Gina Freitag

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

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2018 at 9:00 am

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.

Drawn into “The Void” (2016)

In Uncategorized on April 27, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Review – The Void 

2016 | Dir. Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski | Canada | 90 mins.

I have a soft spot for Canadian horror, so while catching up on some new horror releases, I naturally gravitated first towards The Void.

The film certainly sucks the viewer in, and does not waste time in setting the tone with punctuated moments of terror. In the opening sequence, two characters burst out of an isolated country house in a panic. One flees into the woods as the other is shot outright on the front lawn, then casually set on fire and burnt to death by the two men pursuing them. Yep. You have my attention. So tell me more.

After encountering the other injured escapee later that night on the side of the road, Officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) delivers him to an eerily quiet nearby hospital, where he soon finds himself under attack. In one hospital room, he interrupts a nurse as she pulls scissor blades from a patient’s eye socket, setting in motion countless other instances of penetrative body horror. Really, what better environment to explore the messy juxtaposition of life and death than at a hospital?

Amidst the gore and chaos are unsettling long shots of dark empty hallways, and intervals of other stunning imagery: dark and dreary roving skies, distant cosmic swirls, and landscapes of thin, bare trees against the horizon are intercut with close-ups of internal organs. All of this creates a hallucinatory effect, and serves to emphasize the sense of isolation necessary for the coming horror, to enhance the ominous circumstances that unfold as an army of doomsday-type cult members surround the premises like lost trick-or-treaters cloaked in white bed sheets.

Ultimately, this film operates as a creature-feature, bearing marks of influence from canonical horror practitioners like H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter (loved the scene in which Ellen Wong’s character, Kim, is crouched in a closet, with sharp red lighting cutting through the slats in the closet door à la Halloween), and its practical effects are pretty solid – flailing tentacles, animated corpses, skin flaps and all else. It knows the horror tropes and comfortably slips in some of the most familiar ones: flickering lights threaten to blanket a room in darkness, a small team investigates a creepy basement, someone receives a mysterious phone call, and the ‘mad scientist’ figure, which serves the narrative’s themes of resurrection and transformation quite nicely. There is also the inevitable moment where a character or two decide to break away from the group to split off on their own.

Lately, my mind has been fixating on the theme of ‘community’, a trope easily extracted from many horror films (and especially notable in Canadian horror). The Void illustrates the ‘garrison mentality’ dynamic at its core, depicting the kind of strain that is born of a community built on the necessity for survival. The term itself is discussed at length by literary critic Northrop Frye (see: The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination, 1971) with regards to the Canadian imagination, and examines the situation in which a group is drawn together to survive the harsh reality of their surroundings, only to find tension growing from within, the threat of violence looming. In this case, as the surviving authority figure of the group, Officer Carter is the most logical choice for leader, trying with somewhat ineffectual effort to maintain order among those trapped in the hospital, while facing obstacles like aggressive strangers, injured people, strange creatures, rising tempers, fear, confusion, and outright horror. All of this is supported by an intimidating soundtrack with cues that sound like bad feedback at a metal concert; pulsing bass notes; mechanical, grinding howls; baby cries; and even the soft plinkety-plunks of a few stray piano keys. The music over the closing credits is an especially nice touch: country blues crackles on a radio spouting the entirely appropriate lyrics to “Bye and Bye We’re Goin’ to See the King”.

Honestly, after only one viewing, I’m won over by the ethereal conspiracy that is The Void. I think I can anticipate future cosplay action as one of the cultists. Anyone have a spare bed sheet?


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

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2017 at 12:19 pm

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!

* * * * *

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?

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