Michelle Latimer makes films about people you don’t know. Her documentary subjects are outsiders – gangster rappers, Canada’s only female dangerous offender – people often misunderstood or vilified by the media and wider society.
But Latimer, a veteran actress-turned-director, is fast winning awards and making a name in Canadian film by giving outsiders a voice.
“You’re always speaking other people’s words,” she says of an acting career that has taken her from stage to screen, including lead roles on TV series’ Moose TV, Paradise Falls and Blackstone.
Having picked up a camera, however, has allowed Latimer to shine a light on injustice to effect social change.
For example, the 2009 documentary Jackpot portrays die-hard regulars at a bingo hall, while the 2011 Bravo short Choke uses stop-motion animation to portray a fictional young man leaving his First Nation reservation for big city life, only to face isolation and a loss of identity.
Choke debuted in Sundance, where it won a special jury honourable mention.
Elsewhere, Latimer’s Alias, which bowed at this year’s Hot Docs, follows the pitfalls of talented Toronto rappers trying to escape the gangster life by becoming entertainers.
Successfully securing the trust of rappers she portrays was a major challenge for the filmmaker on Alias, which is now being developed as a possible TV series based on the film’s characters.
“I was worried. I didn’t want to be an outsider coming into a community, because I know that feeling,” Latimer, herself Metis/Algonquin, says.
The filmmaker is also developing a feature documentary about Renée Acoby, Canada’s only female dangerous offender – a designation she earned for crimes, including assaults and hostage-takings, committed while in prison.
“I feel a tremendous responsibility, being true by her,” Latimer says.
And she’s collaborating on a number of projects with iconoclastic filmmaker Peter Mettler, including jointly doing the artist residency at the Christie Digital/CAFKA gallery in Toronto.
“We’re both interested in pushing our boundaries as artists and not falling into preconceived ideas of what the style of the film will be,” Latimer says.
Check back here as we continue to unveil this year’s 10 to Watch over the next several days.