A Powerful Audience

By Paige K Boudreau

Issue 010, Volume Three | Fall 2017

Glamorous Gladys, directed by Michal Lavi and Berkley Brady (2017). Still.

Photo Courtesy of the artist.

I am lucky to call Sandi Somers and Michal Lavi my friends. On my journey as a director, I have had the pleasure of collaborating with them in various capacities, and over the past year, had the pleasure of working with both of them on their latest projects. Sandi invited me on the set of Ice Blue (2017) to shadow her as director's assistant, and I worked on Michal Lavi and Berkley Brady's short film Glamorous Gladys (2017) in the edit suite. Both films had their premiere at CIFF this past September, and are now making their way on the festival circuit. Sandi, Michal, and I were able to meet at Caffe Beano to discuss their newest premieres, filmmaking in Calgary, and the topic at the forefront of global filmmaking: gender parity.

This interview has been edited for length.

Paige Boudreau: I always feel so conflicted when people ask me "the feminism question" because it always feels so clunky—you know—‘How do you feel about us having female film festival?’ or ‘female film? What do you think about that?’ And sometimes I'm just like, ‘I dunno, what do you mean? How do I feel about having a vagina? What does it have to do with my filmmaking abilities?’

And my question that I wrote for this conversation is: where do you think we are on the spectrum of parity? Even from when I was in Herland, I feel like there has been some progress, but it's almost getting mutated in some ways.

Sandi Somers: It's reminding me of a story. I was watching Will & Grace (19982006; 2017), you know Will & Grace? Will was hooking up with a young guy, and basically the young guy is like "gay and equal." So it was kind of annoying Will because Will is like, "Do you think that the world has always been just open like this? You don't even know about our history!" and the guy says, "Yeah, I know about Stonehenge," and Will is like, "You don't know that we have paved the path for you, you don't even know that," and the guy is like, "What?… You've got two choices: we can go make out or you can give me a lecture." And Will's like, "You're right, there is only one answer here," and he goes into a lecture. And I just thought that was so funny right?

PB: [laughing] Oh no! I'm the young guy!

SS: I was on a panel with a group of gay filmmakers, and I remember talking about one of my first gay pieces that—our lives were threatened, we had bomb scares, we had to have undercover police there to protect us, right? That's where my career started, when I just wanted to represent myself in film. And one of the young men [on the panel] just looks down and goes, "What-chu talking about?" And I'm like, “There was no freedom for me to get money as a lesbian making films. That didn't exist. I had to deal with community standards.” 

Director Sandi Somers on the set of Ice Blue.

Photo Chantelle Kolesnik.

SS: But then at the same time, you know, I was [also] on the panel for women. There was a live audience, really great conversations at CIFF this year, because some people have said they’re getting tired of hearing women talk about how hard it is. Let's keep it positive. So, we can keep it positive, but [questions from] the audience also direct how we decide to talk. A lot of people are sensing a feeling that now that Wonder Woman (2017) is out, the whole world has changed. And, you know, all of us—well I'm going to speak on behalf of me, but I see this in both of you—I mean we're feminists, we're also hard workers—we just put the work in. And we just do what needs to get done. Regardless of the environment around us, and regardless of a lot of things that may stop certain people from making films, we just do the work. And we believe in it enough to get it done. Did you see the film Hidden Figures (2016)? Right, [those women] just did the work. And there are times when you pick your battles. Definitely when I'm on a jury, and I'm reading a fricken misogynist piece—you try to be constructive if people call in and want more feedback, and sometimes you want to write, ‘Grow up and stop being a misogynist, and maybe you'd get through.’ But you can't say things like that—you know, there's a learning procedure. The tables have not tipped yet, we don't have equality, but I do feel that if we're going to open our mouth on politics, just do the work as well. That's why Herland exists; it's for women to have an opportunity to do their work, to get past whatever they need to get past, or to learn since we don't get onto a TV set as easily as a man can.

So, what do we do with that? Myself, I found certain circuitous ways to get where I am. It wasn't by becoming a part of something, it was by doing things on my own and making it work so that I can get somewhere. There are other people - you know someone said they met a man at Sundance who had directed an oatmeal commercial, and it was just an oatmeal commercial, and the next thing you know he's making his first feature. She asked me, what do you think of that and I said, ‘Oh, well I'm 70 films in and I just got to make mine, I guess it's kind of the same...?’

PB: You just needed to make one oatmeal commercial this whole time!

SS: Just that one oatmeal commercial! But also, you know, other people of the CIFF panel talked about how much work they had to do to get where they are, which is, you know, is that being negative? Is that being factual? Is that just being where we are right now in today's world? Things are changing. 

Director Sandi Somers on the set of Ice Blue.

Photo Chantelle Kolesnik.

SS: When I was on a panel for Herland, a man approached me and said, ‘It would be great if you did this for men,’ and I said, ‘You can go to any other—all my workshops are co-ed. I want this focused one.’ And then you know another person said that it was really wonderful giving opportunity to women to talk about women's issues like motherhood and menopause. And, so, we talk about perceptions that this is what women do. I have no problem with women doing this at all, but saying that that's the only thing that women do... You know, I'll just name Kathryn Bigelow's films, right? That's all a woman.

MichaL lavi: But when Judd Apatow does his whatever, man-child, wanking, you know, fecal joke movies—which are essentially what people would equate to menstruation—nobody comes and says anything. It's just like hailed as creating some new genre of films.

PB: It's not considered ‘a man's film.’

ML: Yeah. Even though it's exactly the same shit that we've been blamed with before. But I agree with you, but I'm getting tired a little bit with the Kathryn Bigelow. Yes, women can make war films and all that stuff, but also when men do something that is super similar to a chick flick, they are hailed as creating a whole new genre of comedy.

SS: I know. I know. I usually bring up Kathryn Bigelow to make a point. But just because someone might know that director doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet right?

Ice Blue, directed by Sandi Somers (2017). Still.

Photo Courtesy of the artist.

PB: Well, it was interesting, when I attended a festival recently I didn't even realize I was in a Women's Shorts package. I was racing right from another screening, hopped into the theatre, and I didn't realize until I was in the Q&A. Because—I love an eclectic collection of short films, but I could not figure out what the common thread was—you know, usually they package them together in a certain way and suddenly I was like, ‘Whoa, it's wonderful that you're championing women, but that's not the theme of these stories. It’s almost like you're putting us off in this corner to play with ourselves.’

SS: So another thing talking about women's things, so there is an anthology of 4 women that did horror films, XX (2017), that just came out. Someone just said to me that they sucked. The words that came to me were like, ‘Why did they call it a women's horror anthology?’ Because now it's just proven that women directors suck. And I thought, ‘OH MY GOD, there's so much to talk about here. Ahhhhh! Like, wow.’ But, the focus point being, why couldn't they just say, ‘An anthology of short horror films’? Right? You know, we have female directors, we have female doctors, oh—‘I had a female plumber’, oh, ‘my male doctor,’ ‘My male plumber showed up today,’ ‘My male electrician showed up today.’ So, it's still happening, not only in film but in a lot of professions that we still use to dictate—you know, I did it today, I said "gay filmmakers,” although that was at a gay film festival...

We should help other women, we should support other women, we should hire other women, because there is strength in numbers. 

PB: What if there was a men's horror shorts package—that doesn't prove that men can't do horror films. I guarantee you that shorts package exists! Women are allowed to fail too. And that's the thing that I think is so frustrating—just because there were 3 horror films that weren't great doesn't prove that an entire gender can't do that.

ML: I think my perspective of this has changed a little bit. So, first of all, to answer your question, I've never really been in a situation where I was . . . biased against. I've instigated my own films. I write the grant, AFA is absolutely not gender-biased, I write my own films, I produce them, I was self-sufficient, so I was never in a situation where I was on set and because I am a woman I was discriminated against. It certainly happens in the workforce, I used to work downtown and I can certainly see that this bias exists but my career has never been to such a degree that I actually faced this. I do think that there is a big change now, more awareness happening, and there should be a little bit more parity, and there are other topics that are interesting to women. I do think that there is a big change now, more awareness happening, and there should be a little bit more parity, and there are other topics that are interesting to women. Women are a powerful audience that can essentially make money and have films, and until we start with dumb comedies, you know that are really outrageous or like bachelor films or bachelorette or whatever, then we can go to other things that are a little bit more profound. So, especially to make films in Alberta it's hard. And I think that I'm really blessed that it's really good progress that people are starting to pay attention to parity and I know exactly what you mean.

What I do think that at least changed for me—you know when you submit a film, especially when you're talking about Sundance and TIFF and this and that and then when you start getting the first rejections you just lower your expectations and you're suddenly like—oh, this one in MooseCock, Saskatchewan, is like a great festival, they have like an attendance of like 6 people—I should like submit to that. And then as your expectations decrease with the amount of rejection it's like, proportionate to your rejections, then you're like: okay, there's the genre festivals, I'm a woman I should submit to these. And I think that some of this work has to be within women. Rather than, I'm going to submit to women festivals because they're great. Because they're fantastic, because they have a good audience and because good films come out of there and I think this is the certainly the progression of what happened with gay and queer film festivals that now I mean it used to be a niche thing but now they have bigger festivals, and definitely places to look for good films. 

Glamorous Gladys, directed by Michal Lavi and Berkley Brady (2017). Still.

Photo Courtesy of the artist.

ML: So first of all I think us as women should support these types of festivals, like genre festivals, and fuck what everyone else thinks. If they think it's a chick flick, fuck them, don't come and see it. And the other thing also as women filmmakers we should help other women. We should help other women, we should support other women, we should hire other women, because there is strength in numbers. When I did WIDC in Banff there was a talk—completely accidentally—Spike Lee came and he was part of their World Leader Series, and he said something that really resonated with me. He was by that time really successful and a very sought-after, acknowledged film director, and he wanted to do Malcolm X (1992). But nobody wanted to touch it with a 10 ft pole right because it's explosive and it's political and it's just ‘too much.’ So he just went to his friends and raised money from them. Granted, his friends are rich so he had to go to like 5 friends to raise the money for the film, but he talked about how sometimes when you feel you're a minority, there's power in that. Go to your group and raise the money. These are the people that probably would want to see the film first, and then maybe other people will want to see the film after. It really resonated with me; instead of looking at it like as a point of weakness, maybe it should be a point of power. Like if there's someone who's a misogynist and he thinks that every film women do is about menstruation and breast cancer, he shouldn't come to my film. I probably wouldn't come see the films that he likes to see, most likely we do not watch the same films. There are 8 billion people in the world, almost half of them are women. If they want to see my film I'm going to be super happy.  

Michal Lavi is an independent filmmaker who lives and works in Calgary, Alberta. Her work has screened in international film festivals including Academy qualifiers, Flickers Rhode Island and Sofia International Film Festival, Raindance, Whistler Film Festival and Soho International, among others. Her current short, Glamorous Gladys, co-directed with Berkely Brady, premiered in Calgary International Film Festival. Crowd Pleaser (2015). Glue (2013), I Liked You Better Before (2011), Arithmetic - Annie’s Life in Numbers (2010) and Tying the Not (2008) screened in over fifty festivals and were nominated to ten Rosie’s, Alberta Film and Television Awards, of which Glue won Best Cinematography in the Short Film Category. Michal is currently working on a feature length script and is developing a TV series.

Independent award-winning filmmaker Sandi Somers has worked in Canada and Europe for the past 25 years as a filmmaker, theatre artist, and educator. Sandi’s work often revolves around challenges within human nature, discovery of truth, while addressing themes of connection. Her work has been featured across North America and in festivals worldwide, and with over 70 films behind her and 40 nominations for her films, she continues to create thought-provoking works in various genres. Sandi is the recent recipient of Alberta’s prestigious Legacy Award from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and is also the creator of the revitalized initiative HERLAND, a workshop and mentorship program for women in film. Her first feature film, Ice Blue, premiered at the 2017 Calgary International Film Festival. 


Sign up to be notified when our next issue is released, or follow us on Twitter.