Arts & Entertainment
5 min

Inside Out film fest: The Women

Their indie spirit burns bright

Credit: Paula Wilson photo

They’re smart, charming, thoughtful… and they all kick some filmic ass! Meet a few of the unique local gals who make up the vibrant and evergrowing queer women’s film- and videomaking scene. They’re busy tearing up the film circuit starting with Inside Out this month.

Gail Maurice is striking, physically and intellectually. The actor/director has just finished climbing the heights of the Sundance fest and is pleased as punch to present her latest short, Smudge, at Inside Out (5:15pm, Wed, May 24, ROM). A lyrical and passionate film, Smudge is about Native spirituality and the prayer practice of smudging.

“I realized that not a lot of people were aware that Native people practice their traditional spirituality in the city because we are not visible,” says Maurice. “We don’t have cathedrals, mosques, synagogues or a sanctioned ‘holy’ place because the world is our sacred space and we pray/smudge wherever we happen to be standing in a moment or time of need.”

The video marks an evolution from her previous videos (Memory In Bones, Little Indians) as well as her acting work (Johnny Greyeyes). “I wasn’t exposed to television or films growing up in northern Saskatchewan. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s living in Vancouver when I realized that I could be in film.”

But she’s still a local gal faced with the same conundrums of other local filmmakers, like a lack of funds “to get all the brilliant blockbuster ideas that are swimming in my head onto film and video.

“I think Toronto is a great place to make films because there are so many resources available to filmmakers both established and emerging. I belong to video and film collectives which makes making films more affordable.”

Maurice’s unique perspective transcends her northern-born, M├ętis roots and her worldview remains down-to-earth. “We all have our own unique experiences. In saying that, there is no other person who’s had my experiences and those are the experiences I bring to my films.”

Bigger and brighter things are on the horizon. With a doc in production about the dreams of grade 12 aboriginal youth (Scream Your Dreams), Maurice is also trying to get another feature she wrote off the ground called Blood Lines. “It deals with mother-daughter relationships, incest (lesbians, of course), abandonment and all with a smile on your face — how’s that for a movie?”

Growing up in the suburbs, Nicole Chung didn’t feel like hanging out at the Scarborough Town Centre. “I was always into writing, drawing,” she says. What else is there to do in the suburbs apart from watching Top Gun — 12 times. “The sappy music, in addition to the blatant homoeroticism, had an enormous effect on me,” she says with a laugh.

Cut to the present where Chung is an adroit and accomplished filmmaker. One of the city’s funkiest artists, she weaves together rich visuals with strong storytelling. It’s nice to see someone make indie filmmaking look so cool.

“I try to make films in which people aren’t apologizing for themselves or trying to justify who or what they are,” she says. “I try to make films that people see as being honest.”

Chung says the inspiration for her latest film, Sweater People (9:45pm, Thu, May 25, Bader), comes from “being broke and interactions with broken people.”

Chung has a striking, tight visual style — lush camerawork alongside layered and methodical editing can be seen in her early works (Space Jazz Eros, Telefunk 8, Bridge Passage). She describes her aesthetic as “deceptively on the fly.” But it’s a lot of work. “Usually the end result is a lot different from what I originally had in my head. I’ve come to terms with the fact that things don’t always work out as planned.”

Her take on the Toronto film scene? “The downside of being in a city full of other video/film-makers is that everyone wants to give you advice, to the point where you feel overloaded. The upside is that there a lot of resources — equipment houses, funding, local film festivals and friends to help you make your film.” It’s still a challenge , however, “getting decent dyke/queer actors who aren’t busy making their own films.”

What’s in store for the future? “I’m shooting a film this spring, Wilson Leaves Home, featuring Richard Lee, the general manager of Fu-Gen Theatre.”

What to do when school is done? How ’bout hop in a car and take a road trip to interview dykes all over the country for a documentary? Such are the exploits of Tori Foster and her wicked first flick 533 Statements.

“I think the best thing about making films [in Canada] is that we’re a fascinating bunch of people, screaming to be documented. Who wouldn’t want to know more about us?” asks Foster. The resulting video is as fascinating and adorable as Foster herself, offering charming snippets of Canuck dykedom.

From PEI femmes and Saskatchewan butches to Ontario tranny bois, participants signed up via word of mouth or through the Internet grapevine. Foster’s questions range from the highly political (gaybashings) to quotidian (brassieres). She includes herself in the mix and gives equal import to her emotional breakdowns as well as to her driving shenanigans.

Foster notes the project had its range of hiccups: “A lost production binder in Ottawa, an overheated radiator in Calgary and a lost wallet somewhere between Winnipeg and Regina — not to mention locking myself out of my car in nine of 10 provinces. By the end I had a spare key tied to my shoe.”

She sees the Inside Out screening (2:30pm, Sat, May 27, ROM) as a big honour. “One of my motivations in making the documentary was to increase visibility of queer women in the media. [The film] gets to the heart of who each woman is and, I hope, speaks a little to who we are as a community. Inside Out is the perfect vehicle for this.”

What kind of reactions does she hope for? “I’d love for people to think or say ‘me too.’ Equally as much, to completely disagree with some of the things that are being said.”

A recent Ryerson grad, her previous artistic projects have been mainly in installation and print. “I’ve never made a video before,” she says. So what are the rest of you waiting for? Grab a camera and get in the car.

Alex Flores is cheerful, brassy and unfazed. “I love when people criticize my films,” she says. “Especially the ones that really scratch your skin because this is the only way I can learn to make better ones.”

Born and raised in Mexico City, Flores’ father was an actor and director. “I got to spend time with someone who was very creative and spontaneous. I was always interested in acting and I even used to write short tales when I was a little girl.”

One year ago, Flores was shocked to hear her name called out for best up-and-comer at Inside Out for her documentary Mexican Refugee. Does she consider herself a political filmmaker? “Sometimes I believe that having brown skin is being political, that speaking Spanish is political. I want to make films that make people laugh and cry and bring people together regardless of their race, skin colour or sexual orientation — is that being political?”

Awards aside, Flores’ main obstacle is getting funding. To date, she hasn’t received any funding by any Canadian granting agency. “Latinos and Latinas have less chances to get any money from the arts councils. I have had to fund my films myself by doing lots of fundraisers…. I have so many ideas for good movies but still the arts councils haven’t understood my kind of work.”

Her work is going into new directions, namely foregrounding her interest in Latin drama novellas and throwing herself in as an actor, too. “I didn’t have luck finding someone, so I ended up doing the main character myself. I never imagined I’d have so much fun,” she chuckles.

Carmela’s Package is her latest video (9:45pm, Thu, May 25, Bader) and while it moves away from her earnest documentaries, it still has her stamp as a Spanish-language videomaker. “I think I will always make films in Spanish with English subtitles. For me, it is very important to show my art through my own language. Also, having movies with subtitles helps your eyes to exercise once in a while, don’t you think?”