52 Weeks of 52 Films By Women

Actor Michelle D'Alessandro Hatt of Friends on Facebook with composer Janal Bechtold at SJIWFF28. Photography by Tom Cochrane.

Actor Michelle D'Alessandro Hatt of Friends on Facebook with composer Janal Bechtold at SJIWFF28. Photography by Tom Cochrane.

We had the pleasure of meeting Michelle D'Alessandro Hatt at SJIWFF28 this past October. She's one of the main actors in Friends on Facebook, a short film directed by Chris Ross. Michelle chatted with us about completing the #52FilmsByWomen challenge at our Festival.

 

Why did you decide to participate in the 52 Films By Women Challenge? Why was it important to you?
 

I discovered the #52FilmsByWomen movement via Twitter in October of last year. Set in motion in 2015 by Women in Film - LA, the challenge to watch a film a week by a woman appealed to me because it's not only a pledge to support women in film, but an opportunity to promote their work to others via social media. When the 2016 stats show that women directed only 7% of the top 250 domestic grossing films in Hollywood, we need all the PR we can get.


How did you go about choosing your films? 

Initially, I thought the challenge would be easy. I clicked on the Women in Film - LA website, made my pledge and figured I'd surpass 52 films in no time. Although I was able to support the occasional woman-directed film with my box office dollars, I found I had to consciously seek out films directed by women in order to reach my goal.

Following the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram certainly helped to give me ideas, but I also went out of my way to find films by Canadian women and women of colour via the National Film Board, film festivals, and the Canadian section of Air Canada's in-flight entertainment. I had to work harder than I expected to, but it was ultimately a labour of love.


Did you come across any films that surprised you in particular? Any real stand outs that you can't stop thinking about?

It's so hard to pick favourites because every single film I watched as part of this pledge enriched me and inspired me. From the micro-budget short films to the big blockbuster features, I felt nothing but awe and respect for the women behind them. There are a handful of films that have stayed with me, films that I might not have otherwise seen if not for this quest: Namrata by Shazia Javed, Oh Lucy! by Atsuko Hiranayagi, Power of Love (Celine Dion Fans in Kenya) by Joyce Wong, and Las Rubias/The Blondes by Carlota Martinez. 


Any other lessons gleaned about the importance of women in the film industry? 

What I loved most about this process was the fact that, through watching so many films by women, as well as all of the woman-directed television I enjoy binge-watching, I have created for myself the film and TV industry I would like to see. At least half, if not many more, of the films and TV shows I have seen over the past year have been written and directed by women. The act of watching mostly stories by women is helping to shape my worldview in ways I didn't expect and I'm really energized by this. I've realized this challenge is not just about getting more women in front of and behind the camera, but about expanding our frame of reference for the human experience. As I embark on another year of my pledge, I hope to exceed the number 52, and to watch even more work directed by indigenous women and LGTBQ women. 

I’ve realized this challenge is not just about getting more women in front of and behind the camera, but about expanding our frame of reference for the human experience.

You tweeted that your experience at SJIWFF gave you a final push to complete the challenge. That's awesome! Can you tell me why that happened? 

I'd wanted to attend SJIWFF for a long time, so I was thrilled when Chris Ross, director of Friends on Facebook, told me that our film was selected for this year's festival. How amazing to have the chance to represent the world premiere of our film at a festival that champions women filmmakers! I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Over the course of the fest, I got to see 24 brilliant films by women from all over the world. 24! Instead of the usual film festival experience where a block of short films might include one film directed by a woman, every film at SJIWFF is. And this is how I managed to reach my #52FilmsByWomen goal by my deadline in the most wonderful way, so thank you!


As an actor, Michelle has appeared in films that have screened at festivals worldwide and on the Sundance Channel. Michelle’s latest films, Friends on Facebook and Tom Works Nights, just premiered at The St. John's International Women's Film Festival and The Hamilton Film Festival respectively. Guess Who’s Not Coming to Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner?, in which Michelle plays a 1950s cannibal housewife, has been an Official Selection of 12 film festivals and garnered 4 awards, including Best Film (YoungCuts Film Festival) and Best Comedy Short (Toronto Short Film Festival). As a writer, Michelle’s plays have been produced in the Toronto FringeSummerworks, and New Ideas Festivals. She was mentored by prolific playwright/performer Linda Griffiths through Theatre Ontario and has been a member of the Tarragon Theatre Playwrights’ Unit. Michelle is looking forward to making her film directing debut in 2018.

Candice Walsh