Director puts mentorship in focus

Vancouver’s Tracy D. Smith works to help aspiring young female filmmakers

BY SARAH BERMAN, VANCOUVER SUN

Tuning into the Oscars last week, you may have asked: where are all the women directors?

Filmmaker Tracy D. Smith asked herself the same question. Zero women were nominated for directing awards this year, and Smith says their absence leads to a glut of shallow, uncompelling female characters on the silver screen.

“It’s never two women talking about their own experience, only ‘what do you think about what he said or did?’ and so on,” she says of the widespread “male gaze” in Hollywood. “It’s very common and very frustrating.”

Outside the Academy, women like Smith are breaking new ground in the film business. A director of two features and count-less shorts, Smith will be closing out Vancouver’s Women In Film Festival this year with her latest locally shot drama Everything and Everyone. The festival begins today to coincide with International Women’s Day.

“Everything I write and direct I try to make sure it’s my story, a woman’s story – that it mirrors my life,” says Smith. Written by Ian Tang and starring Gabrielle Rose, the film first premiered at VIFF in October. With Maple Ridge as its primary backdrop, Smith says the story is very Vancouver for a couple reasons.

“It’s wet and raining, for one,” she laughs. “But it also presents an accepting society that celebrates difference.”

Following the intersecting experiences of an underachieving son, a mother suffering from dementia, a gay couple’s rocky relation-ship, a disapproving father and a wide-eyed grandson, Everything and Everyone has plenty of male characters, but they’re informed by a female eye, Smith says.

“What I love about this film is that I find a lot of issues that are brought up in gay stories very much relate to women’s stories,” Smith says. “Having to conform to a certain way of living is some-thing we all struggle with.”

While the “boy’s club” behind Hollywood cameras seems as prevalent in 2012 as it was decades ago, Smith is working to inspire a new generation of young women to tell stories using film. Teaching at the high school level and the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts, Smith chooses an equal portion of women-made films to inspire her students.

“For films I show in class, at least 50 per cent have a female protagonist or are directed by a woman,” she says.

So far, Smith has found the students have embraced her selections. “What’s amazing with kids is they’re very clueless when it comes to gender politics, which is so refreshing,” Smith says. “They don’t see boys as having more power, they just know who the smart kids are, or who is holding the camera.”

But as students age, Smith says gender norms begin creeping in. “As soon as you get into the higher levels, less and less girls choose video.” However, for the young women who make it into post-secondary filmmaking, Smith says the energy and commitment is impressive.

“I go in for one week in the fall and spring, I give them a script I’ve written, and then we go out guerrilla-style and run-and-gun downtown,” Smith explains. “We usually get kicked out by security guards.”

Everything and Everyone will be screened at the Women in Film Festival finale on Sunday at the Vancity Theatre. The weekend festival also features Vancouverite Desiree Lim’s mixed-genre ghost story The House, and Amy Bohi-gian’s same-sex adoption documentary Conceiving Family.

Sunday’s screening won’t be the first time Smith has been involved in the Women in Film Festival. The former board member served on the film jury a few years ago, where she discovered how difficult the process of programming a festival can be.

“They asked me to be on the jury, and it was the most educational and fascinating experience,” she recalls. “I watched maybe 50 to 100 movies, all over a weekend and I loved it because some of my favourite shorts never made it to the festival.”

“It just made me think, all those filmmakers out there think their film might be bad, but you never know what the programmer is looking for,” she adds. “The beauty of movies is that you find your audience, and ignore whatever feedback that isn’t from that audience.”

AT A GLANCE

THE VANCOUVER WOMEN IN FILM FESTIVAL

When: March 8 to 11

Where: Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St

Tickets: $12 per screening from womeninfilm.ca or 604-683-3456

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun. Originally published March 8, 2012.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Life/Director+puts+mentorship+focus/6269309/story.html#ixzz1po5hAzax

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