Gender Equality Within Reach for Canada's Top Film Financier

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures
Miranda de Pencier's sports drama 'The Grizzlies' is one of 95 projects financed by Telefilm in 2019 with a woman in a key role behind the camera.

Telefilm Canada is in the "parity zone," but insiders say there's still work to be done.

Canada's top film financier has claimed success in helping more women move into local movie producing, directing and screenwriting roles.

Christa Dickenson, executive director of Telefilm Canada, which annually invests about $100 million in Canadian movies, reports that her government agency is about 80 percent of the way toward 50-50 gender parity by 2020 as it gives a boost to women seeking careers behind the camera.

"Canada is a game-changer," she tells THR. "We're in the parity zone."

Telefilm in 2019 saw female producers on 61 percent of the projects it financed (up from 48 percent in 2018), with 41 percent of its projects written by women and 39 percent with female directors.

"There's no question that reflecting the Canadian people is important to us," Dickenson says of pursuing a more diversified movie slate for greater inclusivity.

Telefilm, when considering funding for projects of equal value — determined by such factors as the screenplay, talent attached and the production team — between a male and a female applicant, is favoring projects directed and/or written by women.

Recent female-fronted projects financed in part by Telefilm include Geneviève Dulude-De Celles' Une Colonie, which earned the best picture Canadian Screen Award, The Grizzlies from Miranda de Pencier, who was named best director by Canada's directors guild, and Monia Chokri's La Femme de Mon Frère, which earned the Coup de Coeur jury prize in Cannes.

The push for greater equality in the Canadian film industry isn't limited to Telefilm. Barbara Williams, executive vp English services at the CBC, Canada's public broadcaster, points to Trickster, an upcoming drama from co-creator and director Michelle Latimer about an indigenous teen's dysfunctional family, as part of her own network's drive to greater gender parity and diversity.

"We are making meaningful change, but we have a very long way to go," Williams says. Her sentiment is echoed by industry insiders who, despite gains in recent years, argue that the Canadian industry's power structure still remains largely white and male.

"The pervasiveness of the dialogue to support gender parity and diversity and indigenous voices has made a difference," says Jan Miller, founding chair of Women and Film and TV — Atlantic. "But it's not significant enough and we're not moving quickly enough."

And strides at home to support female filmmaking voices have not eased the steep challenges facing Canadian filmmakers when it comes to securing the all-important financing from international partners (Canada has co-production treaties with more than 60 countries).

"It's still that slog of needing to do the hustle and to sell a project based on the merits of the story, and I don't feel like, because it's a women's story, that's bringing me much of a leg up anywhere," Rayne Zukerman, producer of The Matchless Six, a true-life period drama about two working-class Canadian women competing at the 1928 Summer Olympics.

But one genre has proved unexpectedly viable for emerging women directors: horror.

Ira Levy, a partner and executive producer at Toronto-based Breakthrough Entertainment, an indie producer and incubator of genre titles, points to a new wave of female directors who are transforming the Canadian horror film market. They include Jen Soska and Sylvia Soska, twins who helmed the Telefilm-financed remake of David Cronenberg's Rabid, which won best feature film at L.A.'s Shockfest in 2019; Vancouver-based Gigi Saul Guerrero, who has a first-look deal with Blumhouse and will direct the horror thriller 10-31 for Orion Pictures; and Toronto's Lina Rodriguez, director of the 2016 thriller This Time Tomorrow, which screened in competition in Locarno.

"They're using it as a platform to tell female-focused stories," Levy says, "They're turning the genre on its head." 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.