Whistler Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Emily Dickinson on MARCH

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First time director Emily Dickinson’s narrative short March takes place in 2024, and follows an American woman in her mid-twenties, as she travels to Canada to get a now-illegal abortion. A day in her life showcases abortion tourism, the current state of relations between the two neighbouring nations, the implications of a misogynist government, and the resilience of women. March is nominated for the EDA Award for Best Female-Directed Short at Whistler Film Festival 2020.

Jennifer Merin: What your film is about — both in story and theme?

Emily Dickinson: March is a fictional story set in 2024, in a world where abortion is completely illegal in the US. The film follows an American woman in her late-twenties as she takes an overnight bus into Canada for an abortion. I wanted to create a film that was creepily not so distant and not so hard to imagine. Thematically, we look at the women’s rights movement, mental health/fear, and the relationship between mother and daughter.

Merin: How is your film stylistically distinctive?

Dickinson: The film was shot handheld and mostly close-up on our main character, Taylor. We wanted the film to be felt through her, and we wanted the viewer to really feel what she was feeling. In post-production, we used sound editing to create some subtle jarring effects that would further the feelings of anxiety that Taylor was experiencing. Some moments are slightly discombobulated — bringing the viewer into Taylor’s mental state. The world we explore is grim, and the greyish tone reflects that.

Merin: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and to the main characters in it?

Dickinson: I committed to the theme of this film because I was deeply upset about various states implementing abortion reversal laws. I knew for some time that I wanted to make a film that was centred around women’s rights, but I wasn’t sure what. I had been painting protests since the first Women’s March in 2017, and I used the idea of a one-woman protest as a jump-off point. I wrote the character of Taylor with no one particular in mind, and in a meeting with my co-producer Victoria, we both had a mutual realization that this role was 100 per cent for her. I’m so grateful she wanted to take this on.

Merin: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

Dickinson: I learned a lot about reproductive rights in the US, and was also shocked at the conservative views that exist around abortion in Canada, too. I realized that at no point should we be taking our rights for granted, and that there is a lot to still fight for. In writing about Taylor’s relationship with her mother, I thought a lot about my relationship with my own mother. My mom was also on set (it was my first time directing and she organized food/provided moral support) and it made me feel so grateful for the deep connection I share with her.

Merin: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film.

Dickinson: When I endeavoured to do this project, I knew little to nothing about how actually making a film. Aside from a small web-series that I co-created many years ago, my career in film was always as an actor on shows/films that were not my own. I was lucky because our DOP was also a director, so I got a crash course in How To Direct A Film. I felt supported and extremely lucky to be surrounded by a talented crew that showed up and made it happen. For me, the most important thing is committing to creating a positive, loving atmosphere on set and curating the energy so everyone feels safe, heard, and calm. I know there are about a thousand perhaps “more important” things, but for me, that’s where I could really trust myself. I think everyone had a genuinely fun time and we were able to explore intense subject matter safety and respectfully.

Merin: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

Dickinson: My biggest challenge was trusting my vision and script. I found myself sometimes letting my own instincts get lost because I didn’t trust that I knew enough/could write well enough. I think that’s a lifetime journey, but it showed me how much I was willing to let other people tell me how things should be. When a bunch of crew and cast members are asking you questions and expecting you to direct them, it’s pretty important to trust your own creative vision.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Dickinson: Right now, I am working on developing and pitching a series with my writing partner. She’s in Melbourne, Australia, so our FaceTime work sessions happen at wild hours and I can’t think of anything more fun to do during a pandemic. I also finished my first manuscript this year, so I am endeavouring to branch in to the literary world in 2021 and maybe get this book on a shelf somewhere, sometime. I also hope the future holds many more films!

Merin: Who are the filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

Dickinson: My favourite storytellers right now (not all in film) are Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Mae Martin, Michaela Coel, Chris Kraus, Greta Gerwig, Joey Soloway, Chloe Caldwell, and Samra Habib.

Merin: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

Dickinson: Do yourself a favour and hire a diverse female and gender non-conforming cast and crew as much as possible. My mom was recently watching something and she told me she had to turn it off because there was a sex scene and it was “obviously written and directed by men.” I realized that the female/non-male gaze is what people want. Our voices and visions really do matter. Even if you think your life isn’t that interesting or your perspective isn’t unique, write it anyways. Our life experiences have shaped us all so individually, if we are truthful, vulnerable and honest about who we are… we are going to create meaningful art.

About Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (she/her) is a director, writer, and actor from Toronto, Ontario. With a background in journalism (Carleton University, Danish School of Media and Journalism), she strives to connect current events with narrative storytelling through film. She is the writer and director of March (2020), The Last Day (2019) and co-creator/writer of Young and Ozington (2016). This year she wrote her first book, Lemons, release date TBD. Whatever the medium, Emily is passionate about telling vulnerable and truthful stories about women, with a special focus on LGBTQ+. You can see her on small (and big) screens in Killjoys (SyFy), Suits (USA Network), Taken (NBC), Misfit M., Run This Town and more. She’s a fiery Aries, and was born on Friday the 13th.

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