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.