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Director Rachel Glassman (left) and producer Jean Kim (right). Photo: Elana Emer
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Women directors leading in Ryerson’s film festival

By Rhea Singh

This year’s Ryerson University Film Festival (RUFF) promises to bring more representation to women in film, with more than half of the films being directed by students who identify as women. 

RUFF is Ryerson’s annual film festival showcasing thesis films of fourth-year-film students. This year, RUFF is taking place May 3-4. What sets RUFF 2019 apart is that 13 of the 22 films being featured at the festival are directed by women, with two more being directed by individuals identifying as non-binary and two-spirited respectively.

However, diversity in the role of director isn’t the only change made in this year’s festival. Much of the written, shooting and production work are being led by women, according to fourth-year-film student Rachel Glassman.

Glassman is the director of False Spring, one of the films playing at RUFF. Described as a “tale of music and madness,” False Spring takes viewers on the journey of an older couple dealing with loss on their desolate farm in the late 19th century. The film depicts the discrepancies in their grief and how both process it differently—all shot in black and white to drive home the idea of a world that is desolate, sad and devoid of colour.

Glassman said the film program is very encouraging in regards to inclusivity because students know their decisions will shape the future of the industry.

“Seeing how it is at Ryerson is comforting knowing that we are going to be the ones making those decisions in the long run,” she said. “If it’s changing now, we hope that it carries on after we graduate.”

Glassman’s crew was made up of 56 per cent women and 66 per cent people of colour. Like all films submitted, it was entirely self-funded

“If there are more females and diversity in the industry and our films, we have better chances of winning [awards] and better chances of making ourselves known,” she said.

The industry has seen a recent increase in female directors and producers. According to their website, last year’s Toronto International Film Festival had 121 films selected that were directed or co-directed by women, a 33.6 per cent increase from its previous year.

“We hope that it carries on after we graduate”

Jean Kim, who worked with Glassman on False Spring as producer,  is also seeing a change in both the festival and the larger film industry.

“It wasn’t specifically noticeable until we were in our fourth year when more than half of the films submitted are being made by female directors,” said Kim.

Kim is also the co-producer of two other films that are part of RUFF this year, Dinner with The French and Rowanberries.

While Rowanberries tells the story of a mother and daughter and the sacrifices a mother has to make, Dinner with The French deals with the racism a black girl faces when meeting her white boyfriend’s family for the first time, and the subtle racism she faces throughout dinner. 

When discussing Dinner with The French, Kim said, “it’s a really interesting and great story we can tell, especially with our program having very little people of colour.”

Glassman behind the scenes of False Spring. Courtesy Rachel Glassman

The process of creating films for RUFF starts all the way in third year with the production of the scripts, leading to scouting and casting in September of their fourth year. Currently, most of the students working on RUFF films are in the editing stage of their production.

Director and underwater videographer Ala Lysyk focuses her film, Against the Current, on three female divers that work and create bonds with pregnant female tiger sharks at a sanctuary. Members of Lysyk’s crew were 60 per cent female. With Lysyk’s thesis film focusing on sexism in the film industry through a visual parallel, it also highlights three professional scuba diver’s skills and bonds with the sharks, who were not valued because of their gender.

Coming to Ryerson’s film program, Lysyk said she wasn’t sure what path she wanted to take for her thesis film. Once she saw a post about a tiger shark sanctuary , she knew immediately that she wanted to make a documentary on it. “I went there for the first time last year, I realized it wasn’t just a sanctuary for sharks but specifically for female sharks that were pregnant.”

Opportunity is key for female directors to showcase what they’re capable of

What Lysyk noticed when speaking to Cristina Zenato, one of the three subjects of Lysyk’s  film,  is that over the eight to nine years that she’s been with the sharks, no media outlet has given her any attention for her experience and work. “She feeds them, she’s working with them for over nine hour days, and she knows their names all by heart and their personalities,” said Lysyk. 

Shark Week, BBC and other big companies have been to the sanctuary with their own experts, but never given the professional female scuba divers any recognition for their expertise, according to Lysyk.

Lysyk wanted to become a scuba diver when she was eight, and became an instructor at 18. “In between that time, there was a shift of reality and perception of this being an idea, concept and reality that I wanted to happen. But it turned out to be a fantasy because it wasn’t the way  that people were treated, especially women,” said Lysyk.

In regards to this year’s RUFF, Lysyk said that women in film want to support other women, adding that “women are going out there and making their voices heard because they want to showcase what they haven’t been able to show people.”

Lysyk also gives credit to female professors in the film program for pushing a more inclusive and diverse academic landscape.

Opportunity is key for female directors to showcase what they’re capable of, said Glassman. 

“The fact that we have that here [at RUFF] and we have women in positions of power, such as directors and producers, means that we are going to be making those decisions down the line.”

Correction: a previous version of this article stated that 15 of the 22 films being featured at RUFF are directed by women. The Eyeopener regrets this error.

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