Arts·Queeries

These 7 films were made in two weeks under quarantine — and you can watch them for free right now

The filmmakers worked from home using whatever equipment was available to them to make short films that speak to these extraordinary times.

The filmmakers worked from home using whatever equipment was available to them

A still from the short film 3%. (TQFF)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. 

What does a short film created during the COVID-19 lockdown look like? We now have seven answers to that question, care of some very talented Canadian filmmakers.

The results of the first round of the Queer Emergencies initiative, the films were released online last week during a special virtual screening. Collectively, they represent pretty remarkable feats of media-making: each film was created in just a few weeks, with the filmmakers adhering to social distancing rules and using whatever equipment was available to them in their homes.

I talked to each of the filmmakers about their films, the challenges that came with making them, and what their hopes are for making work post-COVID. You can find all their answers — as well as their films themselves — below.

3%

3% is directed by Thembani Mdluli, a Toronto-based writer, filmmaker and media artist originally from Winnipeg. They wrote, directed and produced The Secret Keeper (2016, 16mm/telecine installation) and directed and co-produced Jude & the Jinn (2015, digital short). Thembani also makes up one half of a writing collaboration with Toronto-based poet and artist Jasbina Justice. They is currently writing their second feature screenplay and a half-hour comedy pilot.

Watch now.

A still from the short film 3%. (TQFF)

Tell me about your film. What did you want to express with it?

Thembani Mdluli: I think the film speaks for itself. The concept is very simple and straightforward, so I think elucidating my intentions would do both the viewer and the work itself a disservice.

What was the most challenging part of creating this work amidst the situation we're facing?

The only real pandemic-related challenge I had is that I'm currently working a day job in an essential sector, so I was balancing that schedule with the two-week window that TQFF gave us to get our projects done. Beyond that, I deliberately kept the film simple in execution knowing that the pandemic would necessitate stringent limitations on what we could do. For this reason, the biggest challenges had less to do with the public health crisis we're facing and more to do with environmental factors. We shot the film outside on an extremely windy day, and that caused a fair bit of struggle with our screens and bounces and with stabilizing the tripod. There were also rapid alternations between clear and overcast skies, and we were constantly having to make adjustments to our lighting setup as a result.

What is a positive hope you have for the future of creating media once we make it through this pandemic?

Within the film and TV industry, I think there's a lot of (slightly panicked) contingency planning happening right now behind the scenes, in terms of content, for what the world might look like when we start to come out the other end of this pandemic, and for when some of the projects that were in production before all of this started are inevitably no longer relevant to the new zeitgeist. Hopefully this opens some opportunities for different voices to finally get their long overdue big breaks.

As Many Worlds

As Many Worlds is directed by Evelyn Pakinewati, an emerging Ojibwe artist, writer, educator, and director. Their work explores the intersection between dream and memory. Evelyn is a 2018 Reelworld Emerging 20 Fellow, 2019 Big Sky Native Filmmaker Initiative Fellow, 2019 4th World Media Lab Fellow, and a 2020 HotDocs Doc Accelerator Fellow. They are also the co-administrator of the Chinimiwin Collective, a group of multi-generational artists dedicated to the preservation and reclamation of traditional and contemporary visual culture.

Watch now.

A still from the short film As Many Worlds. (TQFF)

Tell me about your film. What did you want to express with it?

Evelyn Pakinewati: The film is shot entirely within the Nipissing Watershed, which is my family's traditional territory. I have often felt that home is where dreams reside, and As Many Worlds represents a third exploration of that belief within my practice. I chose to use this project as an opportunity to explore my own experience and interpretation of dreams. For this film I wanted to develop my own burgeoning practice as an animator, using illustrations that are partly inspired by the way knowledge has historically been documented visually in my culture.

What was the most challenging part of creating this work amidst the situation we're facing?

At the time, I was in Nipissing with a collaborator already working on what was intended to be a Nipissing-region specific research grant. The project, currently entitled "Living Memory," was intended to focus primarily on the teachings of Indigenous Elders and traditional knowledge carriers through recorded interviews. These interviews will soon become either a documentary film or an installation. The pandemic made the need for alteration immediately obvious. The invaluable nature of Indigenous life and knowledge meant that we simply could not under any circumstance risk unwittingly exposing any community member to the virus. This threat completely reframed the method in which we were able to do our research.  It became necessary for me to conduct all of my interviews remotely. Access to almost all resources were lost, including access to equipment and car rentals. We also incurred the unforeseen expense of self-isolating ourselves in an Airbnb. Monies received from the TQFF Queer Emergencies Fund went directly into keeping "Living Memory" alive and viable.

What is a positive hope you have for the future of creating media once we make it through this pandemic?

If I'm being completely honest, hope has lost a lot of relevance in my life. Hope feels too much like a bid for control, and I have no control. Accepting this and finding new motivation has been the most beneficial personal development I have experienced in my life thus far. I now have a better understanding that life is its own beauty and its own motivation. Whether or not the sun will rise tomorrow, the sun still shines today. I do not and will not ever have a say in that.

That being said, there will always be a need for stories as long as there are voices and hands to share them. Art and storytelling are fundamental to the wellness and survival of any culture. Art will always be made, as its practice has always been adaptive, fluid, and difficult to define. Now that efficiency is itself a public health issue, an ideal response would be less frenetic, more respect-driven productions and creations. I for one am no longer willing to live my life at an unhealthy pace, especially if I have the opportunity to be deliberate and cautious with my time.

Dear Journal

Dear Journal is directed by Amanda Ann-Min Wong, a filmmaker, writer, and musician. Her debut fiction short Swim Low (2016) was nominated for a Best Canadian Short Award at VAFF, and her film pitches Rosa's Flowers and Nonya both landed finalist spots in national pitch competitions. Her latest films include documentary short An Object of Merit, about a local Korean-Canadian ceramic artist exploring his craft, and The Way We Are, an archival short about the interweaving lives of four queer East Asian women.

Watch now.

A still from the short film Dear Journal. (TQFF)

Tell me about your film. What did you want to express with it?

Amanda Ann-Min Wong: In this time of COVID-19, isolation and social distancing has given me the time for self-reflection. Dear Journal is comprised of excerpts from real, authentic journal entries from 2006 to 2019. For a long time I kept these thoughts and feelings to myself, limited to my journal, because I wasn't sure how to talk about them or if I was even allowed to feel the way I did. I wanted to make this film raw, open, and honest — to express that it's okay to feel like we don't know who we are. It's okay to feel sad, frustrated, or lost. Sometimes it takes a decade to turn our demons for the better. And especially during this time of isolation, more than ever, I think we have the opportunity to support and validate each other's experiences.

What was the most challenging part of creating this work amidst the situation we're facing?

Making a film during the pandemic meant that I was not able to work with a sizeable crew due to social distancing. So the only person I worked with was my cinematographer, Benjamin Wong, who was already within my social distancing "bubble." I decided against filming in any outdoors location to limit any potential spread of COVID-19, so the whole film needed to be shot indoors, in my own home, which limited the options on what could be interesting enough to shoot. Finally, we had to deliver the completed film in two weeks, which meant that the schedule was tight. But besides all the logistical difficulties, I found that the most challenging part was actually the fact that I had to watch and re-watch my own very personal life experiences over and over again while shooting and editing. It was almost like re-living those moments again — which even though was hard in the moment, I also felt like helped give me perspective and the closure I needed to move on from the past.

What is a positive hope you have for the future of media-making once we make it through this pandemic?

I think that after this pandemic, we have the unique opportunity to create a new playing field for all artists and especially future film productions. COVID-19 has forced many of us to re-evaluate priorities in our lives as well as push for more empathy in our workplaces. I have witnessed productions in the past where I felt the culture lacked kindness and respect. Although the rise of this pandemic is upsetting, in this backdrop of fear I've seen so much support — for example, with TQFF and all of their funders/donators to help curate this Queer Emergencies screening. I hope that the community spirit and support that we have built for each other over the past couple of months will carry on even post-pandemic.

ice on the window like a thousand small bees

ice on the window like a thousand small bees is directed by Catherine Jones, a Toronto-based collage artist whose work explores life as a bisexual femme, madness, and chronic pain. She creates work at the intersections of digital image making, animation, collage, and photography. She is the founder of the Bi+ Arts Festival. Past projects include a collection of wearable art for "Mad Couture," shown at the Weston Family Learning Centre- AGO (2012), a retelling of The Red Shoes for "Beneath the Surface," a virtual exhibit for TTC commuters, and "The Ship of Fools," (2017) a series of hand-built collaged ceramic boats created in residency at the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemét, Hungary. 

Watch now.

A still from the short film ice on the window like a thousand small bees. (TQFF)

Tell me about your film. What did you want to express with it?

Catherine Jones: Using layered collages of sound, music, voice, texture, and and moving images — excerpted mostly from found footage, newsreels, and home movies — I am looking to explore the tension between bodies reaching for each and then turning away or pulling apart. I place this within my history as a bisexual person whose body has historically been considered a vector of dis/ease and dis/comfort within both queer and straight worlds (in the early days of HIV bi+ men were considered "carriers" of HIV from their queer adventures to suburban straight life, and to this day many lesbian women will not date bi+ women because biphobia positions us as infectious). And now we have this pandemic, where our impulse is to seek each other out, whether seeking comfort from anxiety, fear, or connecting to others in sickness. But we are mandated, for the greater good, to isolate and practice safe distancing. Using found footage from instructional videos and home movies on the Internet Archive / Prelinger Archive I have overlayed and collaged bodies reaching and turning, leaning toward and leaning away.

What was the most challenging part of creating this work amidst the situation we're facing?

There weren't technical challenges as such, and because I work in collage (mostly due my disability and not being able to carry equipment or walk without getting dizzy, tripping, or falling over), I usually am at home working on my laptop. So being alone and working on a project using found footage and collage and layers of sound is my status quo. But what was challenging was this sense of rage and of grief that comes and goes in me, kind of like its own low grade fever. I am appalled at what is not talked about — about the deaths of primarily BIPOC in the U.S., about their President who is just quite bananas, about how we have failed homeless and poor people in this city (for those of on ODSP who have some income and got CERB, ODSP claws back 50% of it and that sucks). Also, how we say "wash your hands, wash your hands" but many Indigenous communities do not even have running water because over the years industries and businesses have fucking poisoned it and there seems to be no political will to fix that. So this rage comes over me and I start to wonder where I should best be spending my energy.

What is a positive hope you have for the future of media-making once we make it through this pandemic?  

Oh man. Well, I hope that there are more opportunities for artists with disabilities. For years we have been told, "No, we (i.e. arts organizations, theaters, festivals, etc.) don't do virtual screenings; we don't do events that stream to people's homes, it's too hard, too expensive, etc." But lots of arts organizations have figured out how, super cheaply and with enthusiasm and with nimbleness, how to "go virtual." I mean, for sure there should definitely be a welcome place for gathering together as a community in person (when the pandemic is over), but lots of venues are not accessible. And with a disability, sometimes we just don't have the spoons to attend events in person. Doesn't mean we are not wanting to be there, or to create for that venue. So my hope is that post-pandemic we don't go back to ignoring and marginalizing people living with disabilities.

Mindalaes in Quarantine

Mindalaes in Quarantine is directed by Samay Arcentales Cajas, a Kichwa digital media artist and filmmaker based in Toronto. Her works have been shown at ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival, aluCINE Latin Film + Media Arts Festival, and Mayworks Festival of Working People, among others. Her last short film In Moment was commissioned by imagineNATIVE and premiered at their 2017 film festival. Samay has also facilitated film programs at Sketch Working Arts, including Fluidity on Film, a film program for LGBTQ2S youth. She held her first solo show at the Whippersnapper Gallery in 2017. Samay currently works as video designer, production designer, and editor for various Indigenous artists and filmmakers across the country.

Watch now.

A still from the short film Mindalaes in Quarantine. (TQFF)

Tell me about your film. What did you want to express with it?

Samay Arcentales Cajas: Mindalaes in Quarantine is a glimpse into what we are currently experiencing as an Indigenous (Kichwa) family with a small business to maintain. When self-isolation began, I realized the importance of documenting our activities as much as I could, however small or big, and asked my family to do the same. It is not the first time Indigenous communities are faced with a pandemic, and I saw it as an opportunity to take our stories back into our own hands. I wanted to show that there is unity and joy in what we are doing, despite the circumstances. A disease has never been able to bring us down. In this context, it has strengthened our work and vision for a better future.

I also wanted to introduce my family to the world in a way. We are Mindalae, which is a term we use to describe the Kichwa Otavalo tradition of travel and trade (what could now be understood as someone who travels for commerce, although there is much more to it). It is a practice that was active much before Spanish colonization in our territory, and continues until this day. Without knowing it, thousands of people around the world have interacted with our community because we are everywhere! Mostly selling our handmade products or playing music. Our livelihoods depend on crowds gathering and buying from us, so what does it mean when we can't go outside and do what we've done for decades?

What was the most challenging part of creating this work amidst the situation we're facing?

It was challenging to think about what to include and exclude in the film. There was a much more serious aspect that I chose to leave out, such as the stress of not being able to pay the rent of a store that has been closed for two months now, the anxiety behind what it would mean if one of us did get sick, and the worry we have for our family members in Ecuador, which has one of the highest death tolls due to the pandemic in Latin America. It was important for me to not paint our story as a sad and difficult one; we have too many of those within an Indigenous context. There is so much love and lightheartedness in what we do, so I chose to focus on that more than anything.

What is a positive hope you have for the future of media-making once we make it through this pandemic?

This felt like an opportunity to think outside the box. It allowed me to explore different possibilities within the constraints we had to create something with an important message. I hope that the film world or industry can see that films made at home are just as valuable as the ones involving several locations and larger productions. All of the shorts that came out of this first iteration of Queer Emergencies were so beautiful and were clearly made with so much thought and care. That is something that should be valued at all levels. The film industry can be so dismissive of emerging (and experimental) creators, but something like this shows that we have so much to say and offer.

A Sacred Place

A Sacred Place is directed by Natalie King, a queer interdisciplinary Anishinaabe artist, facilitator, and member of Timiskaming First Nation. King's practice includes video, painting, sculpture, and installation as well as community engagement and activism. Often involving portrayals of queer femmes, King's works are about embracing the ambiguity and multiplicities of identity within the Indigenous queer femme experience. King's practice operates from a firmly critical, decolonizing, equity-oriented, non-oppressive, and future-bound perspective, capturing the realities of lived lives through frameworks of desire and survivance.

Watch now.

A still from the short film A Sacred Place. (TQFF)

Tell me about your film. What did you want to express with it?

Natalie King: My film A Sacred Place is a video assemblage that explores Indigiqueer identity, the colonial gaze, and my relationship to land, water, space, and place. In the film I was exploring my relationship to my identity and my thoughts and feelings about being a urban Indigenous person. I think the film is reflexive in a way that I'm really happy with. Using archival and found footage and only shooting/working from home in such a short timeframe also really helped me create the narrative in my work. Since I was only able to work from archival footage, it created sort of a mirror effect. What sort of images of people like me could I find, if there were any? What worlds can I create? How can I get my message across with so many barriers? As queer Indigenous artists we do this all the time anyway — we ask these questions; we're constantly thinking about these things. I became as much about the external as the internal.

What was the most challenging part of creating this work amidst the situation we're facing?

In terms of the timeline, it was a very short turnaround, and I made/edited the film in the span of a weekend. Though it was fast, I'm really happy with the immediacy of the work and the final result. 

What is a positive hope you have for the future of media-making once we make it through this pandemic?

A hard part about working through this pandemic is not being able to focus and finish a task, with everything rapidly changing and the future being so uncertain. In general I think folks should be a little easier on themselves in terms of productivity. It's hard; we're all going through it right now and I think we need to give each other the space to be distracted, to relax, and to not judge how we're coping. 

Working In

Working In is directed by Vanessa Dion Fletcher, a Lenape and Potawatomi neurodiverse artist who works in performance, textiles, and video. She uses porcupine quills, Wampum belts and menstrual blood to reveal the complexities of what defines a body physically and culturally. In 2019 Vanessa completed artist residencies at OCAD University, Agnes Etherington Art Centre Queen University, and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Watch now.

A still from the short film Working In. (TQFF)

Tell me about your film. What did you want to express with it?

Vanessa Dion Fletcher: Working In is a satirical infomercial modelled after television spots from my childhood in the 90s. It also includes clips from contemporary YouTube/social media channels that promote exercise, productivity, and healthy eating. Satirical work such as the Lesbian Park Rangers by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan as well as videos by Thirza Cuthand are a huge inspiration. We're over-saturated with media telling us how and why we should work out; this is a counter-story of how and why to work in. 

What was the most challenging part of creating this work amidst the situation we're facing?

The most challenging part was the time constraint. We had less than a month, which was a big motivator but also a challenge. Because of social distancing, I used mostly found footage which ended up benefiting the work.

What is a positive hope you have for the future of media-making once we make it through this pandemic?

I hope that film/artmakers continue to support one other, and I hope that the general public sees a new value in creative work. 

Interviews have been condensed for length and clarity. For more information about the Toronto Queer Film Festival and its initiatives, visit their website.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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