Donna Wheeler (right) and Muriel Naim discuss the writing and production processes of their films, “The Girl Next Door” and “Jacek/Bastard” during a panel at the Cascadia International Film Festival on Thursday, Apr. 11. // Photo by Hailey Hoffman
Western hosted several on campus events for the 3rd annual CASCADIA International Women’s Film Festival on April 11 and 12, including a filmmakers panel and free screening.
The festivals film selection included 37 films from 15 different countries and ran April 11 to 14 at the Pickford Film Center in downtown Bellingham. According to their website, the festival’s intention was to showcase films directed by women and to celebrate their works on a local and international level.
The events kicked off on Thursday with a discussion panel involving several directors. Panelists talked about their process in writing short films, where their inspiration comes from and the importance of women in the film industry.
“It’s very challenging to make any kind of film,” short film director Imelda O’Reilly said. “It takes time, money and imagination and sometimes you have one or two of those things but you don’t have all three. You really learn from working out in the field.”
Other panelists agreed aspiring filmmakers should simply start making films and see where it leads, including Donna Wheeler, another short film director and a member of the Alliance of Women Directors in Los Angeles.
“Be really open to the universe and what its wanting to tell you about what your message is going to be. You need to let your film breathe and have its agency. Let your passion, your vision dictate the length of it and you’ll be golden,” Wheeler said.
The panelists also discussed where they get inspiration for their films.
“I get a lot of ideas from dreams, where I dream a part of a movie and it’s so present that I have to write it down as soon as I wake up,” Wheeler said.
Other filmmakers agree with using dreams to build ideas.
“I am very much a believer in dreams and subconscious thought,” Muriel Naim, a short film director, said. “The brain works better when you sleep because you’re not censoring yourself.”
For Naim’s selection in this year’s CASCADIA festival, she found inspiration in her grandfather’s childhood story, but told from the perspective of his best friend.
“I grew up in Israel, and the memory of the Holocaust has been really infused into our brains since we were in school,” Naim said. “I myself am extremely obsessed with the subject matter because it exposes such deep moral issues and really tests humanity. I thought it’s intriguing because it really surrounds the core of where “meanness” comes from.”
Jules Koostachin, an indigenous filmmaker in Canada, finds confidence in the stories she tells as a member of her community.
“We have a lot of non-native people coming into our communities, taking our stories, and telling them the wrong way and then leaving our communities kind of asking ‘what are they doing with it?’” Koostachin said. “I followed protocol in terms of talking to elders and knowledge keepers in my community and made sure that the story was mine to tell.”
Other directors agree filmmakers should take care to uphold the integrity of the story being told with respect to the culture it belongs to.
In a Skype Q&A session following the on-campus screening of her 2018 documentary “China Love,” an event co-sponsored by Western’s sociology department, Olivia Martin-McGuire offered advice to aspiring filmmakers who want to tell stories about other cultures.
“You need to know what the reason is that you’re telling that story,” Martin-McGuire said. “You need to get really clear about what the reason is and how it relates to you. I would try to find your own story within it, get as close to your own story as you can and see where it takes you.”
Overall, many agree the visibility of women in film is increasing.
“There is a huge shift happening in the industry where women’s stories are being heard or pushing boundaries,” Koostachin said. “We’re at a really interesting place of transition of women who have been working their butts off for so long trying to get to a certain place in the industry, and now those gatekeepers are moving out of the way. Or rather are being pushed out of the way.”
Others argued the number of women in film should continue to grow.
“There should be more and more women making films,” Martin-McGuire said. “There is a white male voice that is basically formative for all our views, in the books we read, in Newsweek, everything. It’s hugely important that there are more female filmmakers, more women in film, just different diverse voices in general.”
Several Western students who attended the screening agree with the importance of diversity in film. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, “Women accounted for 8% of directors working on the top 250 films in 2018.”
“So much of the media we consume is through a white male perspective,” Zane Weber, a third-year sociology student said. “Any possible way for people of color or women or anybody who is subordinated in the film industry to get their voice out and become more expressive and reach more people I think is a fantastic opportunity.”
According to Baozhen Luo, a CASCADIA board member and a sociology faculty member at Western, the way women tell stories through film differs from men, and there should be more feminine perspective in the industry.
“It’s so important, so essential,” Luo said. “Storytelling is so powerful, and nowadays it’s films that connect people’s hearts. That sensitivity and sensibility is very different, and it’s very missing.”
According to Western’s dean of fine and performing arts, Kit Spicer, Western hopes to offer more on campus events for next year’s festival.