When Eagle Vision approached writer/director Madison Thomas about developing the feature Finality of Dusk, she knew she’d need to bring in a writing partner.
It wasn’t about any lack of confidence, nor was it a request from the prodco. It’s that her concept for the post-apocalyptic film included largely non-verbal interactions between characters. Knowing it would better serve the film, Thomas invited deaf filmmaker Katarina Ziervogel to co-write the script. Ziervogel brought her perspective to the dialogue scenes, while Thomas focused on the overarching narrative.
The drive to recognize what’s best for the story, even if it means sharing credit or taking a pay cut, is part of Thomas’ strength as a filmmaker, notes Eagle Vision partner and producer Rebecca Gibson. “She brings so much, asks for so little, and the results are always really compelling,” she says.
Thomas, who grew up in the north end of Winnipeg, MB, and comes from an Ojibwe, Saulteaux, Russian and Ukrainian background, is a frequent collaborator with Eagle Vision, working on projects such as the docuseries Taken and the CBC drama Burden of Truth. She counts Gibson, Eagle Vision president of production Kyle Irving, director Michelle Latimer and Burden of Truth showrunner Adam Pettle as mentors.
Thomas says she learned early on that embracing collaboration is a key to success in this industry. Since meeting production partner Darcy Waite in 2017 – a chance meeting that took place when Waite needed a roommate after his move to Winnipeg – she’s seen no shortage of projects.
The two recently wrapped production on Thomas’ first feature film, Ruthless Souls. Thomas, who considers herself an equal part writer, director and editor, had worked on the script on and off for eight years before it went to camera.
Before then, Thomas and Waite produced a webseries for APTN called Colour of Scar Tissue, which premiered at imagineNATIVE one year after it received $60,000 in production funds through the festival’s webseries open call contest. Thomas says the webseries went a long way towards training the two for Ruthless Souls, gaining them vital experience working with both trained and untrained actors. She largely kept the same production team between the two projects.
In addition to her collaborations, Thomas is also a writer on Burden of Truth and a writer and director – as well as providing the voice of the puppy sidekick – on TVO’s upcoming Indigenous-led children’s series Wolf Joe.
Thomas earned a BA in filmmaking at the University of Winnipeg in 2012 and finished a summer intensive at the Prague Film School – the first Canadian Indigenous person to do so – in 2011. It was in Prague that Thomas says she learned her filmmaking gift was tied into her unique perspective as an Indigenous filmmaker.
Gibson says Thomas’ creative connection to her culture and her community has been a boon for her career. When Thomas worked on the APTN true crime docuseries Taken, which followed stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women, she quickly climbed the ranks from researcher to editor to director, paying the utmost care to the subject matter.
Thomas was also inspired by her diverse community as inspiration for Ruthless Souls, which includes a role played by transgender actor Liam Zarrillo. While she grew up seeing a variety of races, genders and sexualities, she says she rarely saw anything beyond white and heteronormative stories on screen. “We see those communities as minority or as ‘other.’ For me, those are communities I come from,” says Thomas. “Those are my mainstream, so those are the stories and the characters that I want to share.”
Thomas admits that the market in Manitoba is much smaller and more isolated for creators, but that hasn’t hindered her creative slate. Outside of Finality of Dusk, she is in development on an adaptation of Homer’s The Iliad, titled The Circle Game, set in modern-day Manitoba, which is currently being pitched to producers, as well as a feature called Last Call, which she created through the Women in the Director’s Chair program. She has a feature-length documentary in the works on Cree fashion designer Dusty LaGrande.
On the television front, Thomas is working with Waite on a second season of Colour of Scar Tissue as well as a comedy series called Fish in the Woods. She is working with APTN’s production arm Animiki See Digital Production on an untitled Louis Riel documentary about the Red River Rebellion, produced in partnership with Parks Canada. Thomas is also one of eight female directors selected for the Canadian Academy’s mentorship program.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in Los Angeles directing $150-million movies, [or] to see her stay in Winnipeg and do exactly what she wants to do,” says Gibson.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Playback magazine
Photo by Tyler Porznak