Where We’re At: The First Pilot Episode

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The first objective of the Women’s Film Collective is to finish writing the pilot episode for the first season of our web based television show.

Some of the women of the collective have already begun brainstorming characters and scenes. Please contact us for the next Skype meeting to jump in on the writing.

The pilot is important for garnering support from investors, organizations and crowd funding in order to produce the rest of the season. We want to have a finished script for the pilot by December so we can move to production phase.

We’re looking for feminist comedy writers, women of all backgrounds and experiences to come write about theirs with a team of other women who are interested in producing something with funny, feminist and original written and directed by a team of all women.

We are in the writing phase of this project, please contact the women’s film collective if you’d like to get involved.

The next in person meetings will be held in Sudbury on the 26th at 5:30 pm at the Fromagerie.

 

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The Ottawa International Film Festival: Miss Conception with Melinda Shankar

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Guess what?! Everyone’s favourite Next Generation Degrassi television star, Melinda Shankar is starting her own inspirational project addressing both industry and personal misconceptions. The Women’s Film Collective caught up with her at a conference she gave at the Ottawa International Film Festival on industry insider knowledge beneficial for those of you embarking on a career as an actor.

Melinda was raised in Ottawa, but moved to Toronto when she got her big break on Degrassi’s Next Generation. Today, she stands just over five feet with a mountain of knowledge and experience to share with those wishing to get into the industry.

Melinda graced the room with poise and humour. She gave a refreshingly honest account of a day in the life of an actor in a Canadian context. She shared about the inspiration and purpose of her new project MissConception which she created to be the kind of resource she would wanted when she was trying to find her way into the industry. Melinda bridges the gap of insiders and outsiders by speaking openly about what it’s like on set. She offers key advice for actors and actresses wishing to make their own way on screen and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to branding such as how to utilize social media to your advantage. Her advice would be an asset to anyone when discussing image and branding- just look at Melinda’s Instagram.

What made her talk really engaging was her own personal accounts and stories. She opens up about her own misconceptions as an actress. She connects to the audience in a way that gets us to think about misconceptions that we all hold that may be preventing us from recognizing what we really have that is unique to offer.

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Melinda is refreshingly herself. Often we wonder how much of someone’s personality or beauty is contrived for television. Melinda was just as gorgeous and fun loving in person and the Women’s Film Collective left talking about how we had just met a true Canadian gem. She is making a name for herself through these projects as a mentor and talented image consultant. We look forward to hearing more from Miss Conception and Melinda Shankar in future.

Listen Up: Natalie Lacasse on the Overrepresentation of Canada’s Indigenous population in Correctional Facilities

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One of our members, Natalie Lacasse did an interview this morning on CBC. Natalie is a Master’s student and First Nation’s community member in Moose Cree First Nation looking into the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in correctional facilities in Canada and how traditional practices can be used to prevent young people from ending up in jail. Natalie has spent time working inside correctional facilities and recently finished her Master’s thesis on her own community reservation, Moose Cree First Nation.

Natalie reveals a startling statistic: Indigenous people make up 23% of the prison population, while totalling in at only 4 % of Canada’s total population.

Tune in to her interview on CBC to learn more about her work here:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/programs/morningnorth/using-traditional-practices-to-guide-aboriginal-youth-1.3315375

Getting down to Business at the Ottawa International Film Festival

It was Saturday morning amidst lush VIP seating, with notebook in hand, I sat ready to retain the wealth of knowledge pouring from the six panelists showcased at the Ottawa International Film Festival conference on “The Business of Filmmaking”. The conference featured Edwards Professional Corporation and offered a chance to learn something from the film industries brightest lawyers, producers, entrepreneurs and filmmakers. The conference touched on a variety of subjects including budgets, distribution, the various types of funding available to aspiring filmmakers in Canada, as well as showcased inside knowledge on some of the major players with regards to funding.

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Out of the panel of six, two of these industry professionals were women. One of the first things I noticed was when referencing budgets, the two women on the panel were working with significantly smaller budgets than the rest of the team. This comes as no surprise to those of us who study and live the gender wage gap and a lack of equity in film and television, but I thought it fitting that even within this smaller demographic, the numbers seemed representative of the reality that women in film and television, on average, receive less funding than men. These two women managed to transcend this obstacle, creating remarkable productions.
Check out their trailers here.

1.) Karen Harnisch with “Sleeping Giant”

2.) Laura Perlmutter with her film “Don’t Get Killed in Alaska”

Now, let’s get down to business…

In the Canadian market, in contrast to somewhere like the United States,  filmmakers are able to benefit from subsidized government grants and funding to help fuel the Canadian film and television industry. Somewhere like the United States, however, relies heavily on private equity.

In Canada, Telefilm is the largest funder of Canadian films. For first time filmmakers, Tele- film has a larger than life ora; It often seems unattainable. Thomas explained, sympathized and emphasized that this wondrous giant, though seemingly inaccessible, is really not too big to care. This organization goes out of it’s way to help and support Canadian filmmakers, so don’t count yourself out. Try to reach out and talk to them- they are there to support.

It is quite commonplace to acquire your film funding from many different sources, typically, even a well equipped source like Tele-Film would provide a third of your proposed budget. When preparing a budget for your film, prepare different versions for varying amounts of funding. You want to be well prepared and flexible when it comes to your budget as often you don’t know exactly how much funding you will get for your movie beforehand.

Telefilm also provides “Finishing grants” which are a great resource once you’ve completed your film. Karen has received two of these grants and feels that Telefilm is really looking to invest in careers. Finishing a film proves that you have what it takes. If you can show them a completed production, and you receive a finishing grant for your film, it will usually be in the 10,000- 40,000 dollar range.  Karen says, “they are an open door” and urges that it’s never too early to contact them and start a conversation.

Private equity is a great option for funding.  A filmmaker can appeal to three motivators to acquire private equity towards the making of their film. One of the key motivating factor for private equity when it comes to a first time feature filmmaker is love and friendship. The first investors in your film will usually be from friends and family- these are often great ways of funding your first feature film as it will be easier to receive funding from other sources once you’ve established yourself as a feature filmmaker. Speaking from experience, one female panelists explains that creating a feature film has done more for her career than her Master’s degree ever did. Friends and family are often eager to help with the funding of your feature to advance your career.

The next motivator is association. Sometimes investors are looking to receive advertising, a courtesy credit in the film, or if your funder has an interest in film, the ability to go on set can be particularly appealing, especially if you manage to score a well known actress or actor in your production.

The last motivator is someone who wants a return on their capital. These are people looking to make money off of the film industry. This is less popular in Canada, but is very common in the United States. One of the panelists, a man who had experience garnering millions of dollars in film funding, spoke of pre-buying, where companies will buy the film before it’s completion. These happen at select conferences in hotels where buyers go around from room to room to hear about the various prospective films for investment. They will buy the film before it is made, thus, providing funding to the making of the film before it has been completed.

It’s also essential to maintain contact and relationships with your investors, keeping them up to date on the film’s progress. This is something to remember for the less experienced, as you will easily get carried away with the making of your film.

A great way to showcase your film, whether you want to crowd fund the film or search for other means of funding: after completing your script, scroll through and highlight the scenes that seem like “trailer moments”. Creating your trailer before you’ve produced the whole film is common to garner interest and attention for the completion of a film.

Lawyers and entrepreneurs working together with creatives is so beneficial-  When you make a film, wether you are employing union or non union actors, you are creating jobs- this makes you eligible to receive back 25-60 % of your cost of labour. It’s important to understand filmmaking as a business and clients of Edwards Professional Corporation have the benefit of running through scenarios with seasoned professionals, finding the best way to use the government tax cuts to your benefit.  Tax credits can give you up to 50-60% of your costs back in a tax credit.

However, while numbers talk, it’s important to bring the focus back to quality. Knowing how to make a film, knowing how to get the funding or the tax credits to make a film simply isn’t enough. What any filmmaker should be focussed on first is making the best possible film they can. Don’t make a mediocre film because you understand the business of film, only make excellent films. Making an excellent film will get you the furthest. This is what’s going to set you apart. Even without any interest or support from distribution companies, if you manage to make an excellent film that gets into a reputable film festival, you are going to have these organizations ringing off your phone the minute you get accepted into a film festival like TIFF.  Only an excellent film will get you into places like these- you really want to put your focus on making an extraordinarily well made, stand-out film.

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After the conference, I caught up with just such a filmmaker – Laura Perlmutter. Laura was kind enough to indulge me in conversation on the topic of equality for women in film. She seemed optimistic about the future saying that the game is changing, however she posited that it’s not enough to simply leave it at rhetoric-  we need to actually support it through our legislation. I followed up with Laura who is currently in NYC, I look forward to further conversation with her, until then, be sure to follow her at First Love Films and continue to support women in film.

The Tarnished F-Word

More actresses are coming out.

They’re stepping out of their closeted lives during a sea of flashing lights, red-carpet ceremonies and fancy dinners to claim their own labels. “I am not a feminist,” I’ve heard multiple times; too many for my own personal liking.

I am all for women being able to assert their own “labels,” define their own sense of self. As a feminist, this is what I do. But too many actresses are setting a bad example for girls and boys everywhere by publicly stating they’re not feminists – and for all the wrong reasons.

The blatant definition of feminism stands as such (depending on your version of the dictionary): “feminism is the belief in the social, political and economic equality between the sexes.” That’s it, that’s all. And yet here we have Meryl Streep advocating against calling herself a feminist during an interview with Time Out, where she’s promoting her new film “Suffragette” – ironically enough.

“People at agencies and studios, including the parent boards, might look around the table at the decision-making level and feel something is wrong if half their participants are not women,” Streep stated. “Because our tastes are different, what we value is different. Not better, different.”

She went on to say that, “When you’re in your teens or 20s, there is an abundance of ingénue parts which are exciting to play, but at my age, you’re usually the wife or the girlfriend, a sort of second-class citizen.”

Meryl’s words are clearly those of a feminist standpoint, however she still does not associate herself with the word. Instead, she identifies as a “humanist, for a nice, easy balance.”

Another issue our society seems to have when refusing to accept the feminist movement – trying to defer it into another movement all together, “humanism.” While feminists also fall into this category, it is an entirely different stature. The definition for humanism states – “humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.”

Why are we not pointing out the differences here? Our famous, fearless ladies are confusing their terms. Feminism is called such because it is a movement that derives from the underprivileged and inequality of that gender – females. To achieve equality, you need to sponsor the rights of the disadvantaged gender. Hence the term FEM-inism.

Marion Cotillard, another well known actress in the industry, has come out with her stance against feminism. In an interview with Marie-Claire, she opposed the term as she feels it creates a separation between the genders.

“For me, it doesn’t create equality, it creates separation. I mean I don’t qualify myself as a feminist. We need to fight for women’s rights, but I don’t want to separate women from men. We’re separated already but we’re not made the same and it’s the difference that creates this energy in creation and love. Sometimes in the word feminism there is too much separation.”

Yet another example of an actress throwing the word “feminism” to shame without even understanding its core definition. Why are we still under the impression that feminism = women are better than men, and deserve more rights? Have we gotten so caught up in the whirlwind of media that our blurred lines are getting more and more… well, blurred?

She, like Meryl Streep, points out that men separate women because we are “different” and that’s what’s good. And I agree; there are some good differences between the two. However the major differences are the ones that are stopping us from being able to express our individualities without being slut-shamed, ignoring our basic rights to control our own bodies, placing both genders in a binary table with specific traits that mean boy and girl.

In a career dominated by men, these two wonderful actresses are not, unfortunately, helping the issue at hand by placing a bad example right in the news feeds of young girls. We need more feminist conscious actresses and actors to fight for equal rights, the ability to make young people listen and fight for their rights. After all, we spend the most time paying attention to the media. Why not make it worthwhile?

The Toronto Palestine Film Festival Sparks Conversation around the Syrian Refugee Crisis with the film, “On The Brides Side” by Sydney Osmar

On Sunday September 27, 2015 I attended my first ever Film Festival. I also sat down to write my first blog post. Having said that, I will have to apologize in advance, I am not a writer. My brother is though, so maybe by virtue of association with him, this won’t be an entirely awful piece.

Before beginning my, hopefully not futile, attempt at blog writing, I would like to recognize and acknowledge the point of privilege I am writing this from. I am a white woman and a Canadian citizen and my lived experiences are vastly different from those featured in the films presented by the Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF). I cannot and do not seek to have this blog piece used as any sort of “authority” or even as a “review” of the film I attended. I am merely writing this from the standpoint of an ally who seeks to share an opinion piece that hopefully critiques the international refugee “system” in a thoughtful manner. 

To do this, I must warn, I delve into details of the film I viewed and would like to take the chance now to provide a “reader beware”: spoilers are ahead.

Films, Festivals, and Hope

From TPFF’s website, I learned that it is a volunteer run Festival dedicated to bringing Palestinian cinema, music, culture, cuisine and art to Toronto audiences. However, after having attended only one event, I can see that it is much more than this. It is about community, resiliency, hope and defiance in the face of overwhelming challenges and suffering.

This was made evident when Shirin Haghgou, the programming volunteer for TPFF, opened the screening by quoting the following:

“It is said that resistance is the disease of hope. And as long as our people continue     to suffer from this disease, our stories, our music, our poems will continue to be heard.”

Retrospectively, I believe the heart of this quote was intricately woven throughout the film I viewed.

So, what film did I see?
I, along with a friend, went to the screening of “On the Bride’s Side”. It was the closing event for TPFF and it left me with the lingering notion that I truly should have made more of an effort to see as many TPFF films as possible.

The film follows the journey of five Palestinians and Syrians who enlist the help of a Palestinian poet, Khaled Sloman Al Nassiry, and an Italian journalist, Gabriele Del Grande, to get them from Italy to Sweden. “The Five” are Adballah Sallam, Ahmad Abed and Mona Al Ghabra, and Alaa Al-Din Bjermi and MC Manar.

To get “The Five” from Italy to Sweden, Gabriele and Khaled came up with the idea of faking a wedding procession, to decrease the likelihood of being stopped by immigration officials. Tasnim Fared, an activist, volunteered to be the bride, accompanied by many of Gabriele’s Italian friends who volunteered to make up the wedding party.

The film documents actual events that took place in the aftermath of the October 2013 Lampedusa disaster where 250 refugees drowned. Unfortunately, this film is just as relevant today as it was in 2013, with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis (as well as countless other refugee crises around the globe).

The film beautifully tells the story of the four-day journey that takes the group from Italy to Sweden. However, what was even more profound was the way in which the film navigates through the experiences and life stories of The Five. In this sense, the audience is watching many stories unfold at once. The audience has what can only be described as the privilege of learning of the hopes and dreams of The Five.

Throughout their journey, little by little, The Five begin to share what happened to them, why they are attempting to get to Sweden, and what they want for their futures. It is an intimate telling of a father-son relationship, and the lengths that family will go to ensure the safety of their loved ones. It is a telling of a love that has persisted throughout years of happiness and unimaginable crisis. It’s a telling of a resounding international injustice that carries with it an equally resounding international responsibility, a responsibility that continues to be too easily ignored.on_the_brides_side_2

Tasnim Fared is quoted in the film stating that “the sky is for everybody, so is the sea.” Juxtaposed with this sentiment is Mona Al Ghabra lamenting on the ludicrous reality that people are being forced to pay thousands of dollars to drown in the sea. Mona and her husband Ahmad as well as fellow member of “The Five”, Abdallah, were among those left in the bay of Lampedusa to drown.

When recounting this experience to the audience, Ahmad doesn’t speak of the terror he inevitably must have experienced, but the deep hurt that came with the realization that rescue ships only responded after hours of activism put in by the Syrian and refugee community already safely ashore. Had their community not responded as they had, the death toll would have been even higher than the already unimaginable total of 250.

Despite this human betrayal, The Five have a determination and resiliency that does not seem to waiver throughout the film. It is evident they “suffer” from the disease of hope, sharing songs, poetry and stories with each other throughout their journey. Manar, son of Alaa Al-Din, is a young and talented Palestinian rapper, who uplifts those around him with his lyrics and his passion for not only music, but also the role that music can play in achieving justice.

While the film’s focus is clearly on The Five, we also get a glimpse into the lives of Gabriele and Khaled. Both are risking penal sentences if discovered “smuggling” refugees across European borders. Gabriele, having reported in Syria, knows that the risks associated with this are worth it.

Khaled and his family live in Italy and, on the day he begins his journey to Sweden, he learns that his family has finally been granted Italian citizenship. His joy emanates off the screen. It is the first time in his family’s life that any of them have ever been citizens of a country. After leading stateless lives for so long and living with the precarious realities of that, he is even more inspired to assist his companions in their journey, despite the stakes having been raised even higher with the granting of his citizenship. 

As Palestinians, Manar and his father also know of the realities of being “stateless”. Upon arriving to Italy, Alaa Al-Din is forced to allow Italian immigration officials to take his fingerprints. Throughout their journey to Sweden, Alaa Al-Din is distraught with worry. In the European Union there is a general principle that you are to claim refugee status where you enter. Sweden is almost never the first place of entry, though it is the desired destination for claiming status. If immigration officials of another country have already obtained your fingerprints, chances of being deported back to that country are high. 

The audience let out a collective sigh of despair when the ending credits rolled and disclosed to us that Manar and his father had been deported back to Italy.

While this is an issue that is particularly amplified in the European Union, given its geography and close relation to countries currently impacted by civil war and other disasters, it is also an issue present in North America. On December 29, 2004 Canada and the United States’ “Safe Third Country Agreement,” (The Agreement) came into effect. This has largely the same impact on refugee claimants as the European policy has had on Manar and his father.

While this may seem like a peculiar statement to make, given that Canada and the US are typically conceptualized as “safe” countries, The Agreement has had deadly and “indirect” impacts on refugee claimants. Similarly to Alaa Al-Din’s fingerprints being taken by Italian officials upon arrival to Italy, refugee claimants are expected to request protection from the first “safe third country” they enter.

A “third country” is identified as a country a refugee claimant passes through en route to their final destination. The Agreement has defined both the US and Canada as “safe” countries and has essentially bureaucratized a formal process of deflection.  Refugee claimants who first land in the US and then attempt to move through the Canadian border to make their claim are “deflected” back to the US and vice-versa.

This agreement was largely negotiated as part of a number of post-United States’ 9/11 measures known by the title “Smart Border Action Plan”, and has been the subject of controversy since it’s coming into force.

It has been argued by refugees and allies, such as the Canadian Council of Refugees, that the Agreement results in the indirect refoulement of bona fide refugees on part of Canada, through the US. The international principle of non-refoulement establishes that no state can deport a refugee to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened by persecution (on any of the grounds set out in Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention), it also makes clear that in these situations, states shall not impose penalties on account of refugees’ “illegal” entry or presence.

The indirect refoulement produced from the Agreement comes as a result of inconsistencies in the two state’s refugee laws and policies, with the US providing a significantly diminished level of procedural and substantive protection.

The Agreement functions on the understanding that “true” asylum seekers would apply for protection in the first country of arrival, rather than “shopping” around for the most desired country. This logic ignores the very necessary reasons for an asylum seeker to choose a country for refuge that may not be the first country of arrival. For example, Arab Muslim men entering the US after 9/11 faced (and continue to face) a very real threat to their security of person in the form of “preventative detention” as well as disproportionate concerns of having their claim denied. Furthermore, the reasoning could be as simple as family reunification.

With the widespread and increasing use of detainment, as well as increased securitization of borders, deflecting asylum seekers back to where they may be detained, or at worst refouled, it is not surprising that refugees may take matters into their own hands and increasingly resort to “illegal” methods of entry and/or go “underground” for as long as possible.

Despite both the US and Canada being parties to the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, the Agreement is likely to lead to an increase in trafficking. As the borders and sanctions become stricter, the price of smuggling risks rising and eventually leading to migrants and refugee claimants resorting to more and more exploitative means of gaining access to transportation and entry. This itself increases the level of exploitation, precariousness and vulnerability of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers while simultaneously barring them from the protections they would otherwise have received as a “legal migrant” under migration laws, or as a “real” refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Despite this having been explained in a Canadian context, it is equally applicable to the refugee crises that are occurring globally. While The Five were eventually fortunate enough to find Gabriele and Khaled, many refugee claimants are not so lucky.

The tightening of borders coupled with the general lack of response from the international community has increased negative connotations of refugees and resulted in people resorting to desperate measures to attempt to find asylum. This has been proved to result in disaster time and time again, look to the 2013 Lampedusa disaster, the death of Aylan Kurdi, and the 2014 disaster where almost 700 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

While The Five are now safe, some settled in Sweden, others on their way to Germany, most reunited with families, their journeys can’t truly be said to end until they have the choice of returning to their homes, if they wish.

Conclusion: Where do we go from here?

What can we do?

Gabriele Del Grande Skyped in to TPFF after the viewing of his film, and this was a question he faced by the audience. To him, the answer is simple: instead of funneling money to the increased securitization of borders and detainment of people seeking asylum, the international community needs to focus on directing funds to streamlining immigration systems. Making it easier for people to gain visas and to claim refugee status while simultaneously de-criminalizing the process needs to formulate the focal point of this movement.

While this may be a hopeful, or even idealistic solution, it seeks to tackle the systemic issues with current refugee and immigration processes around the globe.  It’s not a solution that will happen over night, but is something that is achievable if the international community begins to step up to the plate.

So what role do we play?

Most importantly, we need to be vocal. If attending protests isn’t your thing, write a letter to your local government or MP. As cliché as it sounds, public pressure works. In Iceland, the government was forced into creating a refugee action committee after massive public outcry resulted from the government’s pledge to accept only 50 refugees from Syria. For more long-term change, the public needs to be loud on what they wish to achieve. It will take changes to domestic legal systems before any international change will be seen.

For more short-term, direct responses, there are various ways of taking action. While sponsoring a family may not be feasible, donations of any sort can help. This can be directed to specific families, or to organizations that are themselves dedicated to sponsoring families or supporting refugees in Canada. Similarly, you could donate directly to aid organizations working on the “front lines” of the crises. For students, many Canadian universities are now setting pledges to assist in the current Syrian refugee crisis, stemming from collecting donations to sponsoring families.

For more systemic involvement, you could get involved with organizations that have broader mandates that intersect with issues pertaining to refugees. For example, you could join the Canadian Council for Refugees or involve yourself with local organizations that assist refugees with settling or are engaged in preventative work.

You could reach out to grassroots organizations in refugee communities who are already in Canada, ask them how you can best assist them, what do they need? What are their immediate concerns that need to be met?

While these are merely a handful of suggestions, most directed at the short-term, they are at the very least a way for people to get involved in some manner. They are for those who want to help in making the land safer for all, and for those who have begun to acknowledge the words of Warsan Shire, “you have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

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Leaving TPFF after viewing “On the Bride’s Side,” a documentary film by Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele Del Grande and Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry

Women’s Film Collective Researcher and Writer
Sydney Osmar
Sydney holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Rights from Carleton University and is currently studying law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York university, Toronto. 

Currently, she is part of a team conducting research for a documentary film looking into the Canadian Criminal Justice System’s handling of gender based crimes.

Contact herperspectivecollective@gmail.com for the original paper- complete with sources.