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Herland mentorship program nurtures aspiring female filmmakers

When Taouba Khelifa was halfway through a mentorship program supporting female filmmakers in Alberta, she went looking for women to work with on her short movie, Enough. And found none. Alberta, and the rest of the Canadian filmmaking world, leans heavily male.

So Khelifa found a male editor, cinematographer and sound technician, and they made the film, which will be shown Friday in Calgary as part of Herland, a festival of shorts made by rising female filmmakers.

"It really opened my eyes," Khelifa says about the paucity of women working as directors or crew. That shortage is exactly what the Herland Video Production Mentorship for Women is meant to address: The brainchild of filmmaker Sandi Somers, it's a five-month program that pairs young women who want to make movies with creative talent already working in the industry. The result is five shorts by Khelifa, Paige Boudreau, Gillian McKercher, Vicki Van Chau and Jessie Short.

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Khelifa, 25, was a youth-group supervisor in Edmonton with one short documentary under her belt when she decided to apply for the Herland mentorship program. Her script proposal was accepted, and she and the other directors received workshops in writing, editing and other aspects of filmmaking both in front of the camera and behind it. They were given a small budget of a couple of thousand dollars to hire professionals – who worked at a discount – and told to go out and make a movie. Other professional filmmakers, such as Edmonton's Eva Colmers, provided advice and guidance.

Khelifa's film Enough is a poetic short aimed at giving the sensation of eavesdropping on four young women's thoughts, dreams and doubts. "Everyone has these thoughts," Khelifa says, "but we may not share them."

Herland was created in the late nineties as a 10-day workshop for women starting out in the film business. It ended in 2009, but Somers re-established the program last year as a months-long creative mentorship between women who'd had some experience in filmmaking, and those who had been behind the camera for longer.

Somers says the goal was to encourage women who are at a tricky point in their careers, having made a few films but unsure how to progress further. "Often they'll have done about three films, and a lot of women stop making films after that. There are different reasons, but one of the biggest is the energy and time that it takes to try to get money, and then to get into a festival. It's so competitive these days."

Herland's filmmakers learn about directing, but also about writing grant proposals, budgeting, editing, scriptwriting and cinematography. As Somers says, it's as much about building confidence and networks as making a short film.

Khelifa has decided she'll try to make more movies, though she has no illusions about how easy that might be for a young woman of Algerian descent living in Edmonton.

"If the field is not very friendly to women and women of colour, what support will there be after Herland?" she asks. "I guess I'll find out."

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Short films from the Herland program screen at Calgary's Theatre Junction Grand at 7 p.m. on Friday (csif.org).

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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