In the wake of International Women’s Day, students in the Honours Bachelor of Film and Television program were treated to an evening of insight, anecdotes and advice from four accomplished female alumni at a special Sheridan event. Organized by the Sheridan Women in Film and Television (SWIFT) club, a student-led organization, the event built off the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – #pressforprogress.
Panelists included four Media Arts (predecessor to the Bachelor of Film and Television) grads: Helen Lebeau (Media Arts ’82), Tracy German (Media Arts ’95), Chanda Chevannes (Media Arts ’01) and Chantelle Kadyschuk (Media Arts ’10). More details on the panelists are provided below.
In her opening remarks, Associate Dean Maija Saari noted that 40% of students in Sheridan’s Film and Television programs are female – a significant increase from 20 or 30 years ago. But, she said “we still need to press for progress. Movements like #metoo and #timesup are changing the way we think about gender equity; they can become powerful calls for change.”
After screening works by each of the panelists, the co-Presidents of SWIFT, Eve Krogman and Erica Giunta, led a Q&A session. Following are some of the questions and responses.
How can the Indigenous story be made appealing to non-Indigenous audiences?
Tracy German, creator of the series Wild Archeology, noted that “I am an audience member as well as being Indigenous. I want to make projects that are accessible.” Further, “I’m trying to change the lens. I want to show Indigenous people in roles that we don’t normally see them in, such as Dr. Rudy Reimer” (the PhD and archeologist who appears in Wild Archeology). For Tracy, history is a vital component of the Indigenous narrative. “We can’t forget that our land was taken. The settler story has been the dominant narrative; now, we need to include and acknowledge the first people’s story.”
What is it like to work in the documentary industry as both a woman and person of colour?
Chanda Chevannes acknowledged that the doc world tends to be one of the more inclusive areas of the film and television industry, “but as a woman of colour, I have often felt myself to be the only one like me in the room. I try to think about who I am and what kind of stories I want to tell. I work to make films that are both creative and that aim to create some kind of social change.”
How will the current landscape of gender and race equity impact future projects at Corus Entertainment?
“It’s important that we have women in roles behind the camera and in front of the camera, telling stories,” said Helen Lebeau, VP Production at Nelvana Studio. “We look closely at every show we make to ensure we’ve got diversity with voice and character. It’s all about creating really strong stories.”
Do you think programs like the Canada Media Foundation’s points system (which awards more funding to projects with women in key roles) are just a fad or will things in the industry change?
“I hope they serve their purpose and tip the scales so that women have the opportunities to get their projects funded,” said Chantelle Kadyschuk. “Hopefully they’ll be able to abolish it in the future when 90% of our projects get funding,” she added optimistically.
Chanda gave kudos to the National Film Board, which has mandated that 50% of their projects be directed by women. “They’re not just looking at directors, they want gender parity with all the key creative positions. They’ve even created a talent bank for women, where they’re collecting portfolios of women in a range of positions.”
“It’s important that we have women in roles behind the camera and in front of the camera, telling stories.” – Helen Lebeau
What about the role of diversity in education?
Chantelle graduated from Sheridan in 2010, and noted that the ratio of women to men was 30:70 at the time, so 40:60 is an improvement. “Why not implement a gender parity admissions process? We need at least 50-50 for us to have a shot in this very competitive industry.”
Tracy, who also teaches at Sheridan, praised the institution’s current level of diversity at the senior leadership and faculty levels. “This all plays a part in having the right mix of people. When I graduated [in 1995] females made up only 15% of the class, so it’s moving in the right direction.”
What was the number one skill you learned at Sheridan and still use today?
All the panelists agreed that teamwork, along with the opportunity to build a network, were critical to their future success. “The people you meet and the relationships you build here are important, because when you go out and start getting jobs, these are the people who will advocate for you,” said Chantelle. She also praised the diversity of skills she acquired. “I loved the program because I did all kinds of things here – Sheridan gave me a great foundation to find work in the industry.”
Helen Lebeau is Vice President, Production at Nelvana Studio where she oversees all animation and production operations for Corus Entertainment’s 24 specialty television networks. Helen has won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Pre-school Animated Program, and five Corus President’s Awards for her project leadership.
Tracy German is an Indigenous (Mohawk) filmmaker and TV showrunner for APTN. Tracy received a Banff Fellowship and a Public Communications Award for her series Wild Archeology (APTN), which explores Canada’s ancient archeological record through an Indigenous lens. Her award-winning films include A Private Patch of Blue and In a Present Distance.
Chanda Chevannes is an independent documentary filmmaker whose films include Unfractured, Pitty Face, SASA! And Living Downstream. Chanda received a Chalmers Arts Fellowship in 2015, and a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media in 2013.
Chantelle Kadyschuk is Director of Business Affairs at No Trace Camping, and a member of the European Film Promotion Producers Lab in Toronto. Chantelle was supervising producer on the Oscar-winning film Room, as well as Goon: Last of the Enforcers. Her award-winning shorts have been screened worldwide.
Pictured at top of page left to right: Eve Krogman, Erica Giunta, Chantelle Kadyschuk, Tracy German, Helen Lebeau, Chanda Chevannes, Maija Saari.
Written by: Susan Atkinson, Manager of Communications and Media Relations at Sheridan.