STORYHIVE backs female directors for short film competition

By Kristi Alexandra + Brittany Tiplady
@kristialexandra || @yellowbird888

They may be behind the lens, but STORYHIVE is putting female directors in the spotlight for a first-ever female-directed digital short film competition.

STORYHIVE, a communications branch borne out of TELUS, is a community-powered funding program for emerging content creators in BC and Alberta. The organization recently awarded 30 female directors across Alberta and BC $10,000 each, producing short films that would ultimately compete for a top prize.

The result? Thirty dazzling stories that range from comedy to horror and documentary to drama, all independently produced and gathered on STORYHIVE’s website. Public voting for the projects went live on Feb. 6 while two winners — who will receive a custom mentorship and a trip to the Banff World Media Festival — will be announced on Feb. 23.

Several of the STORYHIVE-funded flicks will be screened at the upcoming Vancouver International Women’s Film Festival, from March 8 to 12. Loose Lips caught up with a few of our favourite digital short directors to find out more about their films.

An Army of Hearts

A rhyming narrative, enchanting cinematography, and an uplifting story that connects the human condition at any age. An Army of Hearts, captures a grandfather’s illness, a new mom’s frustration, and a teenage boy struggling with emotion in a short film adapted from co-director Alex Duncan’s children’s book published in July 2016. 

Duncan composed An Army Of Hearts as a gift to her dad during is battle with cancer. Photographing his “army of support,” in Vancouver and collecting images from friends and family in various corners of the world, she cultivated a book of hearts held by loved ones that she presented to her father once he completed his chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

“After my dad passed away, I decided to make the book [of images] into an illustrated book, as a way to do something with my grief. It was a project and focus that felt positive. I hired Vancouver artist Paul Morstad, and together we created the book,” explains Duncan. 

“There’s so many different ways to tell a story,” Duncan says on making the transition from children’s book author, to director. “I’ve been a leaf in the wind letting this project blow me about. Releasing this film was like going to school without pants on. I was really nervous to be putting it out, but it has been so gratifying to see how people responded on this [story] and how it touched them. It was such an energizing, full-experience.” 

The genius to grow An Army of Hearts into digital form was inspired by the children’s book An Awesome Book of Love! adapted into a short film by Yael Staav. Duncan teamed up with friend and veteran director Lauren Bercovitch in August to apply for funding via STORYHIVE, and together they were awarded the $10,000 grant to move forward and make their short.

“It’s not my story, it’s a universal story now. Where the book is largely the story I wrote for my dad and the protagonist in the book is certainly based on a young me, the film has succeeded on being a story that could stand on its own without me in it.”

An Army of Hearts illustrates the utmost private moments and emotions carried by grief, growth, and patience, fueled by the unwavering common denominator of the human connection: the power of love.

“I feel very proud and incredibly grateful. Everyone, the entire team, was so vital in making the film feel the way it ultimately ended up feeling. It has grown into such a celebration of my creative community.”

AKASHI

For Vancouver-based director Mayumi Yoshida, living a bi-continental lifestyle came with a few culture shocks. Dating and relationships was one of them. Born in Japan, the writer-director-actor has lived in Europe, the United States, and currently resides in Vancouver.

Through her recent short film, Akashi, Yoshida explores the cultural and generational divide in how people regard love.

Told through the lens of main character Mayumi (spoiler alert—it’s Yoshida herself!), Akashi is, ostensibly, a conversation between grandmother and granddaughter. During a revealing exchange over lunch back in Yoshida’s native Japan, Mayumi’s grandmother reveals that her decades-long marriage was arranged—and that her grandfather kept a lover through the entire course of their relationship.

“It’s actually based on a true story because me and my grandmother had a similar conversation five years ago,” Yoshida admits.

“Because I’m from Tokyo and I moved here six years ago, one of my biggest culture shocks was how people have relationships here – people my age. The dating scene was such a huge shock for me. [I was] learning how people were so casual, it was very non-committal. I had a conversation with my grandma about this and she revealed to me about how grandpa always had an affair even though they were married the whole time. You would never guess that was going on because they were always so committed to their marriage and my grandma, she kept silent. I asked her, ‘Didn’t you feel like you deserved to be loved?’ and she said ‘Well, I felt bad. He felt he had met the love of his life and he was stuck with me, and we got married because it was the end of WWII and we had to combine our families’ finances and it wasn’t about love, but it was something we had to commit to.’”

Though shot in Vancouver, much of the 10-minute film is set in Japan as Yoshida travels back to her home country to attend her grandmother’s funeral. Meanwhile, she dodges calls from an unseen casual lover who’s implicitly back in Vancouver.

“On my plane back home [after the conversation with my grandmother], I was thinking about how it was interesting that our generation has so much more freedom… and choices in life, but we actually build our walls ourselves. Back then they had this boundary, their own limitations and they lived in it fully,” Yoshida muses.

“That contrast got me interested in modern relationships and modern love affairs – the difference between them and also the similarities we share. Some things don’t change. People will always think the grass is greener. My grandma would say ‘Oh, you’re so lucky you get to travel around the world!’ but when we look at how they used to live, it seems like we missed out, and we don’t get to have that anymore.”

Akashi translates to “testament” or “proof” in Japanese. Yoshida says the film is a tribute to her grandmother, whose unwavering commitment is a true testament to her strength.

Voluptuous Beauty

In North America, when we think about the word “model” we think about the impossible beauty standards set by the industry. Now, meet Maxine McDermand. She is the every-woman: a wife, a mother, but also, a plus-sized model. Breaking down the societal norms, Maxine here is to prove that dreams should not, and cannot, be constricted by the status quo.

Directed by Alberta’s Nicole Murphy, the short film Voluptuous Beauty follows Maxine’s modelling journey.

A broadcaster turned seasoned director and producer, Murphy developed a knack for storytelling, and was compelled to share Maxine’s with STORYHIVE in part of the female directed shorts capsule. The two are long time friends since middle school and the creative connection in building this project was imminent.

“Maxine has struggled with her weight, bullying and self esteem her entire life. Among other adversities, including a brain injury at 13 years old, she has overcome some very distractive inner dialogue and now wants to share a message of self love, and seeing beauty in all. She currently is a full figured model being featured on radio, news and winning national competitions, along with being a mother and wife,” says Murphy.

“Maxine came to me with the idea of telling her story, and at the same time the female-directed STORYHIVE competition was about to open up. So I thought that a strong female driven lead would match perfectly with the STORYHIVE initiative,” Murphy continues.

The theme and conversation of Voluptuous Beauty will be taken further than the current STORYHIVE competition. Maxine is cultivating a presentation to share with local Alberta schools, promoting her message with the short as a digital asset.

“I am really proud of all my female peers! I’ve produced and directed over 300 minutes of documentary style digital segments, but this one was the first one that wasn’t owned by another company! So that is a very exciting thing about STORYHIVE: we get to keep our intellectual property.”

 

 

Kristi and Brittany are the co-founders and co-editors of Loose Lips Mag. Together, they’re building their feminist media empire and leaving the patriarchy, charcuterie boards, and empty bottles of wine in their wake. You can find them in Gastown sniffing out other women warriors or fueling up at local coffee shops.