IN THIS ISSUE
by Martha Cooley
Short: Self Portrait
by Molly Bowes
Feature: A Vengeful Path to Feminist Righteousness
by Tara Thorne
with Evan Bower
The Shot List
Calls, Grants, Opportunities
WHERE WE STARTED
In my last WorkPrint dispatch I mentioned expanding upon AFCOOP’s work addressing equity, diversity and inclusion. We would like to share our goals with our members as we strive to advance this work. We are not experts in any of this, and there are other organizations that have travelled further to whom we look for guidance. We believe now is the time to be more proactive on these issues. We, as a community, make these decisions together and it is important that you know what we have been working on.
In the fall of 2020 AFCOOP board and permanent staff members embarked on a three-part series of strategy conversations with journalist, academic, filmmaker and former AFCOOP member/board member Asna Adhami. The three talks were organized around the themes Intention, Awareness and Action, as a way to begin this phase of this journey, and knowing that this is an ongoing, lifelong, unfolding process.
We started by setting our intentions for the work. Creating a shared space of safety and accountability was an important part of setting the framework for our time together. Asna shared some strategies on how to speak from our own experiences, how to listen actively and and talked about some ways for us to disengage from adversarialism and turn towards compassion. The ideas we discussed as a board in that first session included what our responsibility is to the past and the ways in which AFCOOP may have done or been complicit in doing, harm—considering both the usefulness of revisiting past events as well as the retraumatization that might occur if that work is not done thoughtfully and consultatively. We talked about normalizing failure and the need to be iterative in this work. We will not get it right immediately and we need to become comfortable with course corrections and adjustments. We also spoke about how to communicate this work with our members and the broader public in ways that are genuine rather than performative.
Our second talk built upon the comfort and shared language we are starting to develop as a group, while also going over more concrete terms and ideas to frame the work going forward. We were able to recognize AFCOOP’s own organizational entitlement and the way we often speak from a place of being a small under-funded arts organization when in reality we also have many privileges such as relatively stable funding, equipment, resources and the collective power of an active membership. Rather than using our size or funding level as an excuse to avoid this vital work, we can look at how to exercise our privilege to do what we can, to give back and uplift our members and community.
We talked about narrative sovereignty and who gets to tell whose story, which is a pressing issue facing filmmakers right now. We also discussed how even though the director may wear the blame in instances of poor representation or exploitation, in reality they are often propped up by systems, funders and collaborators who facilitate or ignore calls for change. The volatility of online forums for these conversations was also touched upon, despite the undeniable power of social media to connect and create alliances and resistance.
Our final conversation had the intimidating theme of ‘action’ with the goal of creating a plan for how to move forward. Asna helped ground us again in the idea of taking a living approach to this work rather than a reactionary, one-time, optics-based approach. We questioned the merit of tearing down systems vs maintaining the structures that have been honed over the years and changing the fabric of them. We decided together to make diversity and inclusion a recurring topic on board meeting agendas as a way to ensure that we continue to have these conversations regularly, make organizational changes, implement strategies and be ready to monitor and course correct as we need to, on an ongoing basis. Asna helped us identify a powerful perspective shift that can inform all this work—instead of shutting down a new idea prematurely by wondering if it could happen, she suggested a thought-experiment of how it could happen. The imagining of a process can often provide a map of how to get there.
From there we brainstormed more specific actions and ideas that all used the lens of diversity, anti-racism and inclusion to look at AFCOOP’s activities and reframe or recast them (to continue the film metaphor). Coming full circle to the beginning of this work, we talked a lot about the application process and how to reduce barriers regarding qualifications that may cause folks to self-exclude. In a world where competition is built into so much of what we do, how do we reach the people who continually get screened out by those processes? Is there a way to create a program that is free and open to all?
Overall, with all the various ideas and projects we talked about we grounded ourselves in another important reality, which is that we need to ensure that AFCOOP is ready to welcome people of diverse backgrounds when they come to us, because if we are not, then all the new programs and initiatives we work to create will not only fail but also could cause harm. Again, we returned to the idea that this work is also about our collective process, learning how to have conversations with each other as a board and as an organization. It is not a destination or something we can say we’ve done and moved past.
This work is a journey that we are embarking on. Please consider this update a field note rather than a final report and please keep asking about this work and suggesting new paths.
SELF PORTRAIT: MOLLY BOWES
In episode two of WorkPrint’s new shorts series, AFCOOP member Molly Bowes shares her experimental work with us. All of it at once.
Click the image below to view the video.
A VENGEFUL PATH TO FEMINIST RIGHTEOUSNESS
by TARA THORNE
The path to getting Compulsus made begins with a cliché: In 2019, I turned 40. Two months previous I’d left the company I’d been with for my whole adult life, and it ended badly. The morning of my birthday I was on an interminable call with EI for the first time ever, having already messed it up but not having any idea how. At my party that night a married person pitched us becoming girlfriends as if it were a flawless, air-tight idea.
What was this life? I didn’t like it.
I’d had a short film idea bonking around for awhile—a battered woman shows up at another woman’s house, and that woman immediately leaves and does something very violent to the man who perpetrated it. A single tracking shot, no dialogue. But I hadn’t figured out the why of it, I just knew—in the wake of Me Too, of Jian Ghomeshi, of reckonings abroad and close to home, of decades’ worth of microaggressions piling into a powder keg—that I was wholly justified in my vengeance fantasy. Did the why even matter?
Well the why snapped into place very unfortunately: After a long day at TIFF in 2018, I cut through a sketchy park back to my hotel and was intercepted by a pantsless man, a dead-eyed giant masturbating and aiming straight for me. I stepped wide enough away from him, unable to say anything, that he changed direction and went off into the bushes. The park was full and nobody helped me. I felt guilty that he had just gone and done it to someone else; I felt lucky that nothing like this had happened to me until right now, in my late 30s; mostly I felt a radical, roiling rage. Later the skies opened in that sudden violent way they do in Ontario, and I thought GOOD. I hope you get pneumonia and die.
So as I was saying, I turned 40. I was officially middle-aged and I had no job, no girlfriend, and half a life’s worth of taking barely any chances. Around the same time AFCOOP had announced an inaugural workshop facilitated by Iain MacLeod called “writing small”: The goal was to help writers create scripts specifically with a microbudget in mind for Telefilm’s Talent to Watch program. You could apply with three ideas and I sent two—an adaptation of a largely plotless short story by a much better writer than me, and one about a lady vigilante who beats up men at night. If I recall correctly the jury did not recommend the latter, but Iain wanted me to do it, and I wanted to do it, so that’s what we developed in the workshop. At first it was called Misandrist, which I thought was funny, like “Jessica Chastain is Miss Andrist, the ginger suffragette history never dared tell you about!” (It became Compulsus in the first draft stage through a boring Google rabbit hole.)
In my two decades as a journalist I have never written an outline. Same goes for the three features I’d written previously—I’m psychotically chronological, I need to start at the start and end at the end. I can move things around later, but the writing is all linear. Iain and the workshop showed me what a wasteful process that can be—by the time I was ready to write a draft in December I had it all in order, which is the point. I was free to hop around and write the parts I did know, even if I didn’t know the part that came before them yet. This is common knowledge, but here I was learning it now.
(SUBMITTED PHOTO: Kathleen Dorian as Lou and Lesley Smith as Wally in Compulsus.)
I kept saying, very pretentiously, “This movie seems to want to be written at night.” So I wrote it in the light of the Christmas tree, listening to Lana Del Rey, drinking Tannen Bomb beer. (There is not an ounce of the holidays in Compulsus.)
In February 2020 Nicole Steeves came on as the producer—people are surprised to learn now that we didn’t know each other then, but we didn’t. She’d been part of a HIFF Q&A I once conducted; I have no memory of speaking to her otherwise. (Now we are very close.) In March, WIFT-Atlantic nominated us to Telefilm, one week before that other thing happened in March.
Telefilm’s timelines were knocked off by the pandemic but in the end we got it—we found out in July and we went to camera March 18, 2021, almost exactly one year later. Now I had a team of 20—mostly women, by the way, and they were not hard to find, by the way—carrying out my revenge fantasies. The idea had changed over time: the target wasn’t some random jerkoff in a park (though we did encounter one during our shoot :|), it was the men in my artistic community who led double lives as public feminist allies and private abusers of feminists. “S-o-f-t-b-o-i-s,” as I spelled it for a nervous dude walking by one of our night shoots, probably regretting asking after the plot.
Compulsus is now in the can—complete with a version of my original short film idea in there, spoiler alert—and we’ll spend the bulk of the year in post. I’ll always be grateful to AFCOOP and Iain for giving me a framework, deadlines, and purpose when I had none. Cliches are rooted in truth, and the truth will set you down a vengeful path to feminist righteousness. At least this one time.
Tara Thorne is a recovering journalist from Halifax and the festival coordinator at HIFF.
with Evan Bower
Remember that year we just spent watching films in solitude? Every month, we’re asking AFCOOP members and staff to share a few memorable discoveries that came across their screens.
Ishtar (USA, 1987, dir. Elaine May)
It’s impossible to talk about Ishtar without mentioning it’s one of Hollywood’s most infamous bombs. Through some combination of bad early press and studio self-sabotage, it was already pronounced dead before opening weekend and went on to lose somewhere around $40 million. Sadly but unsurprisingly the only person who suffered long-term was director Elaine May, the incomparable genius who not only invented improv comedy (with her stage-partner Mike Nichols and notable others), but was the first woman to get a Hollywood deal since Ida Lupino in the Golden Age. Ishtar ended her directorial career after just four films. What gets said much less is that Ishtar is incredibly funny, with an opening 20-minutes so strong I had to pause and restart it after desperately calling my significant other to the living room. Picture the highest highs of Popstar or Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar without any of the lowest-common-denominator concessions, thankfully, because May did not concede. It’s streaming for free at CTV.ca.
A Confucian Confusion (Taiwan, 1994, dir. Edward Yang)
With its release between A Brighter Summer Day, Edward Yang’s four-hour opus, and Yi Yi, his consensus masterpiece, A Confucian Confusion is commonly pegged as lesser Yang. It’s an effervescent comedy from a filmmaker who had gained recognition for his slow meditations on urban ennui, and it kind of just came and went after competing at Cannes. That it is now essentially a lost film hasn’t helped its reputation—whatever small DVD release it got here and internationally is now long out of print. Until last April, that is, when out of the blue a full cut of the film showed up on YouTube. The English subtitles were only semi-coherent and crudely pasted on top of the Japanese captions, the video was of sub-VHS quality, and yet even with those distractions it quickly became clear that this was a keeper, every bit as impressive as Yang’s more celebrated, canonized work. Since then, that miraculous, blurry mess on YouTube has disappeared and been replaced with a significantly higher-quality version. Someone out there is doing important work.
Touki Bouki (Senegal, 1973, dir. Djibril Diop Membéty)
In Touki Bouki, Djibril Diop Membéty channels the freneticism and provocative editing of early French New Wave into something entirely his own. The film is a unique fantasy-drama portrait of post-independence Senegal, centred on a young couple longing to leave Dakar for Paris, with just about the most powerful depiction of yearning on film I can recall. Membéty’s life was as fascinating as his films: he was a self-taught filmmaker who delivered back-to-back masterworks 20 years apart (see also: 1992’s Hyenas) and helped broaden the world’s understanding and appreciation of African cinema. Worth noting that Touki Bouki continues to look and sound its best nearly 50 years since its release thanks to a restoration by the World Cinema Project, an organization that has spared dozens of great films A Confucian Confusion‘s fate, making them accessible without the intervention of a benevolent YouTuber. Touki Bouki is streaming on the Criterion Channel now.
Evan Bower is AFCOOP’s Online Projects Coordinator. He’s also a writer, reporter and film programmer living in Halifax, N.S.
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