Women in Film and Media: Navigating a Post-Weinstein Era

On January 23rd, the Department of Cinema and Media Arts in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University hosted an industry panel to discuss the issue of sexual harassment and its impact within the Canadian film and television industries. The panel entitled, “Culture Shift: Gender and Diversity in the Film Industry”, featured an ensemble of industry, filmmaker, and activist voices, including Melanie Chung (producer and director), Rina Fraticelli (executive director of Women in View), Jill Golick (president of the Writers Guild of Canada), Anita Lee (Executive Producer – Ontario Studio, National Film Board), Chelsea McMullan (York BFA alumna and documentary filmmaker), and Theresa Tova (president of ACTRA Toronto).

The event follows forth from the recent exposure of Hollywood’s history of sexual misconduct and the ensuing wave of acts of intervention. Students, filmmakers, and other members of the general public in attendance gained insight into happenings within Canadian film and media, and learned more about newly created and ongoing initiatives undertaken to navigate a way forward. Panelists also shared personal experiences and offered advice to both emerging and more established creatives in the industry. What resulted is a strategy of best practices to tackle career challenges and to contribute to building a productive and successful working environment:

  1. Surround yourself with allies. In the creative realm, you can’t do it all on your own, so form a team of good contacts that you work well with and on whom you can rely.
  2. Find a support network. Whether it’s a union, a Facebook group of like-minded artists and crew, or a locally-run artist centre that can provide guidance, training, and more, there are people you can turn to when you’re in need.
  3. Stand up for yourself and others. Be prepared to recognize and call out uncomfortable and unacceptable behaviour, and be supportive to others on your team who may be experiencing that behaviour.
  4. Keep at it! Working at your craft and having confidence play a big role in career-building. Have faith in your abilities, be persistent, and remember: rejection is not personal and it’s not fatal.
  5. Know your boundaries before you start a project. Define what you are comfortable doing beforehand and stick to it. Ask questions and do your research before making a commitment.
  6. Create the culture you want to work in. Build diversity and parity into hiring practices. Decide what ‘rules’ are right and comfortable for your set and your creative team. Be respectful. Listen to others. Find solutions. Don’t disempower or mistreat others. Consider meeting with possible collaborators in advance of committing to a project to see what your rapport is like.
  7. Don’t limit yourself. Embrace opportunities to grow or improve. Your project may be a larger scale production that you’re used to, or require a higher budget, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
  8. Seek out funding wherever possible. Apply to as many grants and funding programs as you can, even if just for the practice of writing grant applications. It may take a while, but you can’t allow grants or financing to determine your identity or your value. The more you apply for, the more opportunity you create for yourself. Eventually, something is bound to stick.
  9. Aim to tell your own stories, and speak your own voice. You may be surprised to find that it’s the personal, specific narratives that stand out and set your project apart from trends.
  10. Pay it forward. When you gain success, look for emerging voices that you can help to elevate or mentor so that progress can be passed along to others.

In Honour of Earth Day: A Look at Eco-Horror

Today is 🌏 Earth Day (April 22), and in honour of the largest environmental event in the world, I’m sharing a list of my favourite eco-horror films. What better way to spread eco-awareness than to shock yourself with images of Mother Nature rising up against disrespectful humans and at times aggressively seeking retribution for the unwelcome manipulation of the natural world, or the mistreatment of its flora and fauna, the environment, and its resources?

In addition to the recent B-Horror films about zombie beavers and shark-nadoes, these are just a few others that I’ve found to be worthy of a good movie night — depending on your taste in cinema, you might get a kick out of these too!

Cinematic Classics

King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) – A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal giant gorilla who takes a shine to their female blonde star. (IMDB) — With Fay Wray (a Canadian, I’ll have you know)!

The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963) – A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness. (IMBD) — Look out! Shield your eyes! Well, not for the whole movie…

JawsJaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) – When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it. (IMDB) — Um, obviously a must-see!

Piranha (Joe Dante, 1978) – When flesh-eating piranhas are accidentally released into a summer resort’s rivers, the guests become their next meal. (IMDB) — Since you’re already not going in the water after that last one… another one for some good summer fun!

Canadiana 🍁

Orca (Michael Anderson, 1977) – A hunter squares off against a killer whale seeking vengeance for the death of its mate.(IMDB) — Do a double-feature with Jaws!

severedSevered: Forest of the Dead (Carl Bessai, 2005) – A multi-national forestry company engages in genetic experimentation to increase logging yield in a remote section of forest. But the experimentation goes disastrously wrong, transforming a disparate group of loggers and environmental activists into the “infected” — ravenous, zombie-like creatures who prey upon the few terrified survivors while they attempt to understand and control the disaster… (IMDB) — Reminds me of that one episode of X-Files

The Thaw (Mark A. Lewis, 2009) – A research expedition to the Arctic discovers that a melting polar ice cap has released a deadly prehistoric parasite. (IMBD) — Reminds me of that other episode of X-Files… Spooky…

Crazy But Good Fun

The Giant Gila Monster (Ray Kellog, 1959) – A giant lizard terrorizes a rural Texas community with a heroic teenager attempting to destroy the creature. (IMDB) — Gotta love the creative attempt here.

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) – During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok. (IMDB) — A staple of any person’s childhood, no?

Mimic (Guillermo del Toro, 1997) – Three years ago, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease. Now, the insects are out to destroy their only predator, mankind. (IMDB) — For the del Toro fans, of course.

black sheepBlack Sheep (Jonathan King, 2006) – An experiment in genetic engineering turns harmless sheep into blood-thirsty killers that terrorize a sprawling New Zealand farm. (IMDB) — Because the bizarre deserves your attention too!

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Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of all eco-horror films found in the history of cinema; just a handful of my own highlights. Which of your favourite eco-horror films would you add to this list?

Book Review: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

The Book:  I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

Image result for i'm thinking of ending thingsThe colder months are perfect for curling up with a good book, something intriguing for company when we are driven indoors by the early darkness and dreary weather. Local author Iain Reid’s debut novel, I’m thinking of ending things, is an unsettling psychological thriller that stirs the imagination, proving just how chilling the cold countryside can be when it’s the setting of sinister happenings.

The reader is lured in through the mind of the narrator, an unnamed woman who is lost in a flurry of recollections and conflicting feelings about her relationship with a man named Jake. As the couple traverses the winter landscape to a distant country home so that she can ‘meet the parents’, we navigate her winding thoughts and reflect on the nature of memory, the perception of reality as it is revisited and reconstructed, and the obsession with trying to make sense of things that unnerve us. The novel creates a quiet, creeping sense of horror through the narrator’s growing discomfort, not only in the isolating effect of her confusion and in the strangeness of her encounter with Jake’s parents, but in her interactions with Jake himself as he leads her around the familiar haunts of his youth.

Reid has previously noted that the story was written with the intention that it could be read in a single sitting. The eerie imagery and entangling narrative promises that the reader will be too reluctant to part ways with the novel before reaching its thrilling conclusion.

(Published in FPA Voices, November/December 2016)

Death by Pizza

I love pizza. It smells good, tastes good, offers creative options… and it goes so well with movies. I love pizza so much, it may one day cause my cholesterol to soar beyond saving and I will die (and go to pizza heaven, presumably).

In my ongoing search for the most amazing pizza I’ve ever eaten, I have discovered several pretty tremendous ones, which now proves to me that my search for just one, singular favourite may be wholly unreasonable. Like many other pizza-eaters out there, I have pizza moods, where only a specific kind will do at a given moment. It is my pleasure to point out that there are a handful of restaurants in Ottawa (yes, chain and independent alike) whose take on pizza is the stuff of my pizza dreams. I feel obligated to share this important information because who knows whose dining life it could save?

Below are my favourite recommendations for a great slice in the Nation’s Capital, in alphabetical order. Cue salivation.

Pizza Hutpizzahut.ca

pizza hutWhat to Order: Thin crust pizza with chopped garlic, chopped tomato, mozzarella, a pesto base, and extra garlic/Parmesan sprinkle on top.

Why? Custom preferences can make all the difference. Pesto is amazing, and an option that I was only recently made aware of; try it.

Pub Italia  pubitalia.ca

pub italiaWhat to Order: 
Thin crust Alla Pasquale, with hummus, artichokes, red pepper, black olives, & feta cheese

Why? Variety is the spice of life, so changing up the base sauce with hummus is not only a tasty decision, but a smart one.

Tennessy Willems
– twpizza.com

TennessyWhat to Order: Wood oven Wild Board pizza, with local wild boar sausage, caramelized apple, sage oil, and 2 year-old cheddar.

Why? I had no idea that we had local boar at our disposal, or that it was so delicious. But it is. Fact.

 – willyspizza.ca

willy'sWhat to Order: Tropical Chicken, with pineapple, bacon strips, and grilled chicken.

Why? Like Hawaiian, but that much better.



What to Order:  Fresh House-made Shrimp and Capicolla Ham Pizza with sundried cranberries and banana peppers

Why? Seafood is awesome. And the extras on this create an excellent sweet and spicy combination.

Honourable Mention – Homemade Pizza

rosemary and potato pizzaOkay, this particular one isn’t actually available in a restaurant. That’s because sometimes only home-made pizza will sate a craving in a way that no others can – especially when you have a dear Italian friend with an amazing secret recipe for traditional rosemary and potato pizza… drool-worthy, to say the least.

 * * *

Haven’t had enough about pizza? Then read up on these 46 Mouthwatering Facts About Pizza.

*Watch for updates – I’m on the pizza prowl and always looking for another favourite to add to my list!

Book Launch: The Canadian Horror Film

The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul

canadian horror film1

Date: Saturday, October 24, 2015
Time: 9:00pm
Location: TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto ON

Book signing and introduction, followed by a special screening of the digitally restored film, The Mask (Dir.Julian Roffman, 1961) – the first feature-length Canadian horror movie and the first feature-length 3D film made in Canada!

Book launch_Ottawa_posterDate: Friday, November 13, 2015
Time: 9:00pm
Location: River Building Theatre, Carleton University, Ottawa ON
Admission: Free

In collaboration with Carleton University Film Studies, the Canadian Film Institute is proud to present this special event on that infamous day that echoes across the deep, dark caverns of the horror film genre: Friday the 13th! This event features a book signing and introduction, followed by a screening of one of the films discussed within its pages, SMASH CUT (2009), directed by Carleton Film Studies graduate and Mayfair Theatre director, Lee Gordon Demarbre.

About the Book

From the cheaply made “tax-shelter” films of the 1970s to the latest wave of contemporary “eco-horror,” Canadian horror cinema has rarely received much critical attention. Gina Freitag and André Loiselle rectify that situation in The Canadian Horror Film with a series of thought-provoking reflections on Canada’s “terror of the soul,” a wasteland of docile damnation and prosaic pestilence where savage beasts and mad scientists rub elbows with pasty suburbanites, grumpy seamen, and baby-faced porn stars.

Featuring chapters on Pontypool, Ginger Snaps, 1970s slasher films, Quebec horror, and the work of David Cronenberg, among many others, The Canadian Horror Film unearths the terrors hidden in the recesses of the Canadian psyche. It examines the highlights of more than a century of Canadian horror filmmaking and includes an extensive filmography to guide both scholars and enthusiasts alike through this treacherous terrain.

Available from University of Toronto Press.