JANUARY - FILMMAKER IN FOCUS: MAYA ANNIK BEDWARD

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. 

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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.

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Biography

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.