The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival kicked off its 33rd year with a Press Conference on Tuesday, September 20, at Emera Innovation Exchange (Signal Hill Campus).
SJIWFF is Canada’s longest-running festival for women. For decades women have been disadvantaged in representation in the film and television industry, as is the case with most industries in a patriarchal world.
Intersectionality comes into play as women of colour, Indigenous women, 2SLGBTQIA+ women, and women with exceptionalities face an even more disadvantaged position. This disparity leads to fewer hirings of women in creative fields than their male contemporaries fostering further misrepresentation of women in the movies and shows.
SJIWFF came to fruition in 1989 to combat this unfortunate reality and has been uplifting women’s creativity locally and internationally.
The festival has been a key player in leading the movement for feminism in the Canadian film industry, bringing essential cultural diversity to NL with its international selections. It is not uncanny that the festival was recognized by USA Today in their “Top 10 film festivals worth travelling for” list in 2019.
The Press Conference was an enriching morning as we heard from board members and supporters alike, whether we were there in person or joined online.
One of the esteemed supporters, Minister Sarah Stoodley, emphasized how vital the festival is for providing women filmmakers with a platform to share their “unique and powerful messages.” The Minister of Digital Government and Service also highlighted that only 25% of funding for filmmaking in Canada is normally allocated to women and how the festival is working towards changing that by empowering more women to join the industry. She announced that the provincial government would support this initiative by providing $60,000 to women in the industry this year.
The RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker award was also presented at the conference. The award was extended for the last 11 years in honour of filmmaker and mentor Michelle Jackson after her abrupt passing in 2008 and is presented to an up-and-coming female director who has yet to direct a feature film.
“What is really great about the award is that it’s available to folks who call NL’ home;’ it doesn’t necessarily depend on if you’re a citizen, or if you’re not…” says Meghan Hollet, Interim Executive Director of SJIWFF. The prize consists of funding and mentorship to provide the recipient with sufficient resources to create a 6-minute short film. The festival and the RBC Foundation support the award, alongside many other generous organizations, productions, and corporations.
The 2022 RBC Michelle Jackson Award was presented to Brianna Russell – a writer, director, and producer whose work centers around the innovative stories of 2SLGBTQIA+ women. Her short film will premiere at the Closing Night of the 34th SJIWFF next year.
Lastly, Meghan Hollett addressed the “challenging times” that the community of St. John’s has faced since the pandemic and how grateful their organization is to welcome back in-person screenings this year. They are in full spring for their grand comeback to local theatres, which will also have social distancing measures. However, they are aware that that might not work for everyone; therefore, the festival will have online attendance options with digital offerings of several selections. These online options will include Q&A sessions and master classes as well.
Due to the clear public health guidelines, the festival was solely digital throughout the pandemic. Going to a theatre to watch a movie was acclaimed as the ideal viewing experience before the pandemic, but the whole world had to adapt to the times. As disheartening as the lack of in-person screening may have initially been for everyone, the festival may have benefitted from certain aspects of digital offerings.
“… Our film festival has stayed so strong because of the legacy, and virtually… We’ve grown our fan base because of the virtual thing, and we’ll never, now, go back to not being virtual,” says Vicki Murphy, Chair of the Board. And why should they? As pleasurable an experience as in-person viewing is, with a festival like SJIWFF that has selections from across the globe, not everyone who wants to view them may have the opportunity to fly in. Given the state of our world today, there may even be locals who would prefer to view them from the comfort of their homes.
Continuing to provide both in-person and digital offerings promotes more accessibility for the festival and reaches a broader audience. Due to this reach, the festival has “… managed and led so strongly forever that we never once felt like we were at risk over the last couple of years of ‘going under,’ or having to do anything majorly that would put us in jeopardy,” adds Vicki Murphy.
The conference concluded with a promotional video of clips and snapshots of all the features and shorts that will be playing at this year’s festival. Forty-three films were selected from over a thousand submissions. The selections consist of feature films, short films, and documentaries. The video showcased a vibrant undertone throughout the array of diverse stories. Some of these are stories about migration, 2SLGBTQIA+ intricacies, Indigeneity, generational trauma, dark comedy, complicated parent-child dynamics, and mass murder, amongst various other genres focused on the representation of women and gender-diverse people.
The in-person attendees also had the chance to mingle with some of the filmmakers at the conference afterwards. I had the opportunity to speak to writer Amanda Bulman about her short film Dead Wife Club, one of the prestigious selections for this year. It is a dark comedy about a group of men in an unlikely grieving circle and highlights their experiences with processing anger, especially surrounding the lack of support for men in grief. Amanda also acts in the short, which upholds the festival’s values with women and non-binary folks in many critical positions. Do not miss out on this good film on the digitally offered CBC Spotlight on Local shorts playlist during the festival!
The 33rd Annual St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival will be held October 19-23, both in-person and online.
Tickets for the 5-day festival are available for purchase through different passes and packages via SJIWFF’s Box Office.
Catch their in-person screenings at theatres in St. John’s during Opening Night on October 19, CBC Spotlight on Local on October 22, and RBC Closing Night on October 23. If you are attending online, catch their feature and short film selections throughout the festival. Check out the full lineup on SJIWFF’s website.
SJIWFF 33 promises many films promoting the cultural diversity of St. John’s and the province. It will showcase unique stories representing local and international women and will provide an exceptional opportunity for attendees to view limited-release content. It continues to facilitate a pleasurable viewing experience irrespective of gender identity; as the festival’s slogan goes, its platform delivers “films made by women, for everyone.” I recommend grabbing a ticket for the prestigious festival before they are sold out!