Ask Women Anything: Women disrupting the film landscape

By Jessica Kassis

Thank you to all for another great night! You can check out the recap here:

On Thursday May 31st, in the season’s series final of Ask Women Anything, Media Action had a cozy sit-down with four of Ottawa’s remarkable Women Disrupting the Film Landscape by simply existing.

The intimate gathering at Bar Robo featured four influential young women who are, in their own way, tearing down the walls of Ottawa’s film industry. Over the course of the evening, the crowd was offered a sneak peek into the stories behind the artists. Veronica ‘Helvetica Bold’, Amen Jafri, Meeka Stuart and Emily Ramsay captivated the room with raw honesty, tales of eclectic lifestyles, and most of all with the part they play in ‘’Disrupting the Film Landscape’’.

Helvetica Bold, local dancer and burlesque performer, is an artist with many passions. With quite the background in the local entertainment scene and features in various documentaries and films, she shared an interesting perspective on life in front of the camera. What is her special brand of disruption? She refuses to submit to female stereotypes and has no interest in playing the typecast role of a female lead. Helvetica Bold represents plus-size women by tearing down the quintessential image of ‘sexy’ in her movement against the stigma of the sexualisation of ‘bigger women’. Her form of art is meant to be strictly performative and not interactive. When asked what challenges she faces as a performer, she gave the crowd an honest outlook on the trials of expressing herself in a culture that borderline pressures women in the business to learn to either avoid or accept sexual assault as a reality of their profession.

Amen Jafri, documentary filmmaker, launched her career in the local industry with the film The City that Fun Forgot?. She continued to uncover Ottawa’s hidden gems in, what is notably her most successful endeavour, The Secret Life of Public Servants, a quirky documentary web series where she challenges Ottawa’s stiff, government-centred reputation by exposing hidden local artists in the National Capital Region who have one foot in their creative art and another in the static world of federal bureaucracy. Amen disrupts the industry by representing often underrepresented women of color behind the camera and hopes to change the mold of how films are made by dismantling the profile of your typical film director. When asked what advice she would give to young women hoping to breakthrough as artists, Amen suggested that the hardest thing to understand is that there is no logical path to breaking through; she explained that every artist needs to find realistic ways to discover and fit their talent into the industry through mentorships, exposure, job-shadowing and volunteering.

Meeka Stuart, Director of Children’s Animation programs, who has been in the animation industry since 2000, had the crowd in giggles when she admitted the reason she steered away from visual arts and towards animation was because she realised she actually wanted to ‘’make money doing art’’. She has contributed to, amongst others, notable cartoons such as Cat in the Hat, Tom and Jerry and Caillou who, albeit public contempt, she said ‘’paid for her first car’’. Meeka is a Director at Pip Animation and is the first and only Female Director at her studio; she loves her job because she gets to “make cartoons all day and never has to grow up.” Meeka gave us insight to her ‘’Wow, I’m really doing this’’ moment to when was nominated for an Emmy in 2018 for ‘’Outstanding Director in a Pre-School Series’’ for her work on Through the Woods. Meeka told the audience that nothing fuels her more than people telling her that she can’t do something and disrupts her environment everyday by being the type of leader she always wished to follow.

Emily Ramsay is a producer and festival director in Ottawa. She admitted to the crowd that her journey towards the film industry was untraditional. After many years of post-secondary education, she began as a public servant and kick-started her career in the industry by making, what she called, a ‘’really really bad short horror film’’ with her boyfriend. She has come a long way since, and is currently producing Versus: Women in Combat Sports for Bell Fibe and is Co-Executive Director and Interim Board Chair of not-for-profit Digi60 Filmmakers’ Festival. Emily confessed to the crowd the vulnerable truths behind transitioning careers at a later age, fighting against self-doubt and pushing through the lack of recognition before she won two awards in 2014 at the Digi60 film festival. She explained how motivating it was being recognized by peers and how it solidified her belief that she was on the right path. When asked to address the recent and controversial uncovering of the plague of sexual harassment in the film industry, she made it clear that the worst part was feeling like ‘’you’re the only one who’s experienced it’’ and speaking up and reaching out can serve to help validate one’s mental health.

These four wonderful women inspired us all to refuse the status quo, and stand up for our right to be women in ANY industry.

Thanks to Bar Robo, our panelists and the amazing crowd in Ottawa who showed up in their support of Media Action and local women in the film industry for the last inspiring event of the season.

Ask Women Anything: When the Justice System Fails Women

Join us on March 29, 2018 at 7 p.m. for our next Ask Women Anything panel discussion on the experiences of women in the justice system.

NOTE: Due to the popularity of previous events and the strict capacity at Bar Robo, this event will require pre-booked tickets on EventBrite (free of charge!) in order to be guaranteed entry. Those without a ticket will be let in on a first come first served basis after ticket holders. Click here to reserve tickets. See the Facebook event page.

Our panelists:

Mélanie Mellon is passionate about stopping the stigma for mental health. She is a woman who survived childhood sexual abuse and years of undiagnosed mental health problems that followed. She is a mom to four beautiful children. She also speaks in public forums about how her depression and PTSD affected her at home and in the workplace, but more importantly how she got help and was supported. Oh, and she has a job that pays.

Dillon Black is a gender non-conforming anti-violence advocate at OCTEVAW. They’re currently coordinating a groundbreaking project to implement institutional accountability and external oversight in policing practices around gender-based violence. All the while trying to do their PhD in Surveillance Studies.

Jessica Ruano is the writer and director of The Ghomeshi Effect, a documentary play on sexual violence and the legal system in Canada, for which she was awarded the 2017 Femmy Award for Media. She also volunteers at the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa. Find her on Twitter @jessicaruano and @ghomeshieffect.

Jordyn Playne is an Indigenous social worker originally from Penetanguishine, Ontario. Jordyn earned her Honors Bachelor of Social work from Lakehead University and has since been working for Minwaashin Lodge; Indigenous Women’s Support Centre as a Women’s Counselor where she spends the bulk of her time working and advocating for Indigenous women and girls who have been incarcerated in the federal corrections system.

Ask Women Anything: Women Influencers in Ottawa


Our next panel features amazing women who influence the Ottawa community in many ways, on May 25, 2017 at Bar Robo.

Presented by Media Action, Ask Women Anything is a series of unique, intimate evenings that give Ottawa’s most influential women a chance to share their thoughts and answer your questions without the filter of the media. Come on out on May 25, 2017, to chat with our panelists! Check out their bios below:

After a successful early career as a special education teacher, Katie Hession found time during a maternity leave to build a new career in the worlds of fashion and social media. She now runs an Ottawa-based fashion Instagram called YOW City Style, is a regular columnist in Ottawa At Home and The Kit Compact magazines and has taken on the role of fashion stylist for Bayshore Shopping Mall. Leveraging these experiences, Katie continues to explore new opportunities in fashion, style, and writing.


Chantal Sarkisian, a.k.a Chantsy, is a seasoned Marketing and Communications creative with expertise in Business development, Digital Strategy, and Social Media. Chantsy is passionate about her roles as a style blogger and Instagram lifestyle influencer. She loves sharing personal stories and is proud to be an Ottawa locavore, a beauty expert, a foodie, and an advocate for the empowerment and representation of plus-size women in the fashion industry. A completely self-made woman, Chantal’s success on the local fashion and lifestyle scene was not achieved overnight. Taking advantage of her outgoing personality and the power of social media, Chantal effectively uses channels, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to engage her audience and build her network both online and in person. You can catch Chantal’s regular Fashion segments on CTV Morning Live (Ottawa), where she chats about the local fashion scene in Ottawa and styles trendy looks for women of all shapes and sizes. In her not-so-spare time, she juggles being a wife, mom, and shopaholic.


Amy Karlin is a communications and marketing professional who’s been in the industry for over a decade. From running her own PR and events agency to working in federal government communications, she’s worn a lot of hats and knows how to hustle. Currently she’s a digital marketing specialist at the National Arts Centre, where she collaborates with Facebook Canada and others to develop killer digital content. Whenever she’s not at the NAC, she’s scouring Ottawa and beyond for gems to share with her 30,000 blog readers at She’s hopelessly addicted to Instagram and is a firm believer in the power of social media to grow real relationships. In her not-so-spare time you’ll find her fundraising for cat shelters, working out at Iron North Studio, blogging about body positivity, or (most likely) eating pizza.


Little Miss Ottawa works in marketing by day and as an Instagrammer by night. Little Miss Ottawa is sparked by a love for travel. Born and raised in Ottawa, she often compares her travel destinations to Ottawa. While abroad she thought, why not post about Ottawa through a traveler’s eyes’ and celebrate everything the capital has to offer. She’s a self-taught photographer and published author in An Insider’s Guide to Canada’s Capital. She recently released her new website/blog, Her hope with Little Miss Ottawa is to inspire people to get out and explore and that her account takes them on fun adventures.

Ask Women Anything: STEM panel discussion

Presented by Media Action, Ask Women Anything is a series of unique, intimate evenings that give Ottawa’s most influential women a chance to share their thoughts and answer your questions without the filter of the media. Come on out on April 27, 2017, for a special edition #WomenInSTEM panel discussion!

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields are largely dominated by men, but we are bringing together four fantastic women who excel in their chosen fields! Take a look at their bios below:


Katey Rayner is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in the Department of Biochemistry in Ottawa, Canada where she directs the Cardiometabolic microRNA Laboratory. Dr. Rayner obtained her BSc from the University of Toronto, and her PhD from the University of Ottawa. Dr. Rayner’s doctoral work focused on the role of hormones, heat shock proteins and macrophage foam cells in the development of atherosclerosis. After her PhD, she pursued a postdoctoral fellowship first at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital then at New York University School of Medicine where Dr. Rayner helped to discover a role for microRNAs, specifically microRNA-33, in the regulation of HDL and its atheroprotective effects.

Since establishing her lab at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Rayner’s research program focuses on novel mechanisms that underlie the inflammatory processes of plaque progression and vulnerability, with a specific focus the intersection between macrophage inflammation and microRNAs as drivers of disease. Her group has uncovered a novel role for microRNA control of mitochondrial respiration in macrophage cholesterol efflux, which is aberrantly expressed in human atherosclerotic plaques. Dr. Rayner’s research also examines how extracellular microRNAs are mediating the progression of atherosclerosis in both human and animal models. More recently, her group uncovered a role for programmed necrosis in the development of unstable plaques in mice and how this can get targeted as a therapeutic and diagnostic biomarker in humans.

Dr. Rayner serves on the editorial boards of Circulation Research and Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB) where she also serves as the Social Media Editor. She serves on peer review panels for granting agencies CIHR, NIH and Heart & Stroke Foundation and is the Chair of the Early Career Committee of the Council of ATVB at the American Heart Association. Dr. Rayner has been recognized with awards such as the American Heart Association’s Irvine H Page Young Investigator Award, the Early Researcher Award from the Ministry of Innovation Ontario, and New Investigator Awards from both Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Heart & Stroke Foundation. Dr. Rayner’s research is currently funded by a Foundation Grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the National Institutes of Health.


Dr. Winnie Ye is a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Nano-scale IC Design for Reliable Opto-Electronics and Sensors. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Electronics at Carleton University. Her expertise is in silicon photonics and its applications in biophotonics, telecommunications, and renewable energy.

Dr. Ye received her B.Eng. degree in Electrical Engineering from Carleton University. She then studied Photonics and received her M.A.Sc. and Ph.D degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Toronto and Carleton University, respectively. After working with the Silicon Photonics/Optoelectronics team at the National Research Council (NRC) during her Ph.D. program, she joined Prof. Lionel Kimerling’s laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Prof. Kenneth Crozier’s laboratory at the Harvard University as a NSERC postdoctoral fellow to work on opto-electronic integration and silicon nanofabrication. Dr. Ye returned to Canada in 2009.

She is the recipient of the Early Researcher Award (ERA) from the Ministry of Innovation Ontario in 2012, and the Research Achievement Award from Carleton University in 2013. She has also been the Chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering (WiE) Ottawa Chapter since 2012.


Dr. Twine received a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from University of Southampton, UK and completed post-doctoral studies in Biophysics and Proteomics/Microbiology. She is currently completing an MBA with Heriot-Watt University. During her career, Dr. Twine has held positions in both academia and government research and technology organizations, focusing on vaccine and drug development. She is currently Section Head for the Analytics group at the National Research Council, with research spanning bioanalysis, advanced mass spectrometry characterization, and NMR. Dr Twine has authored more than 40 research publications and is editor of two books.


Vicki Iverson received a Bachelor of Mathematics in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, and a Masters of Science specializing in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Toronto. Vicki worked at several companies in the software field, including Sybase and Apple, before co-founding Iversoft in 2009 with her husband.

Iversoft specializes in mobile app development, having published over 100 apps for their clients, as well as building 15 successful mobile game titles. Vicki was the primary developer behind Iversoft’s early work, and has continued to build and train a highly proficient technical team. Today, as CTO, Vicki continues to drive the technology side of Iversoft’s 25-member team.


Pressing international business priorities require Suzanne Grant’s presence and she will not be available in Ottawa at this time, we thank Dr. Winnie Ye for stepping in at such short notice.

Ask Women Anything with Colleen Cardinal

Colleen Cardinal joined Media Action and an enthusiastic audience at Bar Robo on March 30, 2017, to speak about her experience as an Indigenous adoptee, a mother and grandmother, and her work as co-founder of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network.

Colleen is a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. She spoke with fervour of the injustices inflicted upon Indigenous communities globally by violent, assimilationist systems like child welfare services. In her own life, Colleen and her sister were taken from their home in Saddle Lake First Nation, Alberta, and placed with a non-Indigenous family in Ontario. She didn’t learn that she was Indigenous until the age of 11, by which time she had internalized so much racism that this knowledge caused her great pain. She eventually fled the home with her sisters to escape physical and sexual violence.

By sharing her story and working with other Indigenous adoptees, Colleen has witnessed the damage caused by the Sixties Scoop. Her work aims to help others heal by practicing inclusive traditions and acknowledging the pain and strength of fellow adoptees and child welfare survivors.

Her journey has been one of learning to care for herself, how to find community, and how to work together to resist colonial impacts.



In college Colleen learned the Ojibwe language and customs. A member of the audience was curious how allies might go about learning Indigenous teachings, both to be more sensitive to the Indigenous experience, and also to understand their views about nature. Colleen said that people take for granted that Indigenous people know their culture, but it is something she and many others have had to consciously work toward. The consequences of assimilation and uprooting of Indigenous peoples has necessitated the unlearning of colonial customs, and the sharing and regrowth of Indigenous cultures. She said that she and other Indigenous people have the right to learn their customs first, and allies can engage by showing support, and openness to learn without imposing their own beliefs.

Although she is from Treat 6 territory, she was raised in Robinson Huron Treaty in Ontario. When asked about the complexity of her identity, Colleen answered, “I am Plains Cree, my children are Plains Cree and my grandchildren are Plains Cree. We know who we are.”

Although for some time she was discouraged by not easily learning some Indigenous customs, she knows now that “I don’t have to be a dancing, beading, singing woman to be nēhiyaw — I resist and I teach, that is my identity.”

A core message of Colleen’s work is that everyone must be critical of the messages in the media. When her sister was murdered in Edmonton, the media coverage dehumanized her body, and perpetuated racist stereotypes about Indigenous people. Colleen works to change the narrative. She speaks truth even if it is hard to hear. She says, “ I’m not Willy Wonka, I don’t sugar coat s—t.”

Thanks to Colleen for so openly sharing her story.

Ask Women Anything with Amira Elghawaby

If you missed Amira Elghawaby on February 23, 2017 at Bar Robo, you really missed out. The soft spoken, proud Canadian journalist kept the audience completely engaged and when she had responded to all questions, left behind an incredibly positive view of her life as a Muslim woman journalist in Canada.

Amira’s introduction began by remembering her parents. She was encouraged by the strength she saw in both of her parents as they learned and adapted to life in Canada after moving from Egypt in the 1970s. Amira remembered the ’70s, under P.E. Trudeau, as a time when the doors to immigration in Canada were wide open

As she grew up, Amira began to take greater notice of small differences between her parents’ Egyptian-based cultural beliefs, and those of Canadian culture. For example, her father discouraged her from pursuing a career in journalism, noting that the profession was not well-respected in Egypt. Nonetheless, Amira attended Carleton University’s journalism program and was awarded the opportunity to work in Cairo for a weekly newspaper, The Middle East Times.

In Cairo, she bore witness to the strength of faith among impoverished and marginalized communities and became inspired by the resilience of the people she met. As a result of this experience, Amira wished to live a spiritual life and decided to practice her Islamic faith. Amira said she views the debate over hijabi and niqabi women as a simple right of choice; wearing the hijab, she believes that “we have to stand up for the freedom to choose.” Amira exemplifies this belief in motherhood, educating her children about Islam and allowing her daughter to choose for herself whether or not to wear the hijab.

Upon returning to Canada, Amira was hired by the Toronto Star. It was in this context that she first began to feel “othered” by the highly “male and pale” composition of the workforce. She felt singled out as a woman of colour and of faith, and said that today a lack of representation persists in news media. Amira subsequently worked for CBC Radio, an organization she holds great respect for and “a national treasure.”

Amira currently works as Communications Director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the only national civil liberties organization for Muslims at this time. Her work includes outreach to young people and educators across the country. On the topic of outreach, an audience member asked if Amira felt an undue burden when consistently asked to comment on violent incidents involving Islam. To the contrary, Amira said she welcomes the opportunity to reiterate that her faith is entirely incongruent with violence. However, she did comment that some conversations are tough, and she doesn’t worry about the “stubborn few” because there are some people who simply cannot be reached through dialogue. Amira said that it is the responsibility of each and every person to speak out against hatred, and Canadians must prioritize the issues facing our “First Nations brothers and sisters.”

Amira wrapped up with some advice: “Haters gonna hate, but love will conquer all.”

Media Action extends special thanks to Amira Elghawaby, Wingd Media and Bar Robo for collaborating on another successful AWA event!

Ask Women Anything with Catherine McKenney

AWA is back with a new series of amazing women!

Presented by Media Action, Ask Women Anything is a series of unique, intimate evenings that give Ottawa’s most influential women a chance to share their thoughts and answer your questions without the filter of the media. Come on out on January 26, 2017 to chat with Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney about 2017’s hottest topics!

Catherine was elected to City Council on October 27, 2014. She is Vice-Chair of the Transportation Committee, sits on the Environment Committee and the Built Heritage Sub-Committee and is a member of the Ottawa Board of Health, the Ottawa Public Library Board and the Ottawa Community Housing Board. She has made her home with her wife and daughter in the Preston-Somerset area. Before joining Council, Catherine worked as direct strategic support and advisor to the Deputy City Manager (Operations) at the City of Ottawa responsible for services ranging from fire and paramedic services, housing, child care, to parks, arts and culture, water and wastewater, transit, and more. Catherine cycles year round, walks to work, supports local independent businesses, loves Somerset ward and is the proud adoptive parent of four Humane Society animals. (From


AWA est de retour avec une nouvelle série de femmes exceptionnelles!

Présentée par Action Média, ¨Ask Women Anything¨ est une série de soirées uniques et intimes. Non filtrées par les médias, les femmes les plus influentes d’Ottawa peuvent partager leurs idées et répondre à vos questions. Le 26 janvier, venez rencontrer Catherine McKenney, conseillère municipale, sur les sujets les plus brûlants de l’année 2017.

Catherine McKenney a été élue au Conseil municipal d’Ottawa le 27 octobre 2014.En plus d’être vice-présidente du Comité des transports et de siéger au Comité de l’environnement et au Sous-comité du patrimoine bâti, elle est membre du Conseil de santé d’Ottawa, du conseil d’administration de la Bibliothèque publique d’Ottawa et du conseil d’administration de Logement communautaire d’Ottawa. Elle a élu domicile avec sa femme et sa fille dans le secteur Preston-Somerset. Jusqu’à récemment, Catherine travaillait à la Ville d’Ottawa comme assistante stratégique directe et conseillère auprès du directeur municipal adjoint (Opérations), qui est responsable de toute une gamme de services, depuis les services paramédics et d’incendie jusqu’au logement, en passant par les garderies, les parcs, les arts et la culture, l’eau et les eaux usées, le transport en commun, entre autres. Elle fait du vélo toute l’année, se rend au travail à pied, fait affaire chez des entreprises indépendantes locales, aime le quartier Somerset et est fière d’avoir adopté quatre pensionnaires de la Société protectrice des animaux. (De

Ask Women Anything with Ana Maria Cruz-Valderrama


Media Action Media’s most recent instalment of the Ask Women Anything series welcomed seniors’ advocate and community leader Ana Maria Cruz Valderrama to the Pressed Café stage on April 26th.

Ana Maria inspired the Ottawa audience with her long-standing commitment to immigrant seniors’ care and volunteerism. A tour de force in community building, Ana Maria discussed the joy of giving back, in “giving from the heart, soul, and brain” every day.


As a Spanish immigrant from Columbia, Ana Maria opened up about the thrills and challenges of living in a new city and learning a new language.

Making others feel welcome within the Ottawa community is a driving force for Ana Maria, who is also the Executive Director of Club Casa de Los Abuelos, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving Spanish-speaking seniors into the area.


Ana Maria spoke of the importance of communication, socializing, and medical care to seniors’ wellbeing. “Doing the best we can to help seniors be active and healthy” greatly benefits the community at large, in both social and economic terms, she said. She also candidly answered questions about media representations, noting there is much room for improvement in the way seniors and Columbians are depicted in news outlets and other popular media.


Many thanks to our venue Pressed Café, host Shari Graydon, Media Action’s many volunteers, photographer Felixe Denson of Wingd, and to all those who came out for this heart-warming and thought-provoking #AskWomenAnything!

Ask Women Anything with Amanda Jette Knox

Amanda interview smallMedia Action Media started off this year’s Ask Women Anything Series with a bang on Thursday January 28th with Amanda Jette Knox @mavenofmayhem.  In front of a packed, warm, and engaged audience, Amanda took us through her story of resilience and courage.

Over the years, Amanda has had to overcome many obstacles to be the person she is now. She dealt with bullying, addictions, and homelessness before she began the journey she is on now with her daughter Alexis, an amazing and courageous girl who recently came out, by telling her mother that she is a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

Ottawans were transfixed by Amanda’s story.  They asked questions about her feelings on being an advocate for transgender children, her thoughts on research in the area, and her daughter’s school experiences.  They also cheered on her recent high school graduation, and laughed and laughed (Amanda’s really very witty.)

It was an incredible evening.  Thanks to Pressed Café for hosting the event, for worthashot for taking the amazing pictures, and for helping with promotion and to all the dedicated volunteers.