Published on October 16th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
An Exclusive Look At The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival With 5 Film Directors
The St. Johnâs International Womenâs Film Festival (SJIWFF) is one of the longest running womenâs film festivals in the world. Established in 1989 with a bold vision of supporting and promoting the creative work of women in screen-based industries from around the world, the Festival has grown from a single evening of screenings to the provinceâs flagship film festival.
Operating year-round, the SJIWFF is known for a diverse program of independent film screenings, high-caliber workshops and masterclasses, international film forums, hands-on youth filmmaking camps, career-accelerating mentorship programs and of course, advocacy work in the movement for gender diversity in our industry. Every year the festival receives over 600 film submissions and from those it presents a program of documentaries, shorts and features for five days.
The SJIWFF is hosting its 30th annual festival this year from October 16th to 20th in St. Johnâs, Newfoundland & Labrador. To commemorate such, I conducted Q&A interviews via e-mail with five of the 2019 festival’s participating filmmakers:
– Melanie Oates, Director of Body & Bones
– Nicole Dorsey, Director of Black Conflux
– Rama Rau, Director of Honey Bee
– Sonia Boileau, Director of Rustic Oracle
– Wang Lina, Director of A First Farewell
More on the the SJIWFF can be found online at www.womensfilmfestival.com.
How did you first find out about the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival? Have you spent a lot of time in Newfoundland?
Melanie Oates: I’m from Newfoundland, but I grew up in a small fishing town called Fermeuse. When I moved to St. John’s to go to university I found out about the festival. It was a real revelation for me, I gotta say. Growing up in such a small place, I thought that filmmaking was something that happened far away in Hollywoodland. I had no idea it was happening right here in Newfoundland and Canada, and that filmmakers could be people like me.
Nicole Dorsey: heard about the SJIWFF many years ago. So long ago I canât quite remember how. But I know itâs been an incredible staple in the Canadian festival circuit. I first travelled to Newfoundland in 2010, then I returned to shoot a short film in 2014 and then back again for my feature in 2018. Feels very fitting to screen Black Conflix for their 30th year anniversary. Weâre very excited to be part of it.
Rama Rau: I’ve never been to Newfoundland, this will be my first time. The programmers of the festival got in touch with me and said they’d like to screen our film. So I sent them a link and here we are!
Sonia Boileau: I first heard about the festival only a few years ago. I had just finished a short film and was looking for festivals that either had a category or a focus on female filmmakers and/or female driven stories. And I saw the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival website — an entire festival dedicated to women creators! I knew I had to submit my short there. Lucky for me it was accepted. I was already a huge fan of St. John’s, it’s such a beautiful city, it was a no-brainer for me when they asked me if I wanted to attend the festival. Iâm very lucky to be returning this year with a feature film.
Wang Lina: Iâm very honored to be told by my international producer that my film has been selected in St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. Iâve never been to Newfoundland. Itâs such a pity Iâm not able to go there due to my shooting, and I sincerely hope Iâll have the chance to visit one day.
Tell me about your new film.
Melanie Oates: My film Body & Bones is my first feature. The story is about 18-year-old Tess, who is moving through her life like a ghost. The one thing that comforts her is listening to the music of Danny Sharpe, a local legend who left home almost 20 years ago. She wakes one day to find him in her kitchen, igniting a spark of life in her that grows out of control.
With the film, I was interested in exploring that kind of all-consuming love that takes over and becomes your entire life. How it can be so exhilarating and drug-like, but how it can be dangerous and you can lose yourself in it too
Nicole Dorsey: Black Conflux follows two characters — for the most part — independently. In many ways the film is this unconventional coming of age tale that eventually leads the pair to meet. Is it destiny? Is it coincidence? Itâs up to the viewer to decide. But there are a lot of themes in the film that will inform Jackie and Dennisâ collision. Dennis is an isolated fella who, much like Jackie, is trying to find his place in the world. Heâs grown up surrounded by images and media that project masculinity in a very specific manner and a culture that expects a certain kind of power and dominance from men. And so heâs looking to hone that, but is increasingly-frustrated by his own alienation from society and inability to reach those patriarchal standards. And in many ways Jackie is the flipside. Sheâs a young woman discovering her femininity, her sexuality, in a culture that often paints women as objects. Sheâs in search of her unique voice. And so on their respective journeys in search of identity, theyâre cosmically drawn to one another.
Rama Rau: Honey Bee is about Natalie who has been trafficked from a young age. She constantly runs away from foster homes back to her pimp, but in the end discovers that home is not a place, it’s a feeling.
Sonia Boileau: Rustic Oracle is a story about a missing Mohawk teenager but told through the eyes of her younger sibling. Eight-year-old Ivy is trying to understand what happened to her big sister who has vanished from their community. It is a story about loss but also about hope, innocence, love and motherhood.
Wang Lina: A First Farewell is a poetic piece dedicated to my hometown, Shaya, Xinjiang. More than 100 years ago, anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan wrote in his book Ancient Society, that the Tarim River is the cradle of the worldâs civilization. Whoever finds the golden key that was left behind by the old man in the Taklamakan desert, will open the door to the worldâs civilization. Historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee also said: âIf I were given the chance of another life, I would choose to be born in the Tarim basin, because thatâs where the four civilizations converge.â I was fortunate enough to be born in Shaya, Xinjiang, in the Tarim Basin of the Taklamakan desert. It is the source for my film. Sailing on the Tarim river on boats made out of populous wood, hearing the chimes from the camel bells and the rustling leaves from thousand-year-old populous, these are experiences youâve never imagined having. Only when you abide by rivers, deserts, gobi deserts, populous, will you experience the depth and vitality as winds gushes you by. Our childhood derived from this land, it embodies a sense of wilderness and freedom. In A First Farewell, I hope to present in the most realistic way of what the place makes me feel and the memories I had.
During the period of research, I found the Isaâs essay addressing to his mother. He wrote: âMy mother came down from the stars above. She canât hear, so Iâm only be able to communicate with her with my eyes. My motherâs mind is clear and crystal as the trickling water. She nourishes me with love. All I live, is for her.â Isaâs essay touched me from the bottom of my heart. When I went to his house, the sun splattered on the wooden shelves. Isa was feeding a lamb, and when the lamb was reluctant, he kissed it to calm it down. This picture reminded me of my childhood. Our feet were all once covered with soil and connected with nature and animals. Increasingly, We then encountered countless farewells, became mature, and grew up eventually.
When I went back to my hometown once again, the feeling was so strong that it made me want to learn more. You started to interact with the land you lived on, as well as the experience you had. Before shooting A First Farewell, I spent a whole year documenting the people there. I lived with the children; breathed the same air; drank the same water; listened to their stories carefully. There lies enormous potential under their small bodies. What if one day the wheat they eat suddenly sprouts, the water they drink suddenly converge? The influence of single individual is very powerful. I found myself unable to move my camera away from these faces. Itâs these people and their lives impelled me to make this film. I give my thanks especially to the children and people who live on this land, for their happiness of ease. It is each individual there completes this film. A First Farewell is an epic about a child in the village. I hope to tell it from a very naĂŻve and innocent perspective, with words soft as poetry, to propose my awe towards nature, beauty and goodness. It doesnât create binary opposition between tradition and modern, nature and civilization. I believe it is very important to see humans and the world in such perspective.
St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival aside, what is coming up for you?
Melanie Oates: We have some exciting festivals coming up that we can’t announce yet, but you can follow us on Instagram @bodyandbonesfilm to see what we’re up to.
Nicole Dorsey: Iâll be coming from FNC in Montreal and then headed to Whistler in the winter for their fest. I have a few projects in development at the moment, so hopefully more to see soon.
Rama Rau: I am in development on two other feature films and a series.
Sonia Boileau: The film is just now starting its festival tour. It started in Vancouver at VIFF, and right after SJIWFF it is going to ImagineNATIVE in Toronto and then a bunch of U.S. and international festivals. Most of which cannot yet be announced, sadly. We are aiming to have a theatrical release in March 2020.
Wang Lina: There are other film festivals A First Farewell is presenting now. After St. Johnâs International Womenâs Film Festival, this film will be screened in film festivals in countries like India, Indonesia, and Arab United Emirates. Meanwhile, the film has also been selected in some national film festivals.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
Melanie Oates: For me, one of the biggest hurdles to get over, especially as a woman, was feeling incapable. Being overwhelmed by the big picture of what it takes to make a film. I’d like to encourage people to shift their perspective. You don’t need to know everything to start. You just need to know one thing: what is the story you want to tell. Then, you can figure out what you need to know as you need to know it.
Rama Rau: Tell your own stories, because if you don’t, someone else will.
Sonia Boileau: Advice to the general public: Go see more Canadian movies! Youâd be surprised at how good our own cinema is. Even more general advice, which I tend to have to repeat constantly to my kids: Put your goddamn phone down and enjoy real life, will ya? Especially if you have the privilege of visiting beautiful St. John’s, Newfoundland. (laughs)
Wang Lina: I really appreciate everyoneâs support of this film. I remember one story from my childhood: One day, a person passes by a ditch, seeing an ant falling down into water. He rescues the ant. A few days later, an eagle sees the ant holding a drop of water rushing through, he then asks the ant âhey, what happens? whatâs all the dash for?â âI need to hurry to put out the fire,â replied the ant. âWhat can you do with this little tiny drop of water?â doubted the eagle. âThis is my appreciation; otherwise I wonât feel comfortable,â said the ant. Same as A First Farewell, this is my little appreciation towards childhood. I hope this will arouse our childhood memory, the wonderful time that life was just begun.