Montreal filmmaker makes her debut at Cannes festival

Kathy-Ann Thomas wrote and produced a short film called Snow, based on her own experiences of racism growing up in Canada. Now, her film has brought her all the way to the Cannes film festival.

Short film Snow is an exploration of race and identity through the eyes of a young girl

The film Snow, written and produced by Kathy-Ann Thomas, will screen at the Cannes film festival this week. (SNOW/Cotton Bush Productions)

Kathy-Ann Thomas has worked on a number of big-budget, Hollywood-bound projects during her two decades in the industry, but it's a short film based on her own childhood experiences of racism that has landed her a spot at the film world's most prestigious festival.

This week, she will make her first ever appearance at Cannes, riding on the success of a short film she wrote and produced called Snow.

Thomas told CBC's All in a Weekend that when she came to Canada from Grenada, landing in Montreal at eight years old, the move changed her perception of what it means to be black.

"I come from an island where everybody is black, so you really don't notice that there are other cultures and other people that are different than you," said Thomas.

"But then when you come into a country like Canada where there's already set rules of what race is, it's really difficult.

Kathy-Ann Thomas has been working in the film industry for 20 years. (Kathy-Ann Thomas/Facebook)

The film, only 10 minutes long, follows the simple story of a new arrival to Quebec who experiences racism, and snow, for the first time.

Thomas remembers the first time she saw snow in Canada, and while she felt wonder, it also made her feel isolated.

"I remember being in awe and wondering why that was coming out of the sky and why this white thing was falling out," she said.

The unnamed girl in the film is bullied by another child, who claims her skin is dirty compared with the snow. 

Thomas said she often has the experience of being the only black child in her classes at school or even in her neighbourhood growing up.

She said she hoped the film would offer a narrative that is relatable and universal.
The film will air on CBC TV in September as part of the Short Film Faceoff series. (Cotton Bush Productions)

"What's wrong with being black? [That's] essentially what my message is. We can just be ourselves and be okay with it."

Thomas has worked as a production coordinator and assistant production coordinator on high-profile films such as Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, but says it can still be difficult to securing funding for her own projects.

Snow is independently funded. She raised more than $5,000 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.

The film earned a spot at the Cannes Short Film Corner, an honour Thomas called "surreal."

She recalled visiting the city of Cannes after graduating from university and buying a postcard promoting the festival.

"I thought, 'One day I'm going to be back. And look here I am, going to Cannes with a film. So I'm very excited."

The film Snow will be screened on CBC TV in September on the Short Film Face Off series.

With files from All in a Weekend