Trailblazing: Women in Film & Television in New Brunswick

Written by Sophie M. Lavoie on March 30, 2015


Women in Film & Television in New Brunswick was the topic of a panel discussion at the University of New Brunswick on March 27, 2015. Photo by Sophie M. Lavoie.

Five Fredericton-area women filmmakers were invited by organizer Dr. Matt Rogers, to participate in a panel discussion on Thursday, March 27, 2015, at the University of New Brunswick. The talk was sponsored by various departments and programs from the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, as well as by the NB Film Cooperative. It was an intimate panel discussion that attracted around 30 women and two men, and was followed by a reception.

The panel included the who’s who of contemporary filmmaking in the province with the participation of Britany Sparrow, Jillian Acreman, Gia Milani, Lise Jodoin, and Christine McLean. It was moderated by fourth year Media Arts and Cultures-Film Production student, Elizabeth Sterrit. Along with introducing themselves, their work and their link to Women in Film and Television Atlantic (WIFT-AT), the filmmakers answered audience questions on gender discrimination in film crews and sexualized representations of women on screen.

The panel featured members of WIFT-AT, an organization founded in 2009 to better represent the work and the interests of women working in the film and television industry in the Atlantic Provinces. Cat LeBlanc, Membership Services Director from the NB Film Cooperative, is a current board member of the organization while Gia Milani, one of the panelists present, was on the founding board. The organization presently has 185 members in all four Atlantic Provinces.

Britany Sparrow

Originally from B.C., Sparrow moved to NB for university, starting making films in 2006 when taking (NB Film Coop Executive Director) Tony Merzetti’s film production class at UNB. The young director showed a clip from Chopsticks, her 5th film, granted the NB Joy Award (2011). This film is about a woman who reconsiders her small-town life while her friend returns from the big city. Sparrow is currently on the Board of the NB Film Coop and runs her own production company called Sparrowhock Productions.

Sparrow is a past member of the Board of Directors of WIFT-AT and editor of their newsletter. The organization allowed her to meet people working in the region who are “doing amazing things” according to Sparrow. She also spearheaded a short-lived project called “Herstory” for WITF-AT, where women would tell their stories in their own words, about what it is like to be a woman in the film and television industry.

In her own experience, Sparrow has never suffered gender discrimination: “that may sound really lucky, maybe it’s because most of my friends are guys, being the only girl on set, I don’t notice it.” In her films, she tries not to write stereotypical roles; either males or females can play certain characters. Her most recent film, Here Without You, about a gay couple’s long-distance relationship, premiered at the 2014 Silver Wave Film Festival.

Lisa Jodoin

Originally from Sept-Iles, in Northern Québec and Toronto, Jodoin was the filmmaker with the least experience on the panel. Jodoin made her first short film, Tracing Blood, in 2014 through the ImagiNATIVE bursary (of the ImagiNATIVE Film and Media Festival). Jodoin attended the first Women Making Waves WIFT-AT Conference this past February. Like Sparrow, she moved to NB undertake a PhD in Canadian (Native) Literature at UNB and holds a MA in Creative Writing from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Jodoin’s day job is as a researcher for the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network in Fredericton.

Tracing Blood gives a filmic representation to Jodoin’s experience and questioning of her indigenous identity (she is Innu) and is about trying to find community when one is away from his or her family. Including lovely images of zoomorphism (with her actress wearing woods), the short film incorporates an exquisite narration: “Who is an Indian? An Indian is an Indian (…) my blood remembers (…) my pulse is an echo of you.” According to Jodoin’s storyteller, “when we seek out history, history seeks us out too.”

Jodoin is proud of the fact that she was able to visually capture what she had imagined for her film. She is also thrilled when people confirm that they identify with the message of her short. Jodoin is already working on her next short film and told the audience it will have a male protagonist.

Gia Milani

Milani is a writer/director/producer based in Fredericton who has a company called Shore Road Pictures. Less than 10 years ago (2006), Milani ventured into her first short film project at the NB Film Coop. She was a founding board member of WIFT-AT and she is very pleased of how much the organization has grown. She’s been invited to speak at Women Making Waves Conference in the past and received the prestigious Grolsch Film Works Discovery Award for emerging filmmakers from the Toronto International Film Festival (2013). Her most recent feature length film script incorporates elements from the recent Fredericton Youth Feminists’ walkout from Fredericton High School in 2014.

Milani shared a clip from her feature film All the Wrong Reasons (2013), the story of a woman suffering from PTSD. The film features many well-known actors including Karine Vanasse, an award-winning Québécois actress, as the lead, and the recently deceased teen heartthrob Cory Monteith. Milani chose her favourite clip from the film, Vanasse’s character’s fantasy about the object of her affections, a dreamy clip filled with sexual tension.

The filmmaker considers her work as feminist; she likes to write from a female protagonist’s perspective and wants to tell women’s stories. Milani laments that there is little support for filmmaking in NB, apart from the NB Film Coop: “Every filmmaker [in this province] is a trailblazer. We’re out on our own.” There are few role models for her to reach out to in particular: “I’ve never looked to one specific person. I read a lot to find out how other people did it.”

Now that she’s had a little experience in the national filmmaking business, Milani reveals that, in comparison, she rarely had problems in the short film industry. One of the main issues currently is that women have a hard time finding agents to promote their work and have a lot of trouble finding financial support for their films. For her first film, Milani states that she had to push the funders to back her. That said, she is proud of receiving financing to keep going, even for other people’s projects, because she still has the fear that someone is going to say no. She has now produced a total of nine films.

Jillian Acreman

Originally from Ontario, Acreman joined the NB Film Coop eight years ago and started volunteering on friends’ films. She then realized she wanted to make her own. To date, she has made four short films and produced two films for friends.

Acreman brought a reel of her films to share with the audience: The Editor, The Man Who Sold the World, and The Art of Decay, a short silent film about aging, featuring NB Moncton’s Atlantic Ballet Theatre which won her the CBC/Telefilm 3-2-1 Award (2011). She stated that she enjoys using mediums creatively, old VHS tapes, for example.

A member for the past four years, Acreman has spoken at WITF-AT panels at the Silver Wave Film Festival in the past. The director finds inspiration from movies, especially through listening to the commentaries and behind the scenes extras from her favourite filmmakers on DVD. Acreman also recognizes Milani as one of her most important mentors: “Gia has been a champion for my work. She’s a pusher; she’s optioned a lot of my work. She’s done a lot to raise me up.”

During her few years in the industry and work with Milani, Acreman has seen women receiving less money than men in the funding department. Acreman states that she is a feminist and everything she does is, by extension, feminist so her films aren’t sexist. However, it’s not an deliberate priority for her to have a woman protagonist in every film.

Christine McLean

Well-known CBC public figure, Christine McLean closed out the panel. Although her background is in radio and television journalism, she enjoys making documentaries and has recently ventured into writing for feature films. McLean considers that “film has such an impact of how we think of ourselves and there are many stories left to be shared.”

McLean shared a reel of her documentary work, which featured excerpts from a documentary on Sri Lanka done for the Discovery Channel and a television documentary called Frontiers of Construction (2004), among others. She also directed CBC’s Land and Sea documentary series. McLean’s work started at a time when there was a vibrant television community in Moncton; many shows were made and produced there. She believes she may be the only documentary director left in NB after CBC/Radio Canada’s drastic cuts in funding.

McLean has served on the Board and on various WIFT-AT committees. She is proud of the organization and promotes it whenever she can. Through the Women Making Waves conference, she has gotten to interview some of the most successful women working in the industry from all over the world. She senses that women appreciate knowing that the larger organizational “family” is there: “There are so few women in the industry, especially in NB (…) since it is one of the few industries where women continue to lag behind men, this organization is more important than ever.”

McLean coincides with Milani about role models: “There weren’t a lot of women out there for me to look to. I became used to being the only women working on a project.” In the last year, there’s been a change for McLean because she was the only NB woman selected for an [Interactive] Incubator Project put on by the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival (2014). This was her first experience having “people in her corner.”

McLean is also currently taking advantage of an Arts & Culture Accelerator Program by Artslink NB where women are taught business skills. Through this program, she has her first ever mentor. Seeing the advantage to this, she is committed to becoming a mentor in the next five years in order to pass on what she’s learned: “We all have a responsibility to do that.”

When she started in documentary in 2000 and once she had proved herself, there were no doors closed to her. Problems occurred once in the field where she was made to feel unwelcome by certain people and harassed. In extreme environments and in certain countries, for example, men never really accepted her authority as director.

Although her immediate male colleagues have always treated her fairly, she says television journalism is a complex business: “Some bias is conscious and some is not. I wouldn’t necessarily know if I was being paid less.” She feels relegated to writing and research, what she calls a “pink-collar” job, not very highly paid, while her male colleagues get to go out on the more “adventurous shoots”. The more intellectual work is left to the women, but it is considered “secretarial” work in opposition to the actual filmmaking. People who work for the CBC are required to be equally respectful in theory. She takes advantage of professional opportunities to remind her teams to be culturally sensitive. In some cases, she has pointed out the need for more women in a documentary. McLean tries to give preference to women in her projects because “they are starving here in NB” and they need the opportunity to stay in the province.

Possible Links

Sparrowhock Productions (Britany Sparrow)

Information on Tracing Blood by Lisa Jodoin:

Shore Road Pictures (Gia Milani):

Jillian Acreman’s Reel on Vimeo:

Christine McLean’s Incubator Project Website:

NB Film Cooperative Website:

WIFT-AT Website:

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