Whistler Film Festival: Women in the Director’s Chair 2022 – Jennifer Merin reports

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Women In the Director’s Chair (WIDC) is a Canadian nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting women filmmakers and developing their projects. Among its successful programs, WIDC partners with Whistler film Festival for the ninth year to present its annual In the Director’s Chair Story & Leadership program, an intensive mentorship that benefits eight mid-career and non-binary filmmakers from across Canada and representing Canada’s diverse population. The eight filmmakers selected for the 2022 program will attend this year’s Whistler Film Festival (taking place November 30 through December 4 and online until January 2, 2023), participating in the WFF Industry Immersion part of the program, a first-class industry environment (virtual and in-person) that includes an array of master classes, artist-talks, one-to-ones, and notably, WFF’s Women In Focus series. WIDC-hosted sessions also include industry guests from Telefilm Canada, Bell Media, CBC Films, the Independent Production Fund, and Creative BC, among others who will participate in roundtables and individual meetings with participants.

“This is the 9th year of our collaboration with WIDC that continues to deliver significant results. It’s gratifying to see previous participants returning with projects they’ve developed through the program, as mentors, and guest speakers,” says Angela Heck, Executive Director, Whistler Film Festival.

Mentors for the 2022 session include multi-award-winning writer/director Mina Shum (Mediation Park, The Wire), and screenwriter/story consultant Karen Walton (Orphan Black, Ginger Snaps). Instructors also include Dr. Dorothy Cucw-la7 Christian and Dr. Rita Shelton Deverell C.M. who lead a module on equity, diversity and inclusion work; writer and Jungian expert, Dr. Carolyn Mamchur, actor and filmmaker, Lori Triolo (Blackstone, Lost Solace), actor/instructor, Veena Sood (Children Ruin Everything), and Digital Media & Marketing Mentor, Annelise Larson, who will lead sessions on leadership, story development, working with actors and marketing. An ensemble of ACTRA actors from across Canada along with ICG cinematographers, Kim Derko csc (Save Me; The Next Step), and Daytime Emmy winner, Gayle Ye (Odd Squad, Mobile Unit), will also join the program, workshopping excerpts from the directors’ original scripts. WIDC co-creator and producer, Dr. Carol Whiteman facilitates, and leads follow up mentorships for the program.

“Over 330 women and non-binary individuals have benefited from the WIDC program,” says Eleanor Noble, President ACTRA National (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists). “Over 25% of alumnae directors [overall] are ACTRA members who have taken their performing skills to the next level and are creating and directing original work that engages other members!”

Five of this year’s Story & Leadership cohort of mentee directors are award-winning ACTRA members, including Toronto-based Liz Whitmere (Designated Survivor, The Changeling) who is developing the feature drama Loved By You, Supinder Wraich (Sort Of, Private Eyes) developing the feature 4th of July, and Sam Coyle director of award-winning web series, (Avocado Toast the series, Dating Unlocked) who is developing the sci-fi thriller, Audrey 2.0 about an aging actress navigating life with her AI double.

UBCP/ACTRA members, CSA-winner Sarah Strange known for her roles in Loudermilk, Snowpiercer and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, is developing the Queer rom-com series, Funambulist Falling, while Luvia Petersen (Van Helsing, Riverdale) is developing the feature-length psychological thriller Human Nature.

Also developing their debut feature films are documentary and short filmmakers including Nigerian-born Nova Scotia-based Osas Eweka-Smith who is developing the drama The Road To Back Home; Yukon Territory-based Naomi Mark (How to Bee), developing the dark comedy Lucky Baby; and based in Toronto, multi-award-winner Nika Belianina is developing her comedy feature, Doing Time In Paradise.
“Telefilm Canada is proud to continue its support of the Women In the Director’s Chair (WIDC) program for mid-career and non-binary directors and writer-directors,” said Francesca Accinelli, Interim Executive Director and CEO of Telefilm Canada. “We want to thank and congratulate WIDC for its continued support of diverse voices in film.”

The 2022 Whistler Film Festival will also showcase WIDC alumnae feature films by Jules Koostachin (Broken Angel), KC Carthew (Polaris) and Madison Thomas’ doc, Buffy Saint-Marie: Carry It On! Gloria Mercer’s short Smoke Eater also plays the festival, while alumnae Marie Clements, Rebecca Gibson, KC Carthew, Jules Koostachin will be featured speakers.

Story & Leadership culminates with intensive follow up development of story and marketing materials, and career coaching modules that run through to spring 2023.

Formal WIDC declaration: “WIDC recognizes the term Woman/Women is in an evolution of language and note that our intention in our use is to be fully inclusive of underrepresented persons who may identify as she/her and or they/them and share the goals and values of WIDC to promote these marginalized voices and stories. Further, we gratefully acknowledge that the WIDC program originates from the traditional and unceded lands of the Coast Salish people, including the xmkym (Musqueam), Swxwu7mesh (Squamish), and slilwta (Tseil-wau-tuth) Nations. We also acknowledge the Indigenous Nations on whose traditional lands our guests, participants, and colleagues live, work and create. We commit to working together in the spirit of collaboration and respect for the generations that came before, those living now, and the generations to come.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: AWFJ partners with Whistler Film Festival to present EDA Awards @ Whistler Film Festival for Best Female-Directed Films. 2022 is the eighth consecutive year of the collaboration.

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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 a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).