Maya Annik Bedward is a filmmaker and Breakthroughs Alumni who is making the transition from short to feature-length films. Maya is a Jamaican-Québecoise filmmaker currently based in Toronto. After completing her MA in International Communications from the University of Leeds, she launched Third Culture Media with support from the Michaëlle Jean Foundation. Her films have screened at festivals across North America and Europe, and sold to Air Canada and the CBC. Maya is a recipient of the WIFT-T Business of Broadcasting Mentorship and a fellow of the RIDM Talent Lab. Her most recent short, THE HAIRCUT, premiered at Hot Docs Toronto International Documentary Film Festival last spring and is now streaming on CBC Docs. She won the 2015 BFF Audience Choice Award for her short, THE FOREIGNER, and she's now working on her first feature documentary, BLACK ZOMBIE. We caught up with her to discuss inspiration and hard work as she moves into the next phase of her career. 


You've made a few short films and are now working on your first feature - congratulations! What got you started in filmmaking, and where did you learn your storytelling skills?

Thanks, Breakthroughs! I think I was about 12 when I first got into filmmaking. I remember spending hours in my parent's living room editing camcorder footage on an old VCR. Even though that process was painstakingly slow, I reveled in it and knew I wanted a career in filmmaking. After finishing school, I got a job at Conquering Lion Pictures where I worked with Lawrence Hill and Clement Virgo in the writer’s room. I learned a lot about visual storytelling through this experience.

You've made both fiction and non-fiction films, which do you prefer and why?

A few years ago, I would have said fiction because I worked mostly in that realm and loved the process of creating worlds on paper and bringing them to life on screen. But since working in documentary, I have developed a soft spot for non-fiction and enjoy the unique challenges and surprises it brings. It’s so hard to choose! At the end of the day, they are both great mediums for storytelling.

Your last short film, The Haircut, is a wonderful documentary about your father. How was the process of working with him on a film? Is your family history going to be a theme we will see more of in your films moving forward?

Making a film about family is hard. I did enjoy the process because it allowed me to spend time with my Dad and learn more about our family. It also provided us with an opportunity to talk about things we usually don't’ talk about. That said, it was hard for him to open up and I didn’t want to push too hard. So, I think this will be my last film about family, but their stories will continue to inspire and inform the films I make.

How did your idea for your feature documentary come about?

My feature, Black Zombie comes from a desire to talk about the importance of race and representation in cinema. I never thought much about zombies, until I encountered an exhibit on Haitian Vodou and learned where they came from. Turns out the zombie, unbeknownst to most, is a powerful Haitian metaphor for slavery! I’ve been obsessed with telling this story ever since.

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What has the journey been in getting your feature off the ground? Were there any specific difficulties that came with transitioning from shorts to features? (please feel free to elaborate about documentary funding models and funding agencies if applicable!)  

I was coming from a background in fiction, so I had to make a few short docs before I could really pitch a feature. Afterwords, I still found it difficult to find funding, but my peers were excited about the project, so I knew I had something special. Then, last winter I got into the Doc Institute’s Breakthrough program. After six weeks of pitching and utter rejection, I had a... breakthrough and started to pitch the film a different way. Then I got a yes, and another yes. My producer, Kate and I attended a few markets, got Executive Producer, Jennifer Holness attached, and the ball started rolling from there!

Now that you've navigated funding agencies, film festivals, and live pitches, do you have any advice would you give anyone undertaking their first feature?

Yes. It's going to be a long process. People won't give you hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a film overnight, so you need to have patience, but you also need have fun along the way. So, my advice is to surround yourself with good people, who will champion your work, but also make you laugh when times are tough and things don’t go your way.



Maya Annik Bedward is a Jamaican- Québecoise filmmaker currently based in Toronto. After completing her MA in International Communications from the University of Leeds, she launched Third Culture Media with support from the Michaëlle Jean Foundation. Her films have screened at festivals across North America and Europe, and sold to Air Canada and the CBC. Maya is a recipient of the WIFT-T Business of Broadcasting Mentorship and a fellow of the RIDM Talent Lab. Her most recent short, THE HAIRCUT premiered at Hot Docs Toronto International Documentary Film Festival last spring.


You can’t keep Jessica Hinkson down, nor do we want to. As the co-creater, executive producer, and co-star of the multi-award winning short film Jessica Jessica (winner of the Audience Choice Award at BFF 2018) Ms. Hinkson has had quite a successful run with her film and other incredible ventures. This month she sits down to talk to us and tell us all about the making of Jessica Jessica and what's in store for her next!

Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, at the age of 12, Jessica along with her family moved to Vancouver, BC. She trained intensely at The Vancouver Goh Ballet that also got her to The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Summers were spent alternating between touring China with the Goh and dancing with the Winnipeg Ballet. In order to explore other forms of dance, Jessica began to spend her summers in Los Angeles training at Tremaine Dance and The Edge Performing Arts Centre. Falling in love with LA, she moved there to study full time. An acting teacher convinced Jessica that she should take an acting class, which she did and instantly caught the bug so much so that she went to New York to audition for theatre school and got in. Jessica attended the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of Acting and studied closely with Terry Schreiber in New York City. She has also worked with Larry Moss and Ben Ratner to name a few.

She has had many acting roles (currently you can see her in WOLFCOP) and since has now added producing, writing and directing to her credit. She just completed her newest short JOEY, which is Jessica's first film script as well as her directorial debut. The film is currently in post-production. Other shorts she’s been involved in include "Oh Shit" and "The Floaters". In the writing department, Jessica has had articles published in Notable.ca and The Elephant Journal. Jessica also produced and stars in CHARLIE & YONI, part of CBC's Comedycoup that has now gone on to be optioned by Cinecoup. Jessica recently completed her first book LOVE YOUR YONI, a popup vagina book, as a means to empower women of all ages about their bodies. 

The much talked about short, Jessica Jessica will be broadcast on CBC TV, November 15 on Canadian Reflections, a 30-year program featuring Canadian indie short films. It will then be available to stream online at cbc.ca/watch, as well as on VOD.

Jessica Jessica is currently being developed into a series. 

You made a short film, Jessica Jessica, that has travelled the world and won many awards. It is a 30-something coming of age film, what made you want to work within this age demographic?

Simply because that is our age. As we navigate this journey, we continue to grow and to come of age. We are always coming of age. That is the idea that (Jessica Jessica co-star and writer) Jessica Greco & I wanted to present.

You use humour in what some would call sad situations, which results in both funny and clever content. How did you work through that with your key team?

Jess Greco wrote the script and I was her “doula” aka story editor. We formed the story based on our “in the vault” stories shared over brunch and mimosas. The friendship you see onscreen in Jessica Jessica is the friendship that Greco and I have. Greco slayed writing the script! Comedy was intentional as it was important to Greco and I to highlight female friendship in a positive way. Being single women at this point in our lives we do lean on one another. We show up and say ‘I’ve got you, I see you,’ and hold each other in the balance of life which let’s be honest, can be tricky. And why not talk about it? Jess Greco wrote a beautifully-funny-sad script, and our director Jasper Savage elevated the storytelling of that journey. The power of vulnerability made for a soul-filling experience.

Jessica Jessica was picked up by CBC and it will air on their REFLECTIONS program November 15th, and then be available to stream for 3+ years. How did you come about that deal and what if anything did you learn from it?

Jess Greco and I were at Lakeshorts International Film Festival mingling in different place. Greco came over and introduced me to Paige Murray from CBC Shorts Programming who had seen Jessica Jessica screen at WIFT-T’s Showcase. There was no business, just fun that night - with a plan to meet up soon. Greco and I met up with Paige a few weeks later for drinks, and about 3 mins in Paige put the offer out on the table. The look of shock and disbelief with a side of sheer excitement on Greco & I’s faces must have been priceless. Truth be told we thought Paige just thought we were cool and wanted to hangout with us. We didn’t realize what was happening at all. Oh the beauty of naivety! Our takeaway is that anything is possible.

What inspires you as a storyteller?

I did a Soulo Theatre Workshop with Tracy Erin Smith a few years back. I wrote and performed the first 15 mins of my show, Serious Mysterious. The show is about when I was bullied from grades three to six. I didn’t have a support system and for about a year I had facial ticks, as a way of coping. This was a part of my life that I associated with immense shame, hurt, and pain. I felt like it was a secret I had to keep. Until I did this workshop and I realized that a part of me had been walking through my life holding on to this as my story. It was a part of my life but it was most certainly not what defined me. The workshop was healing and it was fun. Bringing comedy to what had been a painful and traumatic experience brought so much joy and relief not only to me but to the audience. When I create content now, those are the places that I want to go to. Where the secrets, the shame, the pain, and the hilarity live. It makes for authentic storytelling. It makes it relatable and, hopefully, lets somebody know that they are not alone. So as that old saying goes, write what you know. It isn’t therapy but it is most certainly therapeutic.

As an actor, have you always wanted to write and produce as well?

Years ago, I remember watching an interview with Tilda Swinton and she said, ‘More now than ever as artists we have to create our own work.’  I’m not sure why that resonated with me so deeply but it did so I got to work. I started out by producing theatre, and eventually moved to film. Writing-wise, I started out blogging with a side of poetry. I was new at it. I had a lot to learn. Writing is hard and it is tedious. However, I was drawn to it, I continued to work at it, and eventually I had my first article published. Not that I’ve learned everything. I have a long way to go, but what I know now is that I love to get lost in whichever world it is that I am creating. That is a process that brings me great joy.

You just completed your directorial debut short JOEY (along with co-director Laura Nordin), which you also wrote and are producing. Tell us how you came to this story and your actors, and how was it directing?

I'm addicted to creating content, to curating a voice that I feel is necessary to be heard no matter how absurd, heartbreaking, funny, or all of that combined together, it is. JOEY is a short film I began working on five years ago. The inspiration came from being obsessed with the 60s and a divine passion for fashion. I was silent about this project because it was my first film script. So, when other projects came up I would walk away until I would come back. In 2015 I went through more than a breast cancer scare. My perception of myself and the world around me shifted. I remember standing on University Avenue after receiving my diagnosis. It was late afternoon, the sun shone bright and warm, it was beautiful. All I thought was, 'How did I get here? This is when the world of Joey shifted for me. At times when fear runs our lives, when we don't know the outcome, we aren't sure that where we are is where we should be, and self-doubt sets in, we find comfort in the absurd. It’s like a nest in the daunting mystery of life. We can plant ourselves in the womb of comedy.  

Now, directing was not something I had considered. When I found Laura Nordin, I was relieved that someone "got me, got Joey." When we finally decided to go for it and film this irreverent odyssey, Laura very casually asked me if I'd like to co-direct because my vision was so clear. I was thrilled, and although it hadn't been something I had initially considered it felt like the universe was handing me an opportunity. I loved every minute of it. To see my vision come to life after all of this time with our amazing team; that was surreal. 

In terms of getting our cast together, I created and wrote Joey for Lucie Guest, as well as wrote for Jessica Huras, Teagan Vincze, and Katie Messina. These ladies have been attached to the film almost as long as I have. Ronnie Rowe, Daniel Stolfi, Rakhee Morzaria, Jen Pogue, Emily Andrews were all undoubtedly perfect for their roles. All of these people are so talented. Filming was diamond magic! (Yes. That quote is inspired from Rihanna). Plus the amazing Lauren Grant of Clique Pictures coming on as Executive Producer, working with the #ladybosses of Filmcoop once again, and our wildly talented DP Gabriela Osio Vanden; it was a dream team.

With your busy schedule of acting, and prepping Joey for a spring 2019 release, is there anything else you are working on that you are excited about?   

I am a mentor in WIFT’T’s Mentorship Program that starts up next month. This year I have been asked to mentor two women which should be super fun. I have a one year old golden retriever Hank who is such a love and I think was a comedian in a past life. In the next year, I want to take myself on a yoga retreat. Wherever it ends up being, it will be a good soul journey. And I love those.


The 2018 edition of TIFF has just gotten underway, and we couldn’t be more excited to see that its clear breakaway star is a young director who we happen to know and love. Jasmin Mozaffari, a BFF alum whose short film FIRECRACKERS screened at our fest in 2014, went on to direct a feature adaptation of her film, which is premiering at this year’s festival to unanimously rave reviews. The Globe and Mail just announced, “Mozaffari doesn’t merely announce herself as a vital new voice for Canadian cinema. She shouts it from the rooftop, daring gatekeepers to put their money where their newly woke mouths are” in an article entitled “Boom: The Dynamite Jasmin Mozaffari”.

FIRECRACKERS is an incendiary, gorgeously shot film about two teenage best friends searching for freedom over the course of a summer in their small hometown. We caught up with Jasmin in the lead up to her film’s premiere to talk about the inspiration for FIRECRACKERS, the process of adapting a short into a feature, and working to create space for herself in an industry that has been so unwelcoming of diverse voices up until this point.


BFF: What was the initial inspiration to make Firecrackers? And since you expanded your film from a short into a feature, I’m curious how the story evolved along the way for you?

When I wrote the short for Firecrackers back in 2012, I was still in film school. At that time I was tired of seeing narratives that celebrated the adventures and misadventures of boys. I was starved for a film and a story that embraced female characters that were unapologetic and bold. Especially in the film school sphere when we were just learning how to make films, it felt like many people played it safe. By my final year, I wanted to break out of that. Roughly three years after graduating, Caitlin Grabham (the producer and my creative collaborator) and I were talking about applying to the Telefilm Micro Budget Program, and it was obvious that our first film should be an expansion of the short. I had much more to say on this topic of patriarchal oppression, and I felt with a feature I could go deeper, darker, and take more risks. When I started writing the feature in 2016, I had no idea the cultural shift that was to take place with #metoo and #TimesUp. However, I remember sitting in dingy motel room in Northern Ontario with a notepad writing scenes for the script while the US Presidential election was playing out on TV. I saw a woman trying hard to break a glass ceiling while being met with misogyny and hatred, while a man who openly admitted to sexually assaulting women was growing a steady following. It was that moment, and many others like it that made me realize just how important it was to make this film, now.

BFF: Michaela Kurimsky, who plays Lou, the lead character in your film, is fantastic in her role and clearly such a star. How did you find her, and what was it like working with her and with the other actors in Firecrackers? 

Michaela actually went to Ryerson for Film Studies like I did. She was a year behind me, so I knew who she was, but I didn’t know her personally. When she submitted for the role, she put forward a music video she was in for Wintersleep called “Amerika” (dir. by Scott Cudmore). In it, she has this amazing monologue at the beginning. I must have watched it like 30 times. Michaela has this unique ability to be both incredibly vulnerable and strong at the same time. I knew she was Lou when I saw that video.

Karena Evans was put forward by a mutual friend. Her audition tape stood out – hands down. She embodied Chantal immediately. In the audition I read with her, and we improvised quite a bit. In that audition process we were able to discover some of Chantal’s vulnerabilities, and that was really exciting. She’s an amazing talent and a star, and I was so lucky to work with both her and Michaela so early in their careers.

In general though, I was working mostly with actors who had very little experience, or none at all. It was a challenge because I was asking them to do very difficult, highly emotional scenes. We took several months to build the characters, often doing many sessions of improvising situations that would not be in the film. I think had we not done the prep in this way, it would have been impossible to have honest performances.


BFF: You worked with an almost entirely female crew! Was that intentional? How did you land on the some of the key creatives you chose to work with and what did they bring to the table?  

Our key crew ended up mostly female, but that wasn’t planned. I believe that women like working with each other, and they resonated with this story. It was nice because I didn’t have to explain things to the keys about sexual assault, or about the sensitivities around female experiences – they already understood that because we have this shared experience of being female. I should also mention that we were extremely low budget, so they all had to sacrifice time and money to be on Firecrackers, but they did it because they believed in the vision and felt this story absolutely had to be told. I hope I can always work with people who I have shared values with – I think it’s so important.

BFF: You received funding from the Telefilm Micro-Budget Program. Your film is so incredibly rich, cinematic, and expertly crafted that I found myself marvelling that you created it on a micro-budget. What challenges did you face you working with the budget you had, and how did you overcome them?

I think no matter what type of film you make, it will be challenging, low budget or not. Because everyone who worked on the film believed in the vision, we didn’t have any huge challenges – but tonnes of small ones. Myself and the two producers (Caitlin and Kristy) were stretched very thin. We did not have money for a casting director or location scout, so we spent many months searching for actors and locations - it was absolutely exhausting. However, I think because we were so meticulous about the actors and the atmosphere, it pays off on screen. In terms of the quality of the image, Catherine [Lutes, Firecracker’s Director of Photography] was supported immensely through William F. Whites. They continue to champion her time and time again. Catherine also created custom LUTS (looks to apply in camera) so we could save time in the colour correction down the line. We took some risks with the cinematography, so helped us understand the overall look of the film from an early stage. Having executive producers who have connections and are willing to go the extra mile to help you succeed really made a huge difference on this film as well.


BFF: Do you have any advice for emerging filmmakers who are getting ready to make their first feature? Looking back on making Firecrackers, what would you have done differently, and what are you glad you did exactly as you did?

One of the reasons that Firecrackers is the work I’m most proud of is because I don’t really have any regrets. I can’t say I’ve always felt like that after making a film. Caitlin, Kristy, and I did everything we possibly could to get this film off the ground and running. Are there things I wish could be different? Sure, but I know in my heart that we gave everything we had and tried very hard to never settle. One thing I’m very happy about is that I did not rush the writing process. I took an entire year to write and workshop this script. It meant making a lot of sacrifices financially and socially. It was very, very tough at times. However, if you’re not happy with your script, you should not shoot. So my advice is not to rush through the development phase. Get your script to a solid place that you’re happy with before making the next move and don’t let anyone pressure you through it. I would also say be bold and take risks. If it’s rooted in honesty and truth, just go for it. Don’t water down your content to please other people.

BFF: Tell me about the production company that you started with your producer Caitlin! It’s so awesome that you decided to take this step. What are your goals for Prowler Film, and can you share any hints about what’s up your sleeve in terms of future filmmaking endeavours…?

Caitlin and I started our own company a few years ago called Prowler Film. We did this because we wanted to brand ourselves as filmmakers and it also helps to incorporate once you get into making features. Caitlin and I share a lot of values. We are both feminists who want to see intersectional stories and themes on screen. Films made under Prowler will be bold, take risks, and aim to be thoughtfully representative and progressive. In the future, it is our goal to somehow use our privilege to help underrepresented writers and directors get their films made as well. As for next projects, I’m interested in focusing on my experience as an Iranian female and the nuances of growing up as a mixed-race person.

FIRECRACKERS plays Sep 8, 10, and 12 during TIFF.

Feature Interview – Executive Director Mariam Zaidi

We at Breakthroughs Film Festival are thrilled to introduce our brand-new Executive Director, Mariam Zaidi, who will lead us in championing the work of emerging women filmmakers. That is, and has been our mandate here at BFF for the last seven years, and we are just getting started.

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If you haven’t met Mariam yet, well, saddle up and get ready to hear a list of wonderful and exciting accomplishments this young woman has had already in her young life, with a whole heck of a lot more to come, that’s for sure.

Mariam is a South Asian filmmaker and arts manager who is based in Toronto, Canada. Her film work focuses on cinematic, character-driven stories that often explore the experiences of people from her South Asian community.

Mariam's work has been funded and supported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto, Ontario Arts Council, Canada Arts Council, and BravoFACT! Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent, and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

She was the associate producer on multiple award-winning documentaries, including Migrant Dreams, which was a 2017 Sydney Hillman Prize winner for Journalism; Top 10 film at the 2017 Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival; nominated in 2018 for the biggest documentary achievement in Canada – the Donald Brittain Award for best Social/Political Documentary.

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More recently, Mariam directed the short film, Over Time, which premiered at the  21st Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. Both the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) and Women in Film and Television (WIFT-T) are given an opportunity during this festival to award a Best Film, and Mariam’s Over Time took the honours.

Alongside her independent film work, Mariam has held multiple positions at local arts organizations and festivals including the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, Regent Park Film Festival, European Union Film Festival, and Images Festival.

She currently holds the position of Associate Programmer at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

“We’re in a pivotal time in the history of cinema,” says an emphatic Mariam, “a time where women have emerged as a dominant and unabashed force in filmmaking. We are standing up, raising our voices and breaking barriers that never should have been there in the first place. Women in film are increasingly unafraid, and by virtue of that boldness, cementing our positions in the larger narrative of cinematic history.

“This is why Breakthroughs is such an important film festival, and why I am proud to join the team this year. We’re an organization that exclusively rewards and celebrates women directors who produce work in a variety of storytelling styles from fiction to documentary, animation to experimental, and far beyond.

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“The celebration of women is crucial in our industry, especially in times like these. It is also equally important for us to make genuine efforts to move beyond mere recognition and to practice active inclusion. We need to ensure that our goals of representation include folks who identify as Black, Indigenous, and women of colour, as well as those who come from varied economic.”

And that is our new fearless leader. If you think these last seven years were great, wait for each new year about to outshine the others like you’ve never seen.


By Ashley Catania

I recently sat down with Toronto-based director Lisa Rideout. I had just programmed her film Take A Walk on the Wildside for WIFT-T’s Showcase and was excited to meet the person behind the camera. Around the same time, she joined BFF as a panellist at our Breakthrough To Your Audience panel. With four films under her belt and a Canadian Screen Award for Wildside, I was curious to hear what motivations were behind her work, and what our BFFs might be able to learn from her experience. Here’s what she shared with me.

*The day I spoke with Lisa, CBC officially released Wildside on the CBC Docs platform (link to: http://www.cbc.ca/shortdocs/shorts/take-a-walk-on-the-wildside )

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What led you to a career in film?

It’s kind of a convoluted story, ha. I’ve always been interested in storytelling, visual representations and why certain populations are stereotyped through imagery. Growing up on Sunday mornings I would watch World Vision commercials and I can vividly remember the scenes of Indian children searching through garbage dumps. Those images were the only reference I had to a country where my Mom and her parents grew up.

I ended up doing my undergrad in International Development Studies at York and then I did a Masters at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). My research focused on visual representations of the “developing world” and why certain imagery was used over and over again. I was about to go on to do my Ph.D. when I had an internal crisis and realized that I didn’t  want to discuss imagery with the three other academics who did the same research as me for the rest of my life (no offense you three). I was honestly tired of being critical and thought why don’t I instead try to create alternative imagery to what I found to be problematic?


I was involved with a non-profit called Good Evidence which was creating documentary content, so it wasn’t necessarily a huge leap, but like a good academic I thought, how can I really learn how to make documentaries? More school. So I ended up at Ryerson where I did a MFA in Documentary Media.

This is all to say, I didn’t have a burning desire from birth to be a filmmaker, which I think is often a common narrative and can deter those who want to be filmmakers later in life. I think passion for filmmaking, especially documentary, can grow roots in a variety of starting points.


How did you break into the industry?

After I graduated from Ryerson I started working at the Canadian Film Centre in the production office. I was a Production Coordinator there for two years and that really opened my eyes to what was needed to create a successful film.  At Ryerson, we worked on our documentaries as a one-person show – we directed, produced, shot, did sound, and edited our own work, which did help me understand the various components that go into a film. But at CFC, coordinating their film lab, I had the chance to see large narrative sets and see the value in having a team.  It become quite clear to me that a strong team combines their skills sets and that one person can’t be good at everything. It can’t all be on you. That whole concept of jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I believe that whole-heartedly. Besides learning a lot about filmmaking, I met some amazing filmmakers at the CFC who I still collaborate with today. While I was working there I continued to make my own documentaries as well.


Why docs?

I’m inspired by real stories and I think a powerful documentary is unlike any other form of storytelling. Documentaries were a natural transition for me as an academic and activist. It was a way for me to challenge those stereotypical representations I was critical of.

For me now, documentary is a way to tell stories that I think have social relevance, are engaging narrative wise while also thinking about how best to use a visual medium. I’m really interested in how to push the visual medium in documentary and in other forms of storytelling. I don’t want to only make documentaries and am interested in creating hybrid documentaries and eventually narrative films.


What led you to make TAWOTWS?

I was scouting locations for another film and went into Take a Walk on the Wildside (the store the film is named after). I immediately thought the storeowner Patricia Aldridge and the store (with all its glittery and colourful objects) would be amazing on film. After being open for thirty years the store had a rich history and Paddy was an incredible storyteller. It was the perfect combination of history, visuals and storytelling. The film also felt contained being anchored in one location- the store. I think all of these factors helped us secure funding through a Bravo Factual grant.



What advice would you give to women emerging in the industry?

  • Think why film? Why a visual medium and not an essay, a book or podcast. And why this particular story. Have the confidence to answer this question well and with conviction because you’ll get asked it over and over.

  • Watch films, read books, spend time writing and learning about storytelling

  • Work with people who are better than you

  • Learn about camera, lighting, grip gear so when other women or men (in my experience it’s always men) geek out over it on set you don’t feel excluded

  • No one is good at anything right away, keep at it, don’t get discouraged, do the work    

  • Practice, practice, practice, and don’t put all your practice online


What advice can you share on funding?

One piece of advice I would say to new filmmakers is that I wouldn’t pitch a film without visuals – whether it’s a trailer or photographs, give funders an idea of your visual style, and how your narrative will unfold. As for getting films funded, if you’re trying to get a broadcaster on board, you need to convince them that you can deliver a product i.e. a film . If you have no track record of managing a budget and delivering a film, team up with someone who has this experience. I don’t think I would have got funding from Bravo (RIP!) had we not had an experienced executive producer on board.  

Lisa is the director of four documentary shorts: While We Wait, I’ll Be Home, Talk a Walk on the Wildside, and One Leg In, One Leg Out. Her feature length doc Act Three is in production.

Interview with Sarah Kolasky


By Hannah Donegan

Sarah Kolasky is a Toronto based award-winning actor, writer, producer and the former chair of the Breakthroughs Film Film Festival. Her first feature film, Great Great Great, is a dark comedy in which she starred, as well as produced and co-wrote with Adam Garnet Jones. Together they received a 2018 Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for the film, which premiered at the 2017 Canadian Film Fest and won Best Feature, Best Screenplay, and Best Performance in a Feature (for Sarah Kolasky). The Globe and Mail selected it as one of the Top 10 Canadian Films of 2017. She also produced and acted in the short film, Liar, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX.

I have had the privilege of working closely with the BFF board for the past two years, and am so impressed with her drive and work ethic. Sarah is able to make things happen like a total badass. Pure inspiration.

Below are five questions with Sarah Kolasky about her filmmaking journey.

Great Great Great is available to watch on iTunes and Google Play, or catch it on your next flight with Air Canada or West Jet!

1 - As an actor and a writer you have the opportunity to write a characters exactly how you would want to play them. What was your process of writing a feature that you were set to star in? And was this always part of your larger plan?

I wrote the script for Great Great Great with my close friend and long-time collaborator, Adam Garnet Jones, who also directed it. As filmmakers, we wanted to make an intimate, character-driven feature that we could shoot with the resources we had available to us (i.e. Adam's apartment and some very talented friends). As an actor, I was excited to create a character who would be both fun and challenging to play; I wanted to take myself outside of my comfort zone. Adam and I developed the story loosely based on our own experiences, and from noticing that turning 30 seemed to be a defining moment for a lot of couples - they would either break up or get married (even if they were unsure it was the right choice) out of feeling obligated to do something by that age. We wanted to explore that conflict in our film. And yes, producing a feature film for myself to star in has been part of my larger plan for a while. I produced and acted in the last short film Adam and I made together, LIAR, to see if I could handle both roles at the same time without going crazy. I pulled it off and the short did quite well, so I started thinking about a feature. It wasn't always my intention to write for myself but it came naturally in my collaboration with Adam.

Sarah Kolasky and Daniel Beirne on the set of Great Great Great. Photo: Justin Giallonardo

Sarah Kolasky and Daniel Beirne on the set of Great Great Great. Photo: Justin Giallonardo

2 - I love that the protagonist in Great Great Great is a bit of an anti-hero, and that I still found myself identifying with her in a very intimate way even when I was mad at her. What challenges (personal or professional) came from balancing her internal conflicts?


Thanks! I'm so happy you identified with her. We were really influenced by HBO’s Girls and the way it portrayed "unlikeable women" - a term which is just a misogynistic way of describing honest, fully-developed female characters, IMHO. I wrote an article about unlikeable female characters for TIFF's newsletter, The Review, where I talked about receiving negative feedback on the script initially, because the protagonist's motivations weren't always clear. People were confused as to why she would blow-up her stable relationship with her loving boyfriend for an affair with her boss, and they found it difficult to connect with her. But would they have had this problem if the character was a man? Arguably not, but at one point we got so worried that no one would understand the movie that we wrote a version of the script where we very clearly explained her motivation, but it read like bad TV. Adam and I decided to trust our gut and push forward with the version of the script we wanted to make.       

3 - It is so important for women to be writing roles for other women. What does your vision of the future of the film industry look like?

That's a big question, but I like to imagine that we'll have an industry where women no longer have to strive for equality, in terms of payment and representation, on screen and off screen. There will be equal amounts of male and female directors, producers, writers, and executives making the big decisions, and that will in turn affect every part of the system below it. I can already see changes happening and I think it's a really exciting time to be a woman in the film and TV industry.     

4 - Great Great Great is your first feature (YEAH GURL!). What difficulties come with transitioning from shorts to features and what advice do you have for filmmakers undertaking their first feature?

Adam Garnet Jones and Sarah Kolasky attend the Canadian Screen Awards"

Adam Garnet Jones and Sarah Kolasky attend the Canadian Screen Awards"

I would say the main difference is that making a short always feels like you're practising for something bigger, and making a feature feels like the real deal - for better and for worse. It's a lot more pressure simply because your budget is bigger and you actually stand to make money from a feature, whereas shorts are more like "calling card" films and if they flop, there are usually no real consequences. I had produced several successful shorts but transitioning to a feature was still a huge learning curve for me, and I relied heavily on advice from many producer friends of mine. In retrospect, I should have brought an executive producer on board to help guide me and then maybe my lunch would have digested a lot better on many occasions (extreme stress = gas!). I also had to constantly battle my perfectionist tendencies which would slow down my decision making. I reminded myself that this was not the last film I was ever going to make, and it didn't have to be perfect, it had to get done. I had to stop being precious about every little thing.


5 - Your film was picked up for theatrical distribution, which is not always the case for Canadian features. How did you find working in the Canadian film funding model? What are some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages?

In terms of funding, Adam and I shot the film with our own money, and then applied to Telefilm Canada for completion money so we could finish cutting it and do professional sound mixing, colour correction, etc. Our experience with Telefilm has been really positive - they were totally hands-off when it came to creative decisions, and they've been very supportive of the film since we first premiered at the Canadian Film Fest in 2017. The only drawback is that since you're dealing with a government agency, there is a ton of paperwork to deliver and it takes a long time to assemble everything; there were many, many learning curves along the way. But their staff was always helpful and patient with me, and we couldn't have finished the film without them so I really can't complain!

Watch the Great Great Great official Trailer:

October Filmmaker Spotlight - Molly McGlynn


There is a moment that I can remember where I sat, slumped in front of my laptop screen cursing the day I chose to become a filmmaker.  The frustration of festival rejection letters, the continuous search for funding, heck even the accelerated flurry of social events that seem to be a prerequisite, had me feeling blue and uninspired.

It was on this day that a TIFF.net article entitled ‘Rejection is How You Become a Filmmaker’ was passed on to me by another aspiring screenwriter. It was written by Molly McGlynn, a first-time feature director and recent TIFF acceptee.  Molly’s irreverent, very funny thoughts on what it takes to become a director and how truly awful rejection actually is, was exactly what I needed.  

Flagrantly open about the difficulties of making it in this industry, Molly championed hard work and perseverance. It made me feel less alone.  It made me feel brave.  But most of all, it pushed me to keep going.  Which is something every creative person needs once in a while.

An alumni of CFC’s Writer’s Lab, a 2015 Samsung TIFF Emerging Director nominee and an NSI Drama Prize Winner, Molly is known for intimate narratives that are often based on her own personal experiences.  


Her feature directorial debut ‘Mary Goes Round’ was abuzz this past year at TIFF and for good reason; Variety called it ‘a canny mixture of rueful humor, warmth and realism’.  

She has stated that she wants her films to be ‘scorchingly true’, which seems all the more important because all of her central characters are women.  Kudos to writer/director Molly, whose films break the stereotypes and present women as the uniquely flawed and complex humans we actually are.

Below, five questions with Molly McGlynn.

1.  Your films seem to all touch upon deeply personal narratives from your own life. I'm curious about how you shed your vulnerability to put yourself out there so openly --- and why you choose to create public stories about very private issues?

I think I tend to make films requiring a degree of vulnerability because I am an emotional masochist, I guess. My films aren't autobiographies or dear diary entries, but there is a lot of deep and painful emotional truths that I'm trying to grapple with that come out in my work. I am also drawn to film as a medium for connectivity and how it's a powerful tool for visual beauty, but also a way to form connections with strangers. I am always so moved when a stranger responds to something in my film. It makes me realize how connected we are in our pain and joys and also that we aren't all unicorns in how unique our life experiences are.

2.  I read somewhere that you don't consciously write humorous stories, but that the humour just reveals itself as you craft the narrative.  What is it about emotional pain that you think creates such funny moments?

I think I have coped with the darkest moments in my life with a sense of humour. My family is a large Irish Catholic one, which means there's an appreciation for the joy and humour alongside the darkness we all experience. Have you been to an Irish wake? Great party. It will probably be the best party I throw for my loved ones. See? Here I am making uncomfortable jokes about my own death because that's how I deal with the idea that we are all heading to the same, unknown place. I guess I should clarify that I don't find people's emotional pain funny, but there's a way to make them bearable and that is through finding humour or levity. Unrelenting earnestness makes me uncomfortable and I find it boring. 

3. You've written and spoken often about perseverance and the filmmaker's journey.  Do you feel the resilience it takes to make it in the industry needs to be amplified when you are a woman? What challenges have you faced as a female filmmaker?

I had a conversation with a fellow filmmaker friend last night about this very thing. It's kind of a chicken or an egg scenario; are we filmmakers because we are determined, resilient people or are we resilient and determined because of the inherent experiences of being filmmakers? I'm not really sure, but it's probably a bit of both. I think it can be challenging as filmmaker to find your voice at the best of times, but being a woman means you're trying to find your voice while making sure you're being taken seriously, not put into some "female filmmaker" ghetto you don't want to be in, that you don't have too much makeup on, that you're shirt is baggy enough so no one needs to look at your body at work, that you have to overhear some grips talking about what actress they would sleep with, and on and on and on. I will say, though, that I have worked with some really extraordinary men in this industry who have done nothing put give me respect and space to do my best work. 

4. Mary Goes Round is your first feature. What difficulties come with transitioning from shorts to features and what advice would you give anyone undertaking their first feature?

My best advice to filmmakers, specifically writer/directors, is that just because you wrote a scene does not mean you know how to best direct it. You have to apply the same script analysis and prep to direct what you've written. Also, what you wrote on the page may be so crystal clear to you, but when it's time to get your scene on it's feet, it gets more challenging or an actor has a question about intention that changes everything. I guess what I'm saying is don't get lazy with your own scripts when it comes time to direct them. My more general advice is that you're never going to think your ready, but do it anyway. By "do it" I mean prep the shit out of it, get a lot of sleep, don't drink too much and make sure your shoes are comfortable. Shorts are really good practice, but a feature is a whole different beast. You're never gonna be ready, but say fuck it and shoot it anyway!

5. There's much discussion amongst our peers about how different directors are on set.  What kind of atmosphere do you like to create on set and how do you achieve it?

Yes, the strange thing about directing is that you never really see other people doing it, so there's always some insecurity or questioning if you are doing it right. As I get more confident, I really just try to not worry about how other people direct. Whatever they do, probably works for them but it may not for me. I try to be guided by a sense of flexible inflexibility; there are certain things I will fight and push for and will be non-negotiables, but at the same time I'm prepared to change everything at the 11th hour. Makes no sense on paper, right? But its magic I tell ya. I don't think you need to lead by terror or fear, but I do think you need to make decisions quickly (even if you doubt yourself after you say something, just keep it to yourself) and be someone who people will respect and listen to. That looks like different things to different people. I try to be personable, respectful and make jokes so people have fun. We spend so much of our lives in this industry with our co-workers, you may as well as the AD about how his son's birthday was, you know? 


Molly McGlynn is a Canadian writer and director. She has won awards and exhibited internationally for her short films  “I Am Not a Weird Person,” “Shoes,” and “3-Way (Not Calling).” “Mary Goes Round” is her first feature film, which premiered at TIFF 2017.

Watch Molly's short film '3-Way (Not Calling)' here.

August Filmmaker Spotlight - Vivek Shraya


I was introduced to Vivek Shraya’s work at my local library, the nerd-chic librarian gushing so hard over the trans artist’s work and style that I felt compelled to check her out.  I picked up her latest novel, She Of The Mountains, idly wondering if it would live up to the hype.  I had been going through a ‘break’ with my partner of almost three years and had been pleading with the heavens for some guidance, or a sign of what lay ahead.  My salvation came in the form of Shraya’s alt-lit hybrid narrative, which gave me more than guidance, it gave me hope and reflection on the path that love winds around our collective hearts.  After carousing her website, I found that not only is she an accomplished, four-time Lambda literary award finalist, she is also a powerful filmmaker —one that is heralded as ‘honest’ and ‘courageous’ by CBC Arts. Creating intimate short narratives on everything from suicide, identity politics and her relationship with her mother, Shraya’s films resonate a stark oneness with all that is, drawing you in with a minimalistic informality that seems unique to her work.

Needless to say, I became smitten.  When you meet Shraya, she has this humble and calm presence — perhaps of someone who has ridden the wave of personal and political identity only to come to an expansive understanding that who we are is always changing.  She radiates beauty in a way that is rarely seen.  

I’m honoured to present to you, five questions with the prolific and powerful multi-talented human being who is (as we speak) burgeoning on true greatness.

1.  How did you come to film as an art-form? I’d love to hear the process behind it, and the motivation.

My artistic exploration started with music but after seven years of not being able to advance my music career, I felt heartbroken and needed to take a break from the medium. I still had the desire to be creative and so I turned to prose. Eventually, I self-published my first book, God Loves Hair, and it was this project that made me re-imagine myself as not just a musician but potentially as an artist. I was excited to think about what else I might want to say that I couldn't say in music, and what mediums might allow me to make these statements. Shortly after the release of God Loves Hair, I turned to film and made Seeking Single White Male.

2. Your work is always intensely personal. Do you or have you ever had reservations about putting yourself out there so honestly?

My reservations are less tied to the honesty of my work and more related to my concerns about how the work might be (or not be) received, critiqued and misinterpreted. I feel committed to following an idea to completion, regardless of any reservation, not only as a form of catharsis and larger agenda of awareness or representation, but also because I believe ideas are gifts.

3. Where do you come up with the ideas for films?

With any project, I tend to focus less on the medium and more on the idea itself, trying to determine what medium will best serve the intention and realization of an idea. With my newest short film, I want to kill myself, I had thought the project would be a photo essay, because I felt that text and photo would best facilitate the dissemination of the message. But scrolling through the photos, I began saying some of the text aloud, and seeing this play out on my laptop, I thought no, this is a short film.

4. Why the short genre?  Any plans to make a feature?

Not unlike poetry (as compared to a novel), with a short there is so much more room to explore beyond convention or beyond a linear narrative. I also have a short attention span, so the short allows me to stay engaged and feel somewhat confident that the audience will be as well.

I would love to make a feature but I don't yet have a compelling enough idea. Finances are also a big consideration in regards to what I am able to produce, especially given that I have had to self fund all of my shorts.

5. Do you feel that your art and public persona has allowed you to fully explore your identity in a way that you may not have done otherwise?

Art has definitely been a vehicle not only for exploration, but for restoration and connection. As much as being an artist, especially a racialized, trans and queer artist, is challenging, I recognize it’s a privilege to be an artist and I genuinely love my job.

A four-time Lambda Literary Award finalist, Vivek Shraya is a Toronto-based artist whose body of work includes several albums, films, and books. Her first book of poetry, ‘even this page is white’, won a 2017 Publisher Triangle Award and was longlisted for CBC’s Canada Reads. Her debut novel, ‘She of the Mountain’s, was named one of The Globe and Mail’s Best Books, and her first children’s picture book, ‘The Boy & the Bindi’, was featured on the National Post Bestseller List. She is one half of the music duo Too Attached and the founder of the publishing imprint VS. Books.

You can view Vivek’s short films online at http://www.vivekshraya.com/films


July Filmmaker Spotlight - Nadia Litz


Canadian actress-turned-director Nadia Litz has a clear passion for films and a sly sense of humor.  Her work tends towards a dark surrealism but always with a sincere depth of being.  Inspired by filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch and Eric Rohmer, Litz is becoming known for her focus on female protagonists and her innovative casting – such as hiring Pamela Anderson to play the hardboiled model ‘Signe’ in her warmly received feature film ‘The People Garden’.  Haunting and stylish, yet rooted in the reality of emotion, Litz’s films have gained her international attention and homegrown love.

Former Breakthroughs chair and award-winning co-writer/producer/star of ‘Great Great Great’, Sarah Kolasky, chatted with Litz about her dream project, who inspires her and the due process of becoming one of Canada’s top female directors.

SK: What project(s) are you currently working on?

NL: Perhaps the only sage advice I have for emerging filmmakers is to not talk about what you are working on.  So I don't. 

SK: If you had unlimited budget, access to cast etc…what would be your dream project to direct?

NL: I would make a magical biopic on Bjork.  Spike Jonze would produce it and Stephanie Sokolinski aka Soko the Cat would play Bjork and Matthew Rhys would play Matthew Barney and Louis CK would play Lars Von Trier...  Not bad right?

SK:  I find that being a creative, self-employed person comes with a lot of challenges. When working with self-imposed deadlines, how do you motivate yourself and organize your day in order to meet those goals?

NL: My discipline comes from being obsessed with what I do.  So, I don't worry the work is not going to get done.  If I wake up and don't feel like going to my computer and writing and instead I want to go to an art gallery, I go.  I spend a lot of my time igniting the inspiration and then the work part comes quite natural.  

SK:  Who are your inspirations? Cinematic or otherwise.

NL: I like really successful females, and the reason is because the visibility that comes with success is powerful and it changes our industry and that's inspiring to me.  Filmmaking is not a male birthright despite what the canon and Criterion Collection catalogue seem to want to normalize.  So I love Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Lena Duhnam and Jenni Konner, Ava Duvernay, Sarah Treem, Reese Witherspoon...  But yeah I get inspired by a lot of different people.  People that I know a bit from around Toronto like filmmaker Patricia Rozema or restaurateur Jen Agg, the designers of Horses Atelier or Aurora James who created Brother Vellies.  I just read a great book on choreographer Twyla Tharp. Basically I just get inspired by people who have found a way to be themselves and create things.

SK: When developing a project, there's a lot of emphasis on "knowing your audience" before the script is even written. Do you create work with an audience in mind, or trust that it will find one later?

NL: I do think it is important to know your audience, actually.  The People Garden was a niche story but I also believed it could be impactful in certain ways - including financial - if you could reach that niche audience.   Now, knowing your audience and having a distributor agree with you on what that audience is, is an entirely differently beast!  But yeah I think having an awareness of who you want to reach is an exciting part of the creative process not a restrictive one.

SK: As an actor, what is a crucial piece of advice for new directors working with actors?

NL: Cast the person who has the most interesting life outside of acting and then ask them to contribute their thoughts on all aspects of their character.  Adjust accordingly. 

Nadia Litz is an alumni of York University Cinema, Canadian Film Center, Berlinale Talents, TIFF Talent Lab, and TIFF Screenwriting Lab.  Her short film How To Rid Your Lover Of A Negative Emotion Caused By You! played over twenty festivals internationally including TIFF, Cannes Short Film Corner, MIFF, Brooklyn Film Festival and Austin’s Fantastic Fest where it won best short.  It was included on Dave Eggers' curated quarterly Wholphin alongside works of Jay Duplass and Sean Durkin.  Her script for her feature The People Garden won the audience award at TIFF’s inaugural Screenwriter Lab.  It was shot in Canada and Japan and premiered at BAFICI in Buenos Aires and was recently awarded the Grand Jury prize for cinematography at Rhode Island Film Festival.  In 2017 Litz was named part of the New Wave of Canadian Cinema by VICE, NOW Toronto and the Globe and Mail.  Her feature Hotel Congress which was made for $1000 can currently be seen on Apple TV/Roku in the U.S.


May Filmmaker Spotlight - Erika Lust


Erika Lust is a Stockholm-born, Barcelona-based filmmaker who writes and directs what she calls ‘ethical porn’.  When you watch her films, you encounter people who are beautiful, simply because they are real people having real sex with one another.  It’s explicit as they come, but also has a wicked sense of humour. Cinematically, Lust knows what she is doing.  Many of her films have actors in a unique setting and bathed in gorgeous light.  There are films for every kink and taste, but always with a view to equality, natural bodies and diverse faces.  Gone are the days of fake orgasms and plastic surgery — Erika Lust is creating a porn revolution where the people you are watching look just like you. It’s sexy and subversive in a whole new way.

After watching many of her films for *ahem* research,  we asked ethical pornographer, Erika Lust five questions.

1.   After making three feature films, you seem to be excited by the short film genre. Can you talk a little bit about why you continue to produce short films and how the short genre is beneficial to porn?

XConfessions is my crowd sourced project where members of the public can submit their fantasies anonymously and I turn two of them into short films every month! It's a lot of work, but I love this format. First and foremost, it means that the subjects, themes and stories in my films are all real people's fantasies, exploring real desires. This is super important to me, moving away from the mainstream, unrealistic narratives (or complete lack of narrative) and creating something that people can really engage with. They see themselves in these films, in the stories. They see their own fantasies, or maybe something they didn't know they liked yet! It also gives me a lot of opportunity to explore creatively. Making shorter films means I can make more of them! In order to offer an alternative to the mainstream, I need to give my fans options and different perspectives, so that they can explore their sexuality, without having to encounter bad, degrading porn.

2.  There’s been a lot of debate online about what makes ethical porn.  In your own view, is your porn feminist?  And what do you think makes it ethical?

When I talk about ethical porn or ethical adult film, I'm talking about the alternatives to mainstream porn, both in what I produce and how I produce it. For me, good adult film is about showing good, real sex, real people and real desires. I want the people who see my films to engage with them; to feel a real sense of pleasure and in order to do that it has to start at the very beginning of a production. Performers and their well-being and safety is the most important thing for me. We always make sure our performers are sex-positive and one hundred percent happy and enthusiastic to be involved. We really get to know them before we start filming. 

My production crew and office team are predominantly female, which means that the whole process happens from the female point of view, allowing women's desires to be portrayed as well as men's. It's so important to offer creative women the opportunity to excel in their fields, especially when the result of doing this will always mean films that are diverse, equal and a representation of real sex. In these ways, my films are feminist. But I think a lot of people hear the word feminist and think of romantic, candle lit scenes of a heterosexual couple on the sofa or cute lesbian scenes with a lot of petting. 

It is also about the message I am sending out. I want to send out a positive message about sexuality and the culture of consent. You won't find delusions of male power that are degrading to women, for example, representation of incest or simulations of [pederasty]  on XConfessions. Sometimes in the industry people consent to partaking in films things that are meant to look non-consensual – and I definitely don't want to portray anything like that.  My films represent a huge variety of sexual desires, including gay and lesbian, BDSM, group sex, rough sex and everything in between. The difference is how I frame it and that the performers receive the same amount of pleasure. They're never degraded or asked to do anything they don't want to. In front of the camera, this creates adult films exploring sex, sexuality and fantasies, in a way that's respectful and relatable.

3. Your work has been screened at the Chicago Film Festival and Raindance in London.  What makes your films so accessible to not only programmers, but to the mainstream?

I think a lot of people, even if they’re not subscribers to my sites, appreciate my films because, firstly, they're aesthetically pleasing with high production values, and secondly, because it's kind of a novelty. A lot of people didn't know adult film like this could exist! Suddenly they find my films and see something that they can relate to, laugh at, engage with and that makes them feel something positive. I've spoken to a lot of people who said they enjoyed my films regardless of the sex.

4. Was there ever a time in your life where you were hindered by cultural taboos?  What inspires you about them now?

Well, as a woman, especially as a woman who produces adult film, there has never been a time when cultural taboos haven't caused some kind of hindrance! But I think I do what I do because I want to change this. For example, I recently directed a film called Feminist & Submissive which includes a round table discussion with me and three other women, including adult performers, about whether you can still be a "feminist" and indulge the submissive part of your sexuality. This sparked a lot of discussion, mostly positive, but there were some comments which I think still came from a negative place and put sex, sex work and BDSM in a degrading light. Unfortunately, things like this always come from a place of ignorance. They think that being submissive to a man or a lover is being weak and not in control. Actually, BDSM practice is entirely about all parties having control. It involves trust and communication, which in the end leads to a very healthy attitude towards sex! Either way, it's important to have these conversations, so I'm glad I can encourage this. 

5. How do you think adult films can affect culture and the feminist movement?

The adult film industry has been dominated by men and the male gaze, well, forever! Which means that only the male point of view and male pleasure were ever considered important. This perpetuates the idea that women aren't in control of their sexuality, that they don't have a say in the matter. When all the porn you see is of women being degraded, humiliated and used as toys for sex, it doesn't have a very positive effect on your ideas of what female sexuality is . Even now, sex positive women still feel confused about how they should behave sexually - you want to embrace your sexuality but if you're too liberated, you're a "slut" and if you're too conservative, you're a prude and to some women that goes against their "feminist" beliefs. The way I see it, women should have the opportunities to explore their sexuality in ways that are safe, representative of their desires and where shame doesn't exist.

In a wider sense, I think we desperately need to address the fact that young people have more access to porn than ever and that they will seek it out. Rather than make excuses for bad, misogynistic porn and hope they'll look the other way, advising them on where and how they can watch good, ethical porn can be useful. There's no shame in wanting to learn about sex or explore it, so giving kids the tools to do this in a way which is healthy and teaches them about respect and consent could lead us to a future where there's less gender inequality, less danger for women and less shame in sex work or sexuality in general. It's sounds crazy, but it could be that simple.

Erika Lust is the founder and creator of Erika Lust films. She has won multiple awards for her films as well as initiating the #changeporn campaign online.  She’s currently featured on Netflix’s ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’, produced by Rashida Jones. She considers pornography to be the "most important discourse on gender and sexuality."

Twitter @erikalust • FB @erikalustfilms




A feature documentary about the powerful allure of a universal myth, Ali Weinstein’s ‘Mermaids’ is set to premiere at Hot Docs on April 28.  The film follows five women who actively participate in the growing ‘mermaiding’ subculture, finding empowerment through donning tails and letting their imaginations run free.

Breakthroughs’ Wendy Markson had a chance to chat with first-time feature director Ali, just days before the premiere of her thought-provoking and beautifully choreographed film.


Your first documentary feature, Mermaids will introduce viewers to 'real-life' Mermaids! What exactly are real-life mermaids, and what inspired you to explore that world for your first feature? 

The real-life mermaids in my film are people who deeply identify with the icon of the mermaid, and who even wear tails! Some are professional mermaids – one works at a theme park, one at a bar – and others are mermaid hobbyists who “mermaid” (it’s a verb) with like-minded people. I didn’t know anything about this community before I started researching this film. It all began for me when I learned about Weeki Wachee, this mermaid theme park in Florida that’s been around since 1947, and became fascinated with the women who’ve worked there over the years. I read interviews where the mermaids talked about their jobs as if it was the most important and transformative part of their lives, and it had me wondering what it did psychologically to escape into an alter ego like that, one that has so much associated with it – beauty and power and mystery – and that has fascinated people all over the world and throughout time. That was the catalyst, and from there I started researching mermaids and found this whole world of people who were obsessed with mermaids – mermaid schools, mermaid bars, mermaid performers, mermaid hobbyists – and everything just flowed from there.

You graduated from Ryerson's Documentary Media MA program in 2014, and pretty quickly got to work on developing your first feature. What motivated you to go in that direction rather than starting out with a short film? 

I was lucky enough to pitch this idea to Ron Mann very soon after I graduated, who was excited by the idea and amazed that a similar documentary on mermaids hadn’t already been made. He came on as my executive producer, and was instrumental in getting the ball rolling by helping me go on my first research trip and helping me apply to development funds. The word “mermaid” is so evocative to so many people, and I think that helped the film get support from the beginning. Everyone has their own associations with mermaids, and it gets imaginations going. I wanted to make a large film that explored a universal myth and this niche modern-day interpretation of it, and it seemed like a feature-length piece, so I just went for it from the beginning. It was a long and arduous process, and I learned a lot along the way. Sometimes I look back and think it would have been wiser to start with a short. But then I remember how lucky I am that I had this opportunity to get a feature made right out of film school, and really I don’t think I had a choice. I had to seize it.

Before entering the program at Ryerson, your formal post-secondary education was in English and contemporary critical theory. How do you think your educational background informs your experience as a filmmaker, and what challenges have you faced moving into filmmaking? 

The program I did at Ryerson (MFA in Documentary Media Studies) actually welcomed people with all kinds of backgrounds, so there were students who had geography and political science and philosophy backgrounds rather than film. For me, having done a degree in the humanities is something that’s helped me see the world with a more open mind, and I think that’s definitely informed my approach to filmmaking. 

It was a challenge learning the ropes as a director. Between my undergrad and my MFA (which was more theoretical than practical in nature) I didn’t have a lot of hands-on experience making films, so I often felt I was flying by the seat of my pants on set. But I was lucky to have people working around me (my producer Caitlin Durlak, our DOP Catherine Lutes, our editor Robert Swartz) who were stellar at their jobs and incredibly professional, and to be able to learn from them was amazing. I think much like any job, this is one where you just have to go for it and learn from your mistakes as you go, and be amazed when things miraculously come together against all odds. 

Congratulations on having your first feature selected for HotDocs! Do you have any tips for emerging filmmakers on the submission process for a large festival? 

To learn to have a thick skin! It can mess with your mind, applying to festivals. We spent about six months applying to festivals and being rejected by them, which was disheartening. You start to believe that the film you made is crap. That is, until you get a break at a great festival, and all of a sudden you’re treated like royalty. I’ve heard from other filmmakers that it can be a rollercoaster even once you’ve found that success at a big festival. It’s hard to understand why some films are programmed and some aren’t, and I think you just have to remind yourself not to take it personally. We got a couple of notes from festivals that rejected our film telling us how much they loved it, and how dismayed they were that it wasn’t in their final program. It sort of goes to show that it’s not always about the quality of the film or even how much the programmers connect with it – there’s a lot more at play. 

As a new filmmaker and a female running the show on set, how have you observed or felt the gender bias in the industry? Do you think being part of a female director/producer team on Mermaids has had an impact on your experience as well?

My producer Caitlin Durlak and I met at Ryerson while doing our MFAs, and it was a dream come true getting to make our first feature together straight out of that program. In the case of Mermaids, I think in some ways it was actually an advantage being two young women, simply because of the subject matter of the film. We were also lucky to have a mostly-female dream team who made the film with us – Catherine Lutes and Maya Bankovic are both brilliant cinematographers based here in Toronto; and we worked with a wonderful female sound recordist as well, Trisha Harris. There is definitely a big gender bias in the industry. I’m aware of it when I talk to other filmmakers, and when I listen to how people in the industry discuss female directors and cinematographers and editors. I’m aware of my own internal struggles to find confidence in my voice, and to talk about my ideas as if they are worthwhile, and I think a lot of that has to do with my gender. I see so many men talk about themselves and their films with inherent confidence, which I wish more women could naturally possess. Not to say that it doesn’t exist, but I do think it’s rare. In addition to the more overt boys’ club issues in the industry, I think that deeper, internalized sexism also plays a big role in why there aren’t as many female directors out there. 

Ali Weinstein is a documentary filmmaker from Toronto, Canada. Her first feature film, Mermaids, about a group of women who strongly identify with the powerful female icon of the mermaid, is making its world premiere at Hot Docs 2017. Ali holds an MFA in Documentary Media Studies from Ryerson University, and is an Associate Producer at Primitive Entertainment.









Of Syrian and Palestinian descent, Montreal born Ruba Nadda is known for her strong female lead characters who often find themselves involved in subtle and complicated narratives. She's never shied away from issues of race and diversity, starting with her first feature  ‘Sabah’, in which a Muslim woman falls in love with a Canadian – against her family’s wishes. 

After a stint of award-winning short films, Ruba went on to make several features, including the critically lauded Cairo Time starring Patricia Clarkson, which won Best Canadian Feature Film at Toronto International Film Festival and was Rotten Tomatoes best-reviewed film of 2010. 

1. You come from an interesting background, two countries that weigh very heavily in the world’s political sphere right now.  How does this affect the stories you wish to tell?

It's funny, I've been telling stories about my background (the Middle East) since I was 14, but really only until I made Cairo Time did it get easier. Audiences have a much better understanding now about this culture so there is almost a short hand whereas before, I was always trying to convince people of certain things. My culture is also so ingrained in me, I'm always drawn to Arab characters and Arab settings. But also, because I've lived in the Middle East from when I was really young, I have a great understanding oh how people live in other parts of the world, and that empathy really helps me as a director.

2. Let’s talk about female sexuality.   There is a running theme of control/loss of control in your films. You have been quoted as saying ‘I don’t do sex, I do restraint’.  What drives you to lean towards restrained sexuality?   

 I think for me the restraint is a lot more challenging to show then just straightforward sex. Restraint in the world we live in does no exist so much anymore. Romance and love - it's harder to find. People are busier and we live in a world of intense, immediate gratification. I have always been drawn to love stories - and the classic ones had natural restraint - for 2 lovers to get together in the olden days, there was class, cultural divide, religion -- very difficult for 2 people to actually fall in love whereas now, what keeps 2 people apart is not very much. And so for me as a storyteller, I like the restraint because it's much more challenging to tell this kind of story. Also, give the audience what they want but not at all costs. In my movies, female sexuality is there but again, it's shown and told with a female hand and a female perspective.

3. What has your experience been like as a woman in a position of power on set?  Are there any obstacles that you have consistently come up against in your career?

This is interesting. I've had fantastic experiences (my experience in Cairo with the crew was magical) and sometimes, I have had great, great obstacles. I try really hard not to let it bother me because the reality is I can't change my sex and I am very protective of my voice. My voice as a writer and director can't lie and it can't get jaded, and so I can't - I refuse to let it bug me. I'm really good at what I do and I know what I want, and I get what I want and at the end of the day if you have a problem with me because I am a woman, that's your goddamn problem not mine. Of course I've had some difficulty with this - and encountered a ton of sexism, but I try to not take it personally. The truth of the matter is, my job as a director is not a popularity contest. You really just have to keep pushing through. I think of it like boxing. You go down, you get back up again. I try not to take it personally. 

4. You had quite a prolific early career with your short films.  Is there anywhere to view them?

My short films are still my little babies. I loved them. And I loved making them. You can find most of them on the extras feature in my movies (Cairo time, Sabah, October Gale). 

5. Your films traverse the spectrum of what it’s like to be a woman.  Do you feel you have an obligation to portray women in a certain light? 

It's funny, I always see my hero as a woman - I guess because I am a woman and that's my voice and how I see the stories and how I tell them is also very female (in my opinion). I have a degree in English Literature so I try not to be too critical of what or how I approach telling a story. For me, it always starts with a woman, an ordinary woman caught up in an extraordinary predicament, always - and I go from there. There is something very universal about that. 

Ruba Nadda is currently developing a drama at HBO starring Patricia Clarkson.  


February is upon us and our submission portal is officially OPEN.  This year we are excited to open our festival up to any emerging female director (no feature films on your resume yet!), with a special ‘New Generation’ category for women 18-30.  The programming team is looking forward to seeing what you are all up to!

You can submit via our website or directly through our Film Freeway page.

We are also stoked to announce our new partnership with Red Square Motion, who are coming aboard to offer even more post-production goodies for our 2017 grant winner!   Submissions for our post-production grant close March 15th.  Submithere and you may be eligible to win $2500 in cash and services!

Breakthroughs is about supporting you and everything that you do.  Keep working hard, sisters, and we promise to show up for you.

And now… our February filmmaker spotlight with recent Canadian Screen Award nominee and Breakthroughs alum, Emilie Mannering!

An audience favourite, Emilie Mannering’s ‘Star’ is an innovative and deeply disturbing portrait of male aggression set in Montreal. The film’s intricate depiction of emotionally-charged youth has had the chance to wow audiences around the world.  ‘Star’ is Mannering’s cinematic debut – which makes this powerful film all the more stunning.

Check out the trailer!

Below, Breakthroughs’ newest board member Shonna Foster chats with Emilie about her debut film and where she sees herself fitting in the Canadian film industry.

1. What was the inspiration behind creating "Star" and why did you choose to tell this story now?

I wanted to write something about a young teenager who was going from boyhood to manhood and how he tries to live with his male identity and so I created the main character Tito. It was me really thinking about the model we propose to those young boys, with their cell phones and this kind of super masculine identity. They often believe that being powerful means being masculine and being tough and how that all factors into how they want people to see them with their cell phone. Sometimes it can be super creative, like at the beginning of the film where they are photo bombing strangers and they use their cell phone as a very creative tool. But sometimes as in the case of Tito – it plays against him because he wants to be in control and be seen as in control.

2. Star seems consciously aimed at a specific generation, can you speak on the feedback you've received from youth and adolescents who have seen the film?

I worked with the boys for four months rehearsing. I put a lot of energy into trying to create something that felt authentic within the limit of cinema. It’s not a documentary and so I was really nervous about this feedback and the feedback of other teenagers. I remember when I was younger, I hated when I would see “teenage movies” that think they are showing me. I would think “I don’t talk like that”, “I don’t act like that”.

Most of the feedback and the kids in the movie, they really love it. They think it is hilarious and they loved to watch themselves. They are very proud of the work they have accomplished. This crowd, they live with the movie. They react. Some kids come to see me after and it’s the first time that they feel the way the characters do. It seems real. They see themselves.

3. Star depicts a strong diverse cast. In the Canadian film and television industry, how do you believe writers, producers and directors can work to ensure our screens are inclusive and representative of all people?

I feel like what is most important, especially in this time after Trump, after the [Quebec City mosque] shooting we just had a couple days ago, the alt-right rising and everything – diversity is so important in front of the camera but more importantly behind the camera.

We kind of started creating more initiatives to have more women as directors and we should create those same initiatives to have more diversity in key roles. That also means more diversity on judging panels.  The people that make the decisions have to have an open mind and also be diverse and come from different backgrounds.

In terms of color, in terms of sexual orientation – because if it’s always the same kinds of people who make the decisions – if it’s always white men making the decisions on what is important or interesting to see or to watch or to read – the stories will continue to be the same.

4. Why do you think there are few Canadian female filmmakers and what advice do you have for those that are emerging?

 I know that in university in Quebec, fifty percent of the students are girls in cinema and I know that in accessible movements like Kino, there are also fifty percent female filmmakers. When it’s accessible the girls are there. So I don’t understand why they are not there when it is higher up the ladder. It is not a lack of interest because they are there in school, they are there when it’s accessible.  [If I were to] give advice to female filmmakers, I guess my answer would be:

1- Don't wait for recognition. 

2- Do your things, stay focused, trust your vision.

3- Don't be afraid to speak your mind, even if your voice shakes (I know it's a quote from Maggie Khun, but it is so true)

This whole industry is a bit more conservative than they like to believe. It's good to shake them sometimes.

Having said all that, it's still an uphill battle with a lot of men up there at the top. One a positive side, I feel a real and honest solidarity between women in the industry. We must keep fighting forward and making really the best films possible. And stay strong together

5. There has been an ongoing rhetoric that audiences lack an appetite for Canadian film which is why it has struggled to succeed compared to our neighbours to the south. How do you see this rhetoric changing in the next 5 years?

 In the next 5 years? I really hope so. I feel like the structure that is there right now is very rigid and maybe if we put more initiative like having more diversity maybe this will help.

Cinema is a very expensive medium. Like, Telefilm and [Quebec government agency] SODEC – they put so much money into film but nothing is there to promote this to the public. Not in our culture, our education – we don’t put value on Canadian films. I feel like distribution also has its responsibilities. I’m not sure that Canadian films are accessible everywhere in Canada. I feel like the problem is big. Which is why I’m like “five years?” (laughs). I just feel like we should change the whole structure and really try to put value on our culture and to make it accessible to people and teach it in schools, especially with how much money we put into it in the end. We have to change the structure and diversify the medium.

Produced by Colonelle Films, Emilie Mannering’s “Star” is nominated for Best Live Action Short Drama at the 2017 Canadian Screen Awards (Canada’s version of the Oscars), taking place in Toronto in March. Emilie is currently directing the feminist web-serie Les Brutes,  in addition to developing her next cinematographic projects.


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.