Indie film: Got it made! Get it seen?

In the first of a four-part series on indie filmmaking in Canada today, Playback talks to Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers about new funding and uncertain distribution.
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While the nuts and bolts of filmmaking remain the same, the reality is that the newest generation of Canadian filmmakers is working within a completely different system than the generation before them. From the explosion in steaming platforms and the accompanying decline in linear opportunities to revamped funding mechanisms, there is both a raft of new opportunities and a host of new challenges that have risen alongside. How are Canada’s next generation of filmmakers navigating all of this change? We asked a number of rising Canadian filmmakers to weigh in.

Has the World Broken Open?

“Our project has happened at a unique and important time in Canadian film history,” says Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers of her upcoming feature with co-director and co-writer Kathleen Hepburn.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, which is currently in post-production, stars Tailfeathers and newcomer Violet Nelson as two Indigenous women, from very different backgrounds, who navigate the aftermath of domestic abuse.

It’s not the kind of story that often makes it to the big screen.

Tailfeathers is a rising star in the Vancouver industry, with award-winning shorts to her name and a number of international fellowships and talent labs under her belt, and the film marks her debut as a narrative feature director. And Hepburn’s career is similarly on fire: in addition to The Body and her award-winning 2017 feature Never Steady, Never Still, she co-wrote the upcoming feature Natalie and landed a project in the Inside Out Film Finance Forum.

Despite their clear career momentum, both say this project is possible in part because of the increased opportunities available right now.

“There’s a lot of institutional change happening [and it's] not happening out of the goodness of these institutions’ hearts. It’s happening because countless people have rallied for change, worked very hard and have been very committed to making change,” says Tailfeathers, who is a member of the Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe, Blackfoot Confederacy) as well as Sámi from Norway.

The Body Remembers received funding through CBC’s Breaking Barriers program for under-represented creators, the Indigenous Screen Office and the Norwegian Film Institute. A Canada/Norway copro, the film is produced by Violator Films, Experimental Forest Films and Norway’s Tannhauser Gate and Oslo Pictures.

While financing the small-budget film hasn’t been easy – and they’re still trying to close a gap – Hepburn says the new funding bodies, and the new mandates of the “old” ones, has meant they’re having very different conversations with financiers than would have been likely in the past.

“Creatively, we had a great deal of support from all of our funding partners, but I do think five years ago, people would’ve pushed us to change the project to be a little more digestible, or marketable.”

It’s a win just to get the film made, they say, but the biggest hurdle remains: getting it seen.

This is not an issue unique to their film: the same truth applies to any Canadian film. But in ensuring the new mandates find success (and therefore sustainability) support needs to be extended through to the final stage of a film’s life cycle, says Tailfeathers.

“I hope the Canadian film market and world film market give these films an opportunity, provide space for these voices and really listen to what is being said,” she says. “Because I think these particular projects have the capacity to really change the landscape.”

Photo: Erin Hogue

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Playback