SPOTLIGHT August 2019: Carol Whiteman, Feminist Film Advocate, Activist, President of Women in the Directors Chair

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In Canadian women’s filmmaker circles, mention of Carol Whiteman’s name is cause for applause. As President of the non-profit Women in the Director’s Chair, Whiteman can be credited with mentoring more than 250 women directors through the arduous process of making their first films — from concept to premiere. Any female filmmaker who is working in Canada or has aspirations to do so ought to have Whiteman’s name on her must meet list.
 
 
 
Whiteman’s Early Career Shift

Whiteman actually began her cinema career as an actress based in British Columbia. She holds a BFA with Honors from York University’s prestigious Theatre Performance program. She is also a graduate of the Alliance Atlantis Banff Television Executive Program, which provided her with an excellent introduction to the business side of film production.

In 1994, her participation in the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) British Columbia women’s committee raised her awareness of and concerns about the dearth of women’s opportunities in the movie business. Basically, she and her colleagues wanted more and better roles for women, and they set about investigation what they could do to ‘level the playing field.’ Targeting better representation of women on screen ad a goal became a major commitment for Whiteman, and her career shift from actor to activist began. With that shift, the Carol Whiteman story became the story of Women In The Director’s Chair.

At first, the ACTRA women’s committee’s singular goal was to get more and better roles for women. They reasoned that the voice that generates the story holds power, and from their actor’s perspective thought that the most powerful storytellers in the movie industry were screenwriters, those who create the characters who appear on screen. They came up with the idea of creating a program for ACTRA actors to workshop scripts, eventually deciding that the best place to launch the program would be the Banff Television Festival (now known as Banff World Media Festival), a prestigious event with an international following of screen industry decision makers and content creators.

In June 1994, representing ACTRA BC and the women’s committee, Whiteman attended the BANFF Television Festival, where she asked a wide range of people working in film — particularly women — whether they thought there was a problem for women participating in the industry and, if so, what it was and what could be done about it. As a result of the responses she received, she drafted a proposal to create a female storyteller master class to be held at BANFF.

The Whiteman Art of Alliance

Carol Whiteman is exceptionally good at creating fruitful conversations and forming productive alliances. From the outset, it was evident that women working throughout the film industry were ready to organize for greater representation on the screen and behind the scenes, and that a larger and wider constituency of involved women film workers would advance the cause. Concerns for equal opportunity were heightened because there were rumors that Studio D, a highly successful first-of-its-kind women’s unit at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), was to be shut down.

After word of the ACTRA women’s committee’s initial organizational activities spread, Women in Film and Television Vancouver (WIFTV, which was then known as Vancouver Women in Film and Video) approached the group to suggest a collaborative effort. No immediate partnership was formed, but the establishment of mutual support and open lines of communication eventually lead to a productive partnership that eventually brought Women In the Director’s Chair (WIDC) into being. And it actually didn’t take that long.

The WIDC workshop was conceived in 1995 as a result of the collaborative efforts of ACTRA, WIFTV and the Banff Centre for the Arts, supported with funding from the Human Resources Skills Development Council (HRSDC), a Canadian federal governmental funding body. A pilot sesson took place in 1997, organized by Whiteman together with Banff Centre director Sara Diamond, WIFTV president Mary Ungerlieder, filmmakers Peg Campbell and Anne Wheeler, and respected Canadian actor Gabrielle Rose. The idea was to provide master-level training for mid-career women directors while they were working with professional ACTRA actors. The HRSDC granted the Banff Centre a few thousand dollars towards producing and hosting the workshop. It was very successful. And the rest is history.

Diverse Women’s Stories, Authentic Voices

Now into its third decade under the leadership of Whiteman, now guided by a Board of Directors primarily comprised of WIDC alumnae, the greatly expanded WIDC provides professional and creative development to mid-career Canadian women directors of screen-based fiction. Programs are open to Canadian filmmakers only, but an international component is being developed. In collegial workshop settings Director participants work with highly skilled industry professionals including ACTRA actors, Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) crafts people and technicians to develop original scripted content, explore creative, business and leadership best practices, and create strategic career plans. Director participants have access to mentoring, awards, fellowships, and career coaching to advance their careers, develop and produce their subsequent works.

Currently, WIDC programs focus specifically on Story & Leadership, Career Advancement, and Feature and Short Works development. Each program is scheduled to take place in several workshop meet ups held throughout the year at various venues, including film festivals and industry conferences that offer excellent networking possibilities for participants. Applications for WIDC programs are usually submitted in August.

Whiteman and WIDC Directors at 2018 Whistler Film Festival

Whiteman’s Top Notch Bottom Line

Whiteman’s dedication to WIDC and promoting women’s authentic creative perspectives has been recognized by two Governor General’s award nominations and multiple awards for promoting women’s equality in the Canadian screen industry. Acting as head of Women In the Director’s Chair, she is credited with having produced more than 150 short films since 1997, as well as having executive produced eight award-winning features — all directed by women. Under her guidance, WIDC’s programs have mentored and coached more than 250 director alumnae, fostering a new generation of female screen writers and directors from every corner of Canada, giving voice to women whose feature film projects, network television and web series deliver women’s diverse perspectives to appreciative audiences. She has also advanced the careers of hundreds of Canadian actors and technicians who’ve participated in WIDC programs. And, the process is ongoing.

WHY WE CHOSE HER:

Carol Whiteman’s work is primarily behind the scenes. She doesn’t seek to be in the spotlight, but she definitely deserves to be. By co-creating and running WIDC, Carol Whiteman has actually changed the Canadian cinema landscape, creating greater opportunity for women directors while training those women directors to snap up those opportunities and advance their careers. Whiteman is capable and generous, and her talent for building community and fomenting collaboration is unsurpassed. We applaud her for all that she’s accomplished and support her continued good will and works.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).