich circle of friends. But, doing a short portrait was the plan from the beginning and I am glad I took that challenge on. I love the short format and hope to do more in the future.

SFF: Do you have a memorable moment that occurred when you were producing Mabel?

TM: The entire experience was memorable and spending time with Mabel and her clients was exactly what I needed in my life at that time. I was grieving my father’s death and was feeling a bit weary from years of making some pretty intense films. Mabel gave me another perspective and I now look at my work and my life in a very different way. I will always be thankful to her for that.

SFF: What has the audience reception towards the film been like since its release?

TM: When Mabel premiered at the Atlantic Film Festival, CBC News did a story about the film and it went viral; generating millions of views and hundreds of heartfelt comments. Because of this, the demand to see Mabel was immediate. As a result, the NFB decided to release it online via the NFB.ca site and YouTube. The ability to send a link and have it so accessible has been great, but it also means I haven’t had the pleasure of watching it with an audience as much as I would have liked. But, I am happy it is out there for the world to see and the NFB has done a great job of promoting it online.

SFF: What message or messages did you want to get across to the audience with Mabel?

TM: For me, Mabel is a trailblazer; a woman who not only broke barriers when she was young, but is also breaking barriers as a senior. Rooted in community, she is a celebration of doing what you love, of the importance of friendships and of staying active as you age.

 

Short Film Fan Review: This was a gem of a short documentary. It was heartwarming to see and experience the life of an extraordinary woman that came from a quiet place such as Hubbards, NS. Her focus and determination to get that career going as a young woman should be an inspiration to other young women and men. Conversely, those who are already lucky to be working in a career that they enjoy would want to think twice before considering retirement – why stop doing something you like to do just because you reach a certain age? The use of animated photos gave the documentary a certain charm that brought her past to life. Mabel is a short film that all can enjoy and it is certainly destined to become one of the National Film Board’s classic documentaries.

Riding The Rails Of Positive Change With ‘Tshiuetin’ (2016)

Turn on the news in Canada, and you will see many negative stories surrounding the country’s First Nations population. From missing and murdered women to residential schools to extreme poverty on reservation lands, it gives a person the impression that things look bleak for this population. Fortunately, there are many positive stories about Canada’s Indigenous people that, unfortunately, Canadians don’t get to see or hear enough of.  Stories of hope, economic well-being and change for the better do exist. One of these stories is best told in the 10:57 short documentary film Tshiuetin (2016) directed by First Nations filmmaker Caroline MonnetTshiuetin is the second short film that Caroline made under the label DESC Images; a company founded in 2014 by Caroline, along with Daniel Watchorn, Eric Cinq-Mars and Sébastien Aubin.

Tshiuetin (pronounced T- shee –way- tin and translates to ‘North Wind’ in the Innu language) explores the operations of Canada’s first First Nations-owned railway line. Established in 2005, Tshiuetin Railway Inc. runs between Sept-Iles and Schefferville and serves a number of communities along the way.  As the train winds its way through lighted tunnels and snowy mountainsides, the conductor of the train explains how the ways in which the railway has been a benefit to him and to the community at large. Watch the entire film below:

Short Film Fan reached out to Caroline to learn more about Tshiuetin, including why the film was shot in black & white and what the audience reception has been like since its release.

 

Short Film Fan: What motivated or influenced you to make Tshiuetin?

Caroline MonnetTshiuetin is an inspiring story of triumph and determination for Aboriginal communities. For the first time in Canadian history, a railroad is owned by a group of First Nations. It is important for DESC to create stories that celebrate the resilience of indigenous people. We speak about success stories in a way that is very removed from what is portrayed in the media.

SFF: What particular challenge did you face when making this documentary?

CM: The best thing was travelling up north with a small team and meeting wonderful people along the way. We were truly part of this journey with a bunch of Innu families. And even though we were two Indigenous persons on the crew, we don’t speak the Innu language and we were like foreigners on the train. The Tshiuetin Rail Transportation staff was very helpful and giving. The film could not have developed the way it did without their kindness and support. Another challenging part was shooting outside the train in minus 40-degree weather.

SFF: Why did you decide to film Tshiuetin in black & white, rather than colour?

CM:  The documentary is shot in black and white, using 16mm film. This speaks to the history of building the railways, but is also appropriate in capturing the beauty of the people that live along the Tshiuetin Railway. The 16mm film allows for an elegant cinematic and experimental feel to the documentary, staying away from conventional talking heads and video aesthetics. With using black and white film, it brings back the tradition of documentary filmmaking in Canada, inspiring myself from films like Pour la suite du Monde or La bête Lumineuse from Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault.

SFF: What was it like to have Tshiuetin nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Documentary this year?

CM: It’s a wonderful experience and recognition to be nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. There were a lot of great films nominated this year and it’s an honour to be nominated amongst them. We don’t make the films to win, but it’s always nice to be included at such prestigious awards.

SFF: What has the audience reception towards the film been like since its release?

CM: We’ve got really good responses since the film had its world premiere at TIFF this past September. It went on to play many festivals including Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, ImagineNATIVE, Uppsala, Tampere and Busan. Because the film was produced by CBC Docs, it rapidly became available online which allowed us to reach broader audiences. We reached over 60 000 people like that.  The film is like a road movie and I think many people haven’t travelled that far North in Québec so it is quite exciting to see the film.

SFF: What message or messages did you want to get across to the audience with Tshiuetin?

CM: It’s imperative to showcase positive stories about Indigenous achievements. At this point in Canadian history, media coverage often tends to focus on the darker issues. We need to hear about both sides because our national understanding of Indigenous culture is warped by a bombardment of pessimism. Tshiuetin is about positive change.

 

Short Film Fan Review: Tshiuetin was definitely an incredible story of economic power and community strength for a First Nations community. Owning and operating a short line railway takes lots of work and dedication which is very evident among the employees in the film. The black & white images throughout the film were stunning; it really is a reminder of the older documentaries that were filmed in the 1950s and 1960s. Watching the trees go by so quickly makes you feel like you were right there with the other passengers on that ride. This is certainly a good news story that more Canadians should watch.

DESC’s goal is to continue to push boundaries and expand creatively working with film, sound composing and graphic design. We hope to see more short films from Caroline and DESC Images in the near future!

‘This River’ (2016) Examines One Local Organization’s Drive For Answers And Change

In a few weeks, 2016 will come to a close. Soon, we will all have the opportunity to look back and assess the kind of year that 2016 was. For some, it was a year of joy and happiness. For others, 2016 was a year marked by sorrow and suffering. It was also a year that perhaps marked a turning point for Canada’s Indigenous people. Through media reports in 2016, Canadians learned more about the harsh and distressing reality that faces Canada’s Indigenous community as they grapple with the issue of their missing and murdered women.  We learned that this problem has been plaguing the Indigenous community for decades and that an inquiry into the matter was long overdue. In August, the federal government finally announced the establishment of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls with five commissioners leading the inquiry. While this commission painstakingly looks for answers to this disturbing problem, one organization in Winnipeg, MB has taken upon itself to find some of their own answers.

In the 19-minute short NFB documentary, This River (2016), we are introduced to the volunteer-run group ‘Drag the Red’; its purpose is to search the Red River for traces of missing Indigenous women and men. Written and directed by Katherena Vermette and Erika MacPherson, we follow two volunteers of ‘Drag the Red’ during one of their searches of the river. We listen as one of the volunteers, Kyle Kematch, explains his own personal reason why he takes part in these searches. Katherena narrates during parts of the film, but also reveals a personal tragedy of her own. Watch the full documentary below:

This River is an impactful and moving short documentary. Through the revelations made by Kyle and Katherena, the audience got a deeper understanding of this problem that has overwhelmed Canada’s Indigenous community. It must have been very difficult for Kyle and Katherena to share such recollections on film. But, by doing so, it showed their courage and strength. You can also hear from both of them a mixture of determination and hope. The scenes at river level were stunning, yet haunting.  This River teaches us that the need and drive for change is out there and that ‘Drag the Red’ is a perfect example of this. This River is a must-see film and is available at the NFB website for downloading.

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Follow Atikamekw Man’s Road To Redemption In ‘Red Path’ (2015)

It is well-known that Canadian society is made up of a variety of ethnic cultures. Canada’s long-standing policy of multiculturalism allows each individual Canadian the opportunity to explore and promote his or her ethnic background in a variety of ways, from attending language courses to participating in cultural festivals. For many Canadians, connecting with one’s ethnic background is a source of pride and identity. It can also help someone figure out where they have come from, make sense of the present, and chart a new course for his or her future.

Atikamekw First Nation filmmaker Thérèse Ottawa’s documentary short Red Path (Le chemin rouge), released in 2015, is an emotional look at a young Atikamekw man’s life journey of redemption, forgiveness and farsightedness. In this 15-minute film produced by the NFB’s Johanne Bergeron, Tony Chachai recalls his, as well as his mother’s, substance abuse during his formative years. Forgiving his mother and filled with a strong desire for change, Tony recounts his mother’s final request: that he would become a dancer. Tony’s cousin, Ronny Chachai, is instrumental in helping him learn to dance, thereby connecting Tony to his Atikamekw roots.  Watch the film below:

From start to finish, there was a sense of peace, hope and optimism emanating from Tony in the film. It was fascinating to see Ronny conduct the ceremonial prayer with Tony. It was also heartwarming to see Tony visit his mother’s grave in his dancers clothing, conversing with her and revealing to her that his partner will be giving birth to her grandchild. Finally, seeing Tony dance with his cousin Ronny showed his ultimate connection with his culture, enabling him to move forward to become, in his own words, a role model for others.

Red Path premiered at  Présence Autochtone in 2015, where it  received special mentions in the Best Short Film and Télé-Québec Best Choice Award categories. Since then, it has been featured at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, San Francisco’s American Indian Film Festival, Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival as well as the Yorkton Film Festival, where it received the Golden Sheaf Award in the Multicultural category.

Red Path is compelling and encouraging; it is highly recommended to anyone who is seeking to let go of the past, reconnect with one’s self in the present, and go forward with a renewed sense of purpose for the future. It is also an educational glimpse into life on Atikamekw First Nation. Good luck to Thérèse in her future filmmaking career.

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Female Eye Film Festival Shines A Light On Female Filmmakers

Short film fans can agree that the medium of short film gives the filmmaker the opportunity to bring important social and cultural issues to light. These films have the power to deliver a wealth of information and insight to a viewing public that can rival the reporting made by traditional media. In Canada, social issues concerning women or the plight of Aboriginal and Indigenous people have been featured in news reports numerous times in the past. But filmmakers, in particular female filmmakers, have an opportunity to examine and present these topics by using their own voice and experiences.

One festival that you can visit right now and see some examples of shorts made by Canadian female filmmakers is the Female Eye Film Festival. Running from June 14th to June 19th, the festival is taking place at The Theatre Centre located at 1115 Queen Street West in Toronto. A majority of their short films will be screened on Saturday and Sunday of the festival run. From 12 noon until 2 pm on Saturday, you can watch shorts produced by female First Nations filmmakers during the Aboriginal & Indigenous Film Program. On Sunday, the Canadian Shorts & Documentaries program will feature shorts made by a number of Canadian female directors.

Leslie-Ann Coles, the founder and director of Female Eye Film Festival provided this comment: “The Female Eye makes a strong commitment to our National directors and we are delighted to present a series of short films directed by Canadian women directors.”

Short Film Fan wishes everyone involved in organizing and producing Female Eye all the best for a successful festival!

ATTENTION TORONTO READERS OF SHORT FILM FAN: If you are interested and able to attend the festival this weekend, Female Eye has four pairs of tickets to give away to see the shorts at the festival. Two pairs are available for the Aboriginal & Indigenous Film Program and another two for the Canadian Shorts & Documentaries program.  All you have to do is send an email to Sasha at sasha@sashastoltzpublicity.com with the name of program you would like to attend and she will make arrangements for you to pick them up.

Happy watching, short film fans, and enjoy the festival!

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