DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: LISA RIDEOUT, Take A Walk on the Wildside

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?

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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.

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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.