British Columbia

Filmmaker's hockey-obsessed mother was inspiration for short film

Vancouver filmmaker Jenny Lee-Gilmore talks about Breakaway, her film about a Chinese-Canadian girl who dreams of being a hockey star.

Breakaway is one of the competitors in CBC's Short Film Face Off

Kate Smith, left, was the cinematographer, Jenny Lee-Gilmore, centre, was the writer and director, and Dide Su Bilgin, right, was producer for Breakaway. (Submitted by Jenny Lee-Gilmore/Photographer Brian Johnson )

There are a lot of firsts in filmmaker and writer Jenny Lee-Gilmore's new short film Breakaway, one of the competitors in CBC's Short Film Face Off, a showcase of the country's best short films. 

It's the first film lead actress Kailee Lowe, 12, has been in, the first for her co-star, Jayden Chow, and the first film Lee-Gilmore has written and directed for a wider audience.

In fact, Lee-Gilmore was finishing up her final year in film production at the University of British Columbia when she worked on the film with fellow students Kate Smith, who did cinematography, and Dide Su Bilgin, who produced.

"We would do our classes in the day and then have production meetings after class in the evening, and all the crew were mainly students as well," Lee-Gilmore said. 

Breakaway marked the first time Kailee Lowe, 12, had acted. Lowe plays Sammy, the main character in the film. (Submitted by Jenny Lee-Gilmore/Photographer Brian Johnson)

The film, which is about a young Chinese-Canadian girl who wants to become a hockey star, is based on Lee-Gilmore's mother Kelley's experiences growing up in East Vancouver in the 1970s. 

"She really, really wanted to play hockey. She was obsessed with the Canucks," Lee-Gilmore said. 

"But at the time, not a lot of girls played, not a lot of Asian people played. And it was quite expensive and her family didn't have a lot of money."

Eventually, her mom did get to play hockey and later enrolled Lee-Gilmore in a minor hockey girls' league when she was a young girl.

"She was my coach. She also has all the NHL apps on her iPad, so she tracks all the team," said Lee-Gilmore. "She's a hockey addict for sure."

Breakaway is based on writer and director Jenny Lee-Gilmore's mother's experiences growing up in East Vancouver in the 1970s wanting to play hockey. (Submitted by Jenny Lee-Gilmore, Photographer Brian Johnson )

Lee-Gilmore said she wanted to create a hockey film for her mother — one that addressed gender, race, and class and how that intersects with hockey.

"A lot of hockey films, I think, are about white masculinity. And I know my mom never found a film that she really resonated with," she said. 

At the same time, noting the concise nature of the short film format, Lee-Gilmore wanted to bring her lead character closer to her dreams by the end of the film. 

"I also wanted [it] to be an uplifting story, a story of hope." 

You can watch Breakaway on CBC's Short Film Face Off starting this Saturday at 7 p.m., or stream it online on CBC Gem.

Check out the other competitors here

With files from North by Northwest