FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT - Ashley McKenzie

Hi BFFers,

We’re gearing up for our annual fundraiser on December 8th so we thought, what better time to start a monthly newsletter?  You’ll get this baby delivered to your inbox every month and it will be packed full of filmmaker interviews, interesting film festivals to check out, and of course Breakthroughs submission info and upcoming deadlines.

Each month we are going to do a Filmmaker Spotlight on a woman who is challenging the world of cinema.  For our inaugural spotlight, we are chatting with award-winning writer/director Ashley McKenzie, whose feature-length directorial debut, Werewolf, premiered at TIFF 2016 to critical acclaim.

Hailing from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, McKenzie is a three-time recipient of The National Screen Institute’s Fearless Female Award.  She has had great success with her short films that showcase a ‘slice of life’ look at her local communities in a way that blends formalist filmmaking with dense, gritty realism.

An alumni of the TIFF Talent Lab and co-owner of production company Grassfire Films, Ashley is quickly becoming known for her intimate narratives, restrained visual style, and coaxing fantastic performances out of her actors.

In short, she’s an inspiration to filmmakers everywhere.

5 Questions for Ashley McKenzie

1. How does gender play into your creative process? 

My creative process is an intuitive one where I allow my instincts and inspirations to guide me as freely and openly as possible, without judgment. It’s important for that to be an unmitigated process, so I’m not consciously considering gender influences or implications. At some point, I do check in to make sure I’m not reproducing negative gender or hetero-normative stereotypes in my work.

2. Can you name three female creative people who inspire you?

Miranda July, Chantal Akerman, Kelly Reichardt, Isabelle Huppert, Lucrecia Martel, Lydia Davis, Grace Paley, and Rebecca Solnit are all bold and uncompromising creative voices that inspire me.

3. Will you continue to tell stories set in Eastern Canada? What draws you to these narratives?

I have two longer format projects I’m working on at the moment that are rooted in the place that I live. I feel lucky to have a sense of place in my work…to have that specificity to drawn on. I tap into those textures because I’ve been surrounded by them my entire life. It’s what’s around me and what’s inside me– so that comes out in my work very naturally.

4. Can you comment on the current challenges female filmmakers face in Canada?

There is no shortage of great female filmmakers in Canada right now: Jacquelyn Mills, Sophie Goyette, Danis Goulet, Sofia Bohdanowicz, Emily Kai Bock, Chelsea McMullan, Nadia Litz, to name a few. But there are also systemic problems permeating the filmmaking ecosystem in this country that [don’t] afford female filmmakers the same freedom, trust, recognition, and opportunities for growth as male filmmakers. 

5. What advice would you give to young, female filmmakers who are just starting out?

Take risks. There are so many ways in which to make a film. Find the way that’s right for you. Cultivate your unique voice and inner compass. Let that imbue your filmmaking and also be your guide whenever people cast doubt on your decisions. 

Ashley McKenzie is an emerging writer-director from Cape Breton Island, Canada. Her debut feature film Werewolf premiered at TIFF this fall, won the Grand Prix Focus QC/Canada at Festival du nouveau cinema, and the Best Director, Actor, and Actress awards at the Atlantic Film Festival. Ashley’s short film work includes 4 Quarters (’15), Stray (‘13), When You Sleep (‘12), and Rhonda’s Party (10). She is an alumnus of the TIFF Talent Lab and co-owner of grassfire films with Nelson MacDonald.