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Empowering Emerging Female Genre Filmmakers at the Fantasia Film Fest

Wednesday, July 24, 2019 | Fantasia International Film Festival

By: Laura Di Girolamo

Fostering representation in genre film means allowing diverse filmmakers the chance for their voices to be heard. But how to best help these filmmakers find their voice? The Created By Women Pitch and Development session at the Fantasia Festival Frontieres Market has been attempting to do just that for the past three years, and was not without initial hiccups in terms of presentation setup and critique structure. However, the 2019 edition has ironed out these kinks to become an invaluable asset for emerging female filmmakers learning how to tell their own stories.

The 2019 edition of the session, presented by Telefilm Canada with WIFTV and Super Channel, featured speed pitches from four Canadian female screenwriters with feature film projects in development, with a panel of industry experts providing feedback. Sessions held in 2017 and 2018 followed a similar structure, but with projects at a variety of stages, from fully fleshed-out scripts with mood boards and early financing to concepts in the first blush of development. Positioning early-stage drafts alongside seasoned projects gave the seasoned projects an unspoken advantage, even when the early-stage concepts were fresh and exciting. Feedback for these early-stage concepts often discussed presentation style instead of story as a result.

However, this year’s pitch session brought welcome structural changes. The four writers, all winners of WIFTV’S From Our Dark Side program (the fifth winner, Ashela Wessel, presented the pitch for a feature adaptation of her short film TICK at the “From Shorts to Features” session), pitched projects at the same development level. Midlife crisis sci-fi 50 (Mary Cross), wildfire cult psychohorror FIRE LOOKOUT (Caitlin Vanstone), transgender body horror FLESH (Kaye Adelaide), and supernatural drama HOTEL GHOST (Melanie Butler) all have finished first drafts. The panelist critiques consequently focused on story development rather than the nitty gritty of pitching – an important skill, but at this point in the development process, fine-tuning the script is especially key. The pitch decks themselves were also limited to two slides, an especially effective leveling point to allow the strength of the story to stand for itself.

To even the playing field by having all four  pitches operate under the same guidelines allows female filmmakers the opportunity to present their project on equal terms, and for women in the genre world to truly give each other the right kind of support at the right point in time. It’s an immensely gratifying experience to feel as though you’re at the same level as other filmmakers you admire and respect. There’s nothing as disappointing as feeling like you’re far behind your peers, and as women working within an industry that is still male-dominated, we tend to hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. We should never feel like our creative projects are lacking or “not good enough”. By structuring the Created By Women pitches in a way that empowers women to start conquering the genre world, female filmmakers can truly get  on the right track towards creating something great.