This is Worldtown is re-launching as TIWT Films. The goal, as always, is to support women of color filmmakers tell stories that comprise the fullness of our Black, Brown, Indigenous and diasporic selves. Our original production focus is on documentary and scripted narrative work.
The focus of this platform has always been on first-person visual, written works that brings new perspectives to issues of migration, politics, race and culture. The tagline remains: We tell stories behind the crisis, directly from those who are building, making art, sharing their pain and their truth. This is Worldtown: Your voice. Your Terms.
As a digital publication, we have had the pleasure of publishing and supporting content from women around the world. We have run a series of successful and groundbreaking live events. We have supported a cohort of Black, Indigenous, Women of Color emerging visual storytellers through a year-long mentorship program. We have spoken at and presented our work at various summits, exhibitions and conferences. Our storytellers have been tied to influential funders, organizations and institutions including the North Face, ITVS, the New Yorker, BBC, CBC, Frontline PBS and HBO. While we move away from commissioning new work for publication at this time, we will be keeping an eye out on the most compelling stories and contributing widely to diverse film making communities as we focus on producing original work.
This is Worldtown’s Director and Founder Sana A. Malik says “launching This is Worldtown has been one of the great privileges of my life — focusing on the way BIWOC expression has transformed digital storytelling, running a successful mentorship program and seeing how BIWOC continue to lead as storytellers have been some of the most defining milestones for me.” As Malik, a filmmaker who has been the editorial voice behind the platform moves forward in this journey, she shares her decision to pivot to TIWT films. “There is also a re-assessing of what value this platform can add to this moment and as my own journey has taken me deeper into filmmaking, I am excited to expand and explore those possibilities through this medium.” For This is Worldtown, the mantra has always been, “living, breathing, platform” and now it breathes new life.
In addition to original scripted and non-fiction work, This is Worldtown will also be available for client-based video production and consulting projects. We are a full service creative production company with cinematographers, editors, producers and directors.
Watch this space for news about our first production going live in the next few days.
This is Worldtown’s new series features Indigenous media-makers exploring themes of identity, reconciliation, and resistance through visual storytelling mediums.
Lisa Jackson‘s award-winning work has screened at festivals internationally including the Berlinale, Hotdocs, SXSW, Margaret Mead and London BFI, and aired on many networks in Canada. Her films span documentary and fiction and include virtual reality, current affairs, animation and a short musical, Savage, for which she won a Genie award. She is Anishinaabe, the director mentor for the NSI’s Indigidocs program and is on the advisory committee for the NFB’s Indigenous Action Plan.
How did you get started in the industry?
I had been working for the federal government doing writing and researching contracts. I ended up working for Knowledge Network in BC where I worked on specifically educational, TV shows and series and stuff for educational purposes. That was my introduction to making documentaries.
I was researching and production coordinating but I wanted to become a director. That’s when I decided to go to film school. And I told myself that I’d put between 5 and 10 years into trying to make it as a filmmaker. And if at the end of that time I found out that I was no good at it, at least I would know I’d tried, and I’d move on to something else.
But in my final year of film school, I got some funding and decided to make Suckerfish, my first film, and it did pretty well. I kept working my day job for another year or so after that, and then I became a full time filmmaker in summer of 2005.
What drew you to visual storytelling?
I actually started off as a writer, and I still really like writing. For me, the initial move into visual storytelling was actually inspired by people. I was writing a lot of profiles of people and many of them were so magnetic and fascinating. And you could never get that down on the page. And so my initial move towards it was actually very human-centred. Wanting to, in profiling people or putting them on the screen, get that unnameable quality that you can get on screen. Now, having said that, I was in dance when I was young; I did pottery and ceramics and sculpting and things like that. I always had this visual sensibility. But I also had this activist, documentarian sensibility. And so I think as time has gone on, I’ve melded those two things closely together, and I’ve figured out my own way to sculpt with film.
How has working in different genres such as fiction, documentary, animation, performance arts and musicals affected the way you tell stories?
It’s been really validating to see how profound an impact you can have on people by presenting a unique take on something. So for example, my film Snare is only 3 minutes long but it brings a lot of people to tears. It’s about MMIW [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women] and it’s just very visually striking and it says a lot metaphorically in those 3 minutes. The role of creativity and framing – specifically reframing things that we think we know about in a unique way – it’s very visceral.
How has working in different mediums such as short film, music video, virtual reality and feature films affected the way you tell stories?
I’ve always thought a lot about the world that I’m putting viewers into and had such a specific idea of what the tone and environment would be. And that goes across all of them, from an installation to a VR to a film. But I think that characteristic just manifests itself differently in all those mediums.
In some ways, I look at VR for its potential to, rather than make us voyeurs, actually implicate us in the worlds that we enter into. With Highway of Tears, the viewer is placed in the main character Matilda’s living room, listening to her tell a story. And she’s looking at you, so she’s in control of that storytelling space. It moved a lot of people, but it also made them uncomfortable. Because you’re not just watching her unseen; she’s aware that the camera is you, and she’s going to tell you this story. I think that’s good and I think that implicates the viewer. And I hope that we see more pieces that, as users, push us to make choices or evaluate what we think.
Can you speak to the idea of community and connectedness in the work that you do?
I don’t know any Indigenous artists that don’t feel connected to their community in a way that has responsibility. And not in a bad way, because we’re supported by and fed by the communities, but we are a part of a larger whole. There’s amazing Indigenous art being created right now. I think if you look at pretty much all of it, you’re going to see that there’s a sense of connection to community and the way that the subject matter we take on, our perspectives, have similarities. Regardless of whether it’s a sci-fi, or a period piece.
Can you speak to the idea of reconciliation in the arts and media, and what that looks like for Indigenous communities?
Reconciliation has become a challenging word in some ways because there’s a depth to what’s required to reconcile.The majority of the Canadian population now knows more about residential schools, but what about treaty rights, or other aspects of our history? There’s a lot to know about, even for us. I’m learning about the details of Canadian Indigenous settler history right now, and it’s a huge amount of information. But we have collective amnesia in Canada about that. And in this modern, social media, fast-paced age, it’s really easy to think that historical stuff is so irrelevant, since we’re in this moment now. But I think if we don’t understand the history, we can’t actually reconcile it.
What’s next for you?
Several things. I’m about to release a VR piece with the NFB called Biidaaban: First Light, and I’m developing a few fiction and doc projects for film and TV. But a big focus right now is Transmissions, which is a three-part multimedia immersive installation that looks at how we see the world differently through Indigenous language. It’s not like a typical installation in a gallery, because it’s got a single channel film, projections, and similarities to theatre. It’s an Indigenous futurist take and it poetically puts you in a space where you feel like what might happen if our current structures of society were no longer in place. The idea is that Indigenous languages grew here as much as plants grew here. They are native to these lands as much as plants are native to these lands. They describe Canada better than any other languages do. Indigenous languages are also, in a way, very practical and grounded. The idea that we live in relationship to everything around us is central. An installation requires people to be active participants with agency within these spaces and that reflects the belief system of these languages more closely than a film.
I’m moving more and more into iconic imagery and metaphor. And I think that’s really powerful, because it allows you to talk about political things without it being alienating to an audience. People can grasp on to it.
The Gaze is back for a third season! This season hosts Aisha and Maya wants to turn the boat around. They are focusing on solutions to the glaring gender and race parity issues in Canadian film and TV. They’re asking how can we address some of these serious representation problems in Canadian media? Who’s working to introduce proactive initiatives? What are some of the success stories so far?
In the first episode of this season, Aisha and Maya speak to three Canadians tackling the issue of gender and race parity in their own distinct ways. The conversation begins with Cameron Bailey (TIFF’s Artistic Director) and his view on what kinds of Canadian films could help shift the fiction film landscape. Rina Fraticelli (Executive Director of Women in View) talks about the launch of her organization’s new diversity toolkit called “Media Plus” and Rad Simonpillai (Film Critic for Now Magazine) speaks candidly about being a writer and ally with an ongoing interest in gender parity.
The Gaze, our favourite podcast on race and gender representation in cinema, is back with season two. We speak to Maya Annik Bedward and Aisha Jamal, Toronto-based filmmakers and hosts of The Gaze, about what to expect in upcoming episodes. This is Worldtown will be featuring the episodes as they’re released and you can listen to Episode One below. You can subscribe to the Podcast via itunes.
Maya and Aisha focus on Indigenous female filmmakers in season two and “discuss the creative, commercial and emotional labour of making film in Canada”. The first of their three episodes features Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, director of the critically acclaimed doc ANGRY INUK! It’s recommended listening for new and emerging filmmakers, and for anyone interested in representation in film. You can listen now.
We speak to Maya and Aisha about the podcast, being under the Gaze, and what to expect in this upcoming season.
This is Worldtown (TIWT): How did you decide on doing this podcast?
Aisha Jamal (AJ): Maya and I would often find ourselves in social situations talking about race in film and I think we both used to get worked up over misrepresentation and all kinds of other related issues. Eventually, we joked that we should do a radio show. The joke turned into reality.
Maya Annik (MB): Aisha called me up one day and told me that we were making a radio show. I said, OK!
TIWT: Can you explain where the name came from — why The Gaze?
AJ: It’s related to the idea of the ‘female gaze’ or the ‘racialized gaze’ and the suggestion that the idea of who is looking is as important as who is being looked at. Of course it’s also a reference to Laura Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze and the idea that film (among other visual arts) primarily depicts the world and women from the male perspective. So it’s about all these references on top of the idea of fixating something with your gaze (looking at it with fixed attention). We wanna give ours to topics that we find need more attention: the experience, stories and depictions of gender and race in cinema.
MB: It’s short and to the point. I knew cinephiles would understand the reference to Mulvey’s male gaze right away, and I thought for those who were less familiar with the concept, the title would prompt them to ask the question “whose gaze?” I think it invites people to think critically of the way we look at images, culture, media and the world at large.
TIWT: As women of colour who both work in film, you’re attuned to the most cringeworthy attitudes in the industry. Do you have an example of having to call out this bias in your work life?
AJ: I think it must be having to repeatedly answer the question: “Why would the average, middle class Canadian housewife be interested in this story?” There are so many layers of weirdness in this question when you are pitching a story about refugees or immigrants. My answer is “Why wouldn’t they be?” I guess I go meta and think about our shared humanity but [to me] what the question is actually saying is “why would a white woman with a ‘normal’ life care about your story?” URGH.
MB: The day after I finished shooting my short The Foreigner, I was at an industry event and this white, male filmmaker asked me what I was working on. I told him I had just finished shooting a film and he asked me what my role was on the project. When I told him I was the director, he looked shocked. He told me I didn’t look the part and then tried to pick me up.
TIWT: What are some of the best lessons from Season 2 of The Gaze?
AJ: I have to say personally speaking it was good to hear the struggles that these accomplished filmmakers had to endure. You can’t help but be impressed by these women, their work and their conviction. But to hear what it has taken to get to the finished product convinces you that this is a craft and you have to work at it. Your success relies a lot on tenacity when you make films about difficult subjects.
MB: Filmmaking is not easy – on any front. It will put your personal life on hold. It will make you question your ideas, your craft, and your self-worth. Many doors will close on you before one opens. Sometimes the door that closes will be one that eventually opens. It’s important to remember that no matter what, you are not alone! Filmmakers at any point in their career are dealing with these same struggles, and they persevere and make beautiful work! Season 2 left me very inspired!
TIWT: What are the podcasts and/or media heroes/sheroes that inspire you right now?
AJ: Someone recently sent me a list of podcast she thought I should listen to so I started going down the list and I got hung up on “Sooo many white guys,” hosted by the comedian Phoebe Robinson. She interviews musicians, artists, authors and none of them are white guys! Well, that’s what she intends but then there’s Tom Hanks in the recent episode…. Regardless, hers is a fun podcast and she can be insightful so check her show out.
MB: A podcast that brought me great comfort was The Anti-casserole by local Toronto heroes Kate Fraser and Loveleen Kaur! They only had one season, but it was great.
TIWT: What else can we expect from The Gaze?
AJ: This season features three female filmmakers, all indigenous, all working in documentary. We’re interested in the creative and emotional work it’s taken to get to where they are. Maya and I have not decided on future seasons yet but we’re talking about it. I would love to do a season on Afghans in Canadian cinema (yes, very specific but yet lots to talk about) and Maya had suggested looking at genre cinema. So we’ll see…
MB: Let’s just say, I’m all about Get Out right now. But yes, there are so many interesting topics to cover and so many great filmmakers to interview! We’ll see where our hearts and minds take us!
Enough is Taouba Khelifa‘s short poetic documentary uncovering the inner thoughts of four women as they speak intimately about their inner fears, doubts and worries.
Khelifa’s film aims to visually uncover the idea of self-inflicted shame, and beautifully portrays vulnerability among these women. Khelifa describes it as “an abstract conversation between our current self and an idealized version of our self – a self we believe we can never attain.” It’s a beautiful rendering of the concept of “are we enough?” In Khelifa’s words, “inevitably, this conversation becomes the woven narrative for the film: we are enough, others believe we are enough, and deep down inside, perhaps buried behind years of doubt and layers of uncertainty, there lies a voice of power that reminds us of our worth. Yet, time and time again, shame makes us question if this voice can ever be trusted, and if we will ever really be enough.”
Taouba Khelifa is an Algerian-born, Saskatchewan-raised community activist, documentary photographer and freelance filmmaker, of Berber descent. She currently lives in Edmonton, and works as the Program Manager for The Green Room youth initiative. Her work in the community and in grassroots organizing has allowed her to document and tell various stories of community, people and humanity. Through her camera lens, she has had the opportunity to witness the rare glimpses of human struggle, strength and spirit. Her interest lies in using art and storytelling as mediums for enriching communities and engaging citizens.