Island filmmakers want to build industry, but lack government support

By Brenlee Brothers

April 12, 2017

Iris is on the beach burying herself in the sand in the shape of a mermaid.

Behind her, waves crash against the shore.

As she hums to herself, she carefully takes a hearing aid out of each ear and places them on the beach.

She picks up a rock, raises it in the air with both hands, and drops it, crushing them both.

This is a scene from the Island film Singing to Myself.

            It’s never easy to make a movie on P.E.I., especially if you’re a woman.

Hardly anything you see on TV is written or directed by a woman.

P.E.I. filmmaker, Harmony Wagner wants to change this.

Women are rarely given jobs on bigger budget films, so they don’t see their stories in the mainstream media written from their perspective, Wagner said.

“We’re half the population and our stories need to be told.”

Funders like telefilm, CBC and NFB have all made recent changes in policy to address gender parity, so opportunity knocks for female writers and directors in the current environment, but Island companies can’t take advantage of this without the province coming on board, Wagner said.

Last year, Wagner was a winner in the 1kWave Atlantic Challenge, which calls for brave and bold features from female filmmakers in Atlantic Canada.

Singing to Myself was one of five features awarded $1,000, plus service deferrals. Most of the film’s budget went to buying hard drives, or gas.

In the film industry, having under a $25 thousand budget is termed, “no budget,” Wagner said.

The drama, written and directed by Wagner, tells a story of female friendship.

The story was sort of shaped around the challenges and constraints of having a zero-dollar budget, Wagner said.

“Partially, I made a story that would help me solve some of the problems of that low budget, and partially I took the opportunity to try to create a story that would move people and kind of reflect where we are in society.”

Female friendship is such a deep, rich and wonderful thing, and half the population doesn’t know about it, she said.

“Because I didn’t have to please any funder, and I was off the leash in terms of what kind of story I could tell, I thought it was worthwhile to tell a story that didn’t pull any punches about what it’s like to be a woman in this modern western-world.”

Singing to Myself is a love letter to women all over the world who put on a good face and carry on, day by day, despite the personal hardships they must overcome simply because they are women, Wagner said.

“It is a love letter to female friendship, something that is so intimate and important to our survival, yet has received so little light in the mainstream media.”

Filmmakers on P.E.I. want to build an industry, Wagner said. The talent and skill is already here.

“We will create jobs, bring money to the province and showcase P.E.I. to the world, but it takes governmental support,” she said.

P.E.I. is currently the only province in Canada without programs to help trigger federal dollars, Wagner said.

“We can’t keep singing to ourselves.”

Jason Rogerson is the producer of Singing to Myself. The problem with Island film is the government doesn’t see film production as a high priority, he said.

There are no provincial programs in place to support the burgeoning film community on P.E.I.

“There’s so much money that goes back into the economy, and that’s what we’re trying to educate the government about.

“We’re so small, but you can get all these different topographies and different looks way more quickly than you can in Toronto, or even Halifax or New Brunswick.”

He describes the film as an “emotional wallop” that showcases the beauty of P.E.I. and introduces interesting conflicts between characters. It exposes some important issues to get people thinking, Rogerson said.

Sophie Maclean plays Iris, a young deaf woman.

She had to be sensitive about playing a deaf person, Maclean said.

“You want to feel like you’re doing a good job, but it’s also hard to do that when you’re portraying someone who’s struggling through things that you’ve never had to struggle through, and can’t imagine struggling through.”

The last local screening of Singing to Myself is at City Cinema on April 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online in advance through Remaining tickets will be sold at the door.