Alberta’s GIFT to the Future
The screen industry needs more women. A new program promises to fill the pipeline.
Growing up in a suburb of Edmonton, Camille Beaudoin, co-founder and CEO of Alberta’s Mosaic Entertainment, fell in love with the film industry. Today, she wants girls to follow her path—minus the part where, lacking access to programs that nurtured her passion and equipped her with the experience she needed, she failed to get into film school.
That early obstacle is just one of the reasons why Beaudoin and Eric Rebalkin, Mosaic co-founder and COO, have launched Girls in Film and Television (GIFT), a hands-on program that gives high-school-aged girls an opportunity to learn all facets of the production process. This past summer, GIFT ran two pilot workshops out of Lethbridge and Edmonton; building on their early success, Beaudoin and Rebalkin are now making plans to expand the program’s offerings and locations.
“Whether you’re from a city centre like Edmonton or a smaller place like Lethbridge, most girls don’t consider filmmaking as a potential career,” explains Beaudoin, who has taken on the role of GIFT’s executive director. “With this program, we’re trying to inspire young women to realize it’s an option.”
The first girls to come through the program are doing just that. The inaugural five-day workshops, geared toward 13- to 18-year-olds, were run entirely by female professionals, and took participants through the process of writing, prepping, shooting and editing a short film.
“When our supporting partners fell into place and gave the program the go-ahead, we basically had a month’s notice to get it up and running. It was crazy: we filled up both workshops with hardly any notice in the summer and September. Girls were really excited. Some even cancelled their summer vacation plans to attend,” Beaudoin laughs. “We could tell there was demand. We’re thrilled to be meeting it.”
“One amazing thing about this program is that it is for anybody,” says Monica Gate, a 16-year-old who participated in the Edmonton workshop. “You don’t have to have previous experience or your own amazing camera. And as soon as you get to do a bit of everything—hold the camera, move it, frame the action—you suddenly have a whole new appreciation for the work and all the people behind it.”
“The program really does give you a taste of everything that goes on,” adds 17-year-old Jessica Syratt, a participant from Lethbridge who learned about GIFT through a Facebook ad. “Lighting, audio, camera angles, movement—all this technical knowledge that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. The program really instilled in us that the film industry is a feasible option, and I’m very interested in pursuing it.”
It’s Beaudoin’s hope that Monica and Jessica’s cohort will lead a charge of industry up-and-comers trained by GIFT. Female representation, both on the screen and behind the camera, has been a hot topic of late. However, although many organizations and institutions have committed to improving the situation, on-screen representation of women, particularly in lead roles, still lags far behind that of men. Beaudoin and Rebalkin came up against these and more grim realities while researching the tween- and teen-girl demographic for their romantic comedy #Roxy.
“We quickly realized that the content available for this demographic was abysmally lacking,” says Beaudoin. “There wasn’t a lot, and what there was tended to be pretty silly web content without strong characters to follow. And I noticed that my seven-year-old daughter gets so excited when she sees just one good female character in a show—whereas my sons don’t, because there are tons of great male characters.”
Beaudoin recognized that in order to change what’s happening on the screen, she needed to help change what’s happening behind the scenes. “Studies show that the more women you have in key positions behind the camera, the more—and better—female characters you have on screen. That’s our ultimate goal: to get more women behind the cameras so that we start to see better representation on screen,” she says.
Beaudoin notes the good work already being done on this front by organizations like Telefilm Canada, which aims to achieve gender parity in its feature-film portfolio by 2020, and Women in the Director’s Chair (WIDC), a mentorship program for mid-career female directors. But she spotted an opportunity for an earlier intervention—“something to start feeding the pipeline of women to the industry. We wanted to be able to give girls that leg up, to inspire them.”
For Jessica, the program certainly succeeded on that front: “Having the entire workshop run by women was definitely inspiring. The whole thing had a really empowering feel to it.”
There’s a lot more empowerment on the horizon, as GIFT gears up to offer its first feature-film lab, a school-year-length program that will, under the guidance of mentors, help participants begin to specialize in particular aspects of production, join an actual crew and earn a real credit on a feature film. The short-film program is also being expanded to western Canada, then across the country. Beaudoin emphasizes that her interest in diversity includes geographical diversity as well, and she’s proud that GIFT kicked off in Edmonton and Lethbridge—two cooler cities on the heat map for production activity.
“Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary—these are obviously important centres for our industry, but we want voices from all over,” Beaudoin explains. “We want to offer opportunities to girls in places where opportunities are scarce. Girls who have a voice and stories to tell.”
That is, girls like her. They’re definitely out there, and they’re definitely interested.