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Redefining niche: Stephanie Ouaknine and Luis De Filippis

With De Filippis' short For Nonna Anna and Ouaknine's work on fan-favourite Carmilla, both creatives are crafting LGBTQ+ narratives that play against stereotypes.

Stephanie Ouaknine and Luis De Filippis are part of a new wave of Canadian creatives pushing for better LGBTQ+ representation on screen. With narratives that play against stereotypes, Ouaknine and De Filippis are working to prove “niche” content can reach mainstream audiences.

For Nonna Anna, a short film written, directed and produced by Toronto-based filmmaker De Filippis, tells the story of a trans woman who develops a tender bond with her grandmother. Inspired by De Filippis’ personal experiences, the film has won over audiences – nabbing a 2018 Sundance Film Festival special jury award and Inside Out’s Emerging Canadian Artist prize.

On the TV side, Shaftesbury producer and development exec Ouaknine has been using her opportunities at Toronto prodco Shaftesbury to develop and produce LGBTQ-focused and friendly content, including cult webseries (and feature film) Carmilla. In addition to her work on the Canadian Screen Award-winner – which is being developed into a one-hour TV series – she’s also optioned a raft of independent Canadian LGBTQ IP for Shaftesbury’s YouTube channel KindaTV.

While the current craze is for all things global (in content), both say LGBTQ focused/friendly content makes sense. LGBTQ audiences, after all, know no borders. And if there are “niches” for this content all over the world, the whole is greater than the sum of its (local) parts. Carmilla, for example, has found fans everywhere from Brazil to the U.K., with approximately half (51%) of the show’s audience coming from viewers outside of the U.S. and Canada, Ouaknine says.

But both say their experience is still one of reluctance from gatekeepers to support projects for LGBTQ audiences, even with universal storylines.

For De Filippis, who was recently selected to take part in TIFF’s Filmmaker Lab, one persistent misunderstanding they have found with funders is the notion that a “trans story” has to touch on a trans person’s transition and identity. It is a common struggle in mainstream media – that non-white/non-straight characters play the type rather than just a regular human.

“We’re not going to be talking about hormones, we’re just talking about struggles that trans people face and some of those struggles have nothing to do with being trans,” says De Filippis.

However, as Ouaknine and De Filippis both say they are encouraged by the work being done by grassroots organizations like the Inside Out Film Festival; “50/50 by 2020″, an initiative that aims to see 50% of underrepresented groups achieve more representation in Hollywood by 2020; and the opportunities that new platforms present.

KindaTV, for example, is CAVCO approved and has become a place to develop, workshop and execute new IP at a lower risk threshold. That means series like Carmilla can prove their worth quantitatively, removing bias or emotion from the conversation. Ouaknine has been able to develop two more series with central LGBTQ characters on the platform through Shaftesbury, including pop-band comedy show Barbelle and the Three Musketeers revamp All for One, both of which are LGBTQ-focused and debuted on the platform in the last two years.

But as always, there is tons more to be done, and much more change to be wrought.

“There’s a lot more experiences and stories that need to be told and I can’t tell them all,” says De Filippis. “And I shouldn’t.”

Picture (L to R): Stephanie Ouaknine and Luis De Filippis

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