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Shelley Thompson: Women in the Director’s Chair Report and Thanks

I’d like to thank UBCP/ACTRA, ACTRA National and ACTRA Maritimes for their support in getting me to the 20th Anniversary session of Women In the Director’s Chair workshop that took place in Vancouver and at the Whistler Film Festival during November and December 2016.Without the scholarship and travel support of each of your organisations, I couldn’t have taken part. I felt so fortunate to be one of eight emerging female writer/directors selected by the WIDC for the workshop and industry immersion components of their Story & Leadership program.

The WIDC is open to any mid-career female-identified Canadian screen director, who has either a feature film or web series project she plans to direct. The WIDC isdesigned for women who already have some experience directing shorts, docs, web series, or other micro-budget screen projects but who want to sharpen or refresh their skills, polish their stories, and/or build professional connections and networking.

My experience of this program was that it did all those things. I was in a terrific group of eight women: although our projects were all very different, our sense of humour clicked and our respect for what each of our very diverse group brought to the table was immense. While we had amazing mentors in so many areas, we discovered we were also mentoring each other with much of our learning donein off-hours — so we weren’t just in hot tubs, or drinking! — despite the pictures!

We were introduced to incredible practitioners and industry policy makers/changers who gave us hours of their time. We were thrilled to have conversations with directors Rachel Talalay (Sherlock, Dr. Who) and Anne Wheeler (too many to list!). We worked with fight choreographer/actor Garwin Sanford on blocking action scenes for camera. We spent a day with cinematographer Amy Belling and director Katrin Bowen planning shots for those scenes and critiquing our directing. We spent time with CBC Production Executive, Sarah Adams, Lael McCall (independent producer – Vancouver), Telefilm exec (BC) Lauren Davis, and Harold Greenberg Fund president John Galway.

The cherry on the top was a private hour and a half around a table with Telefilm’s Carolle Brabant, talking to our group in detail about Telefilm’s commitment to parity for women film makers. We were asked what we thought, what we wanted to see, and our suggestions and responses were recorded.

There’s been a lot of discussion about “not far enough, fast enough”, but what we heard at discussions around that table was very positive and ambitious on our behalf, and we were impressed by the commitment to listen to women in the industry and keep things moving forward. These were people clearly prepared to keep looking for other incentives to make sure change happens quicker than it has so far, and we went away quietly optimistic. Everyone agrees there is still too much work to be done to be complacent, but there was also a real sense of a change in the wind.

We were given the opportunity to pitch our projects in coveted one-to-one meetings: as a result I have invites to send my creative materials to the folks I pitched, and to plan meetings after that work is reviewed.

The mood at Whistler Film Festival for women in film was optimistic and politicized. The WIDC were part of a huge group of women from across Canada invited to ‘Breakfast at the Top’ of Whistler: a Gondola ride full of energy and creative possibility. Also at that breakfast were Nova Scotia’s own Jan Miller from WIFT-AT, Rina Fraticelli from Women in View, Jennifer Holness who’s created Shoot The Messenger (and a little bird tells me she may be a guest in Halifax this coming year — so watch this space), WIDC’s own Carol Whiteman and many more moving and shaking women-in-film. Here’s the link to a Globe and Mail article about the event:

I can’t speak highly enough of the organisation and the women who wrangled and inspired us at the WIDC. Carol Whiteman shepherds and mothers us through day after day, helped by her two enormously capable cohorts — filmmakers themselves — Michelle Morris and Odessa Shuquaya. Our wonderful story editor/mentor Linda Coffey gave some of the best scriptwriting advice I’ve ever had. She’s practical and generous, and the next script I work on, I’m running, not walking, to get her help.

Dr. Carolyn Mamchur, who worked with us on personality typing and exploring archetypes and psychology, added another spanner to my tool box, and the relationship between Carolyn and her daughter Mickey, her constant companion, was an inspirational lesson in communication.
Thank you ACTRA, for supporting this organisation, and for allowing me, an ACTRA member for a hundred years (ish!), to take part in a challenging and life changing few weeks; for providing me with a dozens of new friends and colleagues, (including Mentor Actor Lori Triolo, casting director Maureen Webb, and the dozen ACTRA actors from across Canada who came to workshop our scripts), and a clearer understanding of how our national film organisations and funders reach decisions and implement them. It’s been an invaluable and I hope, fruitful, lesson. many thanks.

Shelley Thompson

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