Ottawa-based film production company Treepot Media aims to support local talent and to foster a community of filmmakers and filmgoers here in the capital. This weekend they’ll be hosting Reel Deal: a program featuring six films by women, and curated by Jennifer Mulligan. Apartment613 caught up with her and got some insight into her perspective on women’s film and her curatorial approach.
Apartment613: Tell us a bit about your background in film: is it something you studied formally or is it more of a passion you feed on-the-side?
Jennifer Mulligan: I have always loved movies and television and I fell in and out of love with writing over the years only because I write quickly and I lack the patience for long winded prose. I discovered screenwriting through the Ottawa International Writers Festival, and kept at it for a few years, taking classes and studying the craft until my eyes bled words. I took a TV writing workshop in 2010 with Sharon Buckingham … after that weekend, I knew that I had to make a go of this.
I began working for Alex Epstein (writer, Bon Cop/Bad Cop) from my home as his remote research assistant, and I started The Writers Room Ottawa, a group for screenwriters. Later in 2011, I had my first short script picked up by a local director, Kristian Lariviere, through the Digi60 Filmmakers Festival’s collaboration with The Writers Room. I completed my Digi60 entry last fall called Sam The Great White Land Shark, loosely based on my adventures in Iceland in 2013.
I’ve been working on projects with various people around the city. All in all, it’s been a fun few years with the hopes of more good news in the future on a few other projects that have irons in the fire.
I think it’s safe to say a lot of people think of “curators” as working in a gallery or museum setting: it’s not necessarily a word we always hear associated with film. What’s your approach to curating a screening like Reel Deal?
My only goal was to showcase strong work from a variety of women working in the field of filmmaking. There are so many articles written these days about women in the movie business. Notably, how it’s a boys’ club, glass ceiling phenomenon, and lack of women at the top of the food chain. Since I’m aware of the numbers, I wanted to make my first step into the pool mean something. Any of these stories could have been told strictly by men, but they weren’t. I think women have a unique perspective of the world, the same way men do. These stories reflect that. They aren’t easy stories and they aren’t always pretty stories, but they are real stories. Each one says something about women in the world and how that shapes us as human beings.
Is there a theme that you were aiming for or which emerged as you sought out these films?
A woman’s voice. A unique perspective. An interesting and compelling story. Most of all, stepping up as a woman and making a film that is worth watching. The specific issues being addressed in the scripted shorts are emotional and turbulent. I see them as anxiety, loss, innocence, regret, and forgiveness. In the doc shorts, it’s a bit different. Cultural differences, compassion, aging, and humans values.
Setting out to present women’s films do you find it challenging to walk the line between presenting what is expected as “feminist” and doing something new that embraces a “feminism” reflective of your own curatorial vision?
I just like great films. I will promote women whenever I can because I’m a woman in this business and I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit all the time. I didn’t set out to present “feminist” films, but if someone wants to take them as such, they are more than welcome to. I see these films as presenting a perspective from a woman’s seat at the table. Any movie takes a team to make, but you can’t film a blank page, and for the most part the initial idea was in the hands of a woman to get this going.
What would you say is different about women’s cinema in 2014 that sets it apart from earlier periods of feminist film?
I haven’t studied feminist cinema enough to feel confident answering this question. What I have seen through film media is that the issue of women in film has come to the forefront recently, statistics wise, and the numbers weren’t very good. There has been a solid campaign to get more woman as the creative lead in film for a few years now, through various initiatives. I think there is a cultural shift happening and more women see making films as a way of expressing their unique perspectives and ideas in the world. That’s exciting, and it can only get better the more we shine a light on the areas that are lacking a female presence.
You’ll be presenting films that aren’t really on most peoples’ radar. How do you hear about these works to begin with?
I went to LA (Beverly Hills Lady Filmmaker Festival), the Austin Film Festival, and Emily Ramsay’s film was at Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival in Ottawa. I selected my favourites. It was some travel for each of the festivals, and I would definitely do them again: probably more if the time and money allowed. I was more than pleased that every woman I asked agreed to screen their film in Ottawa. Six for six. Not a bad percentage!
I had always wanted to go to LA (since the age of about 14 to join the rock scene of the late 80s), and when my mom died last summer, you get the sense that life is short and what the hell… I got on the Internet, plugged in some key words and I found the Lady Filmmakers Festival. I did some research on whether it was legit (because some of them aren’t) and it had Sharon Stone coming to the event… So, I thought at least it sounded real!
Austin was a larger event, and they host a screenwriting conference along with their film festival. Another screenwriter from Ottawa had gone a number of years and placed in their competition. It was an amazing event and a little screenwriting secret because everyone is very approachable, and nice and friendly. I met some great pros and some up-and-comers. There were also some great panels (Shane Black, Robert Rodriguez, Vince Gilligan, Jenji Kohan, Callie Khouri, John August, to name a few). I’m hoping to make a return visit, and have a script in their competition.
I assume that you’re driven, at least in part, to curate shows like this because you feel it is important for them to gain a wider audience. What do you believe it is about these works that made you think “this needs to be seen in Ottawa”?
Not so much need… I wanted to bring the best of the best of what I saw at these two festivals to my friends, colleagues and strangers in Ottawa. I was fortunate to be able to go to these festivals, and I wanted to share my experience with them. I had in the back of my mind to bring a little taste of LA and Austin home with me, which is exactly what I did. And, since I didn’t get to see These Four Walls at the Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival in the fall, I felt I missed out seeing it on the big screen. I wanted to ground this event in the fact that we are on par with other cities and talent, and producing equally good work here as elsewhere in North America and beyond.
You’ve gathered works that made an impression on you: can you summarize in a phrase what struck you about each film?
Pearl Was Here by Kate Marks
Pearl’s a brat, and girls and women aren’t always “containable”, but that’s what makes us the creatures we are.
These Four Walls by Emily Ramsay
Emily Ramsay is an up-and-coming director who has a distinct eye for emotional details that reside below the surface. Her directing was fresh and uncompromising.
Hotline by Deva Blaisdell-Anderson
It was a hard piece to watch, but so well acted by Camryn Manheim, a consummate professional if ever there was one. She also received an award at the Lady Filmmakers Festival and it was a pleasure to see her at the event.
Unburden by Tamara Rabil
I liked the allegory of the story and the struggle of the main character to forgive herself through her daughter’s acceptance.
Unravel by Meghna Gupta
I thought it said something about the state of consumerism and our obsession with fashion in North America.
Past Their Prime by Becca Friedman
It’s about something we all have to face – aging – through the eyes and lives of animals and their keepers. I thought it was really touching and sweet, and it rounded out the scripted films in a nice way
Reel Deal lights up the screen at 6:00pm Saturday February 8th at the University of Ottawa’s Alumni Auditorium and will be followed by Pumped Up Flix at 8:00pm. Proceeds from the event go towards the production of a new indie-short “A Clean Slate”. Tickets are available (cash only) at the door or through their Kickstarter site. A $10 pledge gets you tickets to one show; $15 gets you into both. Organizers will have a list at the event with names of those who have already pledged at the various levels.