Jenina MacGillivary and Tamara Segura on the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award

The RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award (RBC MJ Award) was founded in honour of St. John’s filmmaker and student mentor Michelle Jackson, who passed away suddenly in 2008.This annual peer-juried award is open to emerging female directors who reside in Newfoundland and Labrador and have not yet directed a feature film. The award provides services and cash towards the creation of a six-minute film.The winner of this year's RBC MJ Award will receive her award at the festival's ExxonMobil Closing Night Gala.

We talked to past winners of the RBC MJ Award, Jenina MacGillivray and Tamara Segura about the films they made with the help of the money and services they won, their advice for emerging filmmakers and what’s next for each of them. Jenina’s film “The Tour” will screen at the festival’s ExxonMobil Closing Night Gala.

On set of "The Tour"

SJIWFF: Could you tell me a bit about “Before the War” and “The Tour,” the films you made through the RBC MJ Award ?

T: “Before the War” was shot last year and screened at the festival last year. It’s about a war veteran who returns home with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s the story of how his family cope with that situation. It was shot in about three days with a very small budget and a very efficient crew.

J: “The Tour” was shot this past June, I also had a small crew, about twenty-six people. The whole thing was shot on a bus which was a bit of a challenge but I was also lucky to have a very efficient crew. The film is about a tour bus guide named Alice who has a broken heart and is trying to give a tour of the city of St. John’s. She’s giving her tour to a group of world-weary tourists and as they bounce along there’s a twist that changes the nature of the tour. I won’t give away anymore, no spoilers, it’s going to screen at the closing night of the festival.

I’m really excited about that. My first film “Boarding” screened at the Atlantic film festival last year and I got to go there and watch it with my daughter, Alex. “Boarding” is about my sister and she came from P.E.I. to see the film. It was amazing to watch the film with them and I’m really looking forward to seeing my second short film screened to a big audience at the Women’s Film Festival this year.

SJIWFF: Could you tell me a bit about your experience of the mentorship aspect of the program?

T: We were both mentored by Anita Mcgee. Anita is such special figure in the festival and in this program in particular because she has so much passion for helping young, female filmmakers grow and find their voice. For me, she wasn’t just a mentor on this project, she became a role model and she’s become one of my closest friends.

Sometimes we forget that we make films because we want to say something. The core of this program, what Anita helps you dig out is your motivation. Also, how to handle a crew while you’re on set because we’re emerging filmmakers we don’t have a ton of experience, having her there definitely boosts your confidence. Anita always tries to protect your voice as a director.

J: I totally agree with Tamara, Anita has been the mentor for every RBC MJ Award film and she was an excellent mentor on all levels. She really made sure that what you wanted to say was coming across. Ruth Lawrence was the producer on both our films and she was an excellent person to work with, very supportive. She’s an amazing producer, she really cares about your vision for the film.

T: Ruth is really supportive and creative. She also won the RBC MJ Award so she’s very familiar with the process.

J: The festival, in general, is supportive every step of the way.

Tamara Segura Directing
Tamara Segura Directing

Tamara directing "Before the war"

SJIWFF: What made you want to tell these stories as films?

T: In my case, it’s the only medium where I know how to express ideas and emotions. I’ve never explored any other form of narrative art. My official training comes from film school. Anytime I want to express something that’s the avenue I choose, it’s the most familiar and it’s the dearest to my heart. That doesn’t mean this story couldn’t have been told as a short story or a poem but for me film brings all art forms together.

J: I like to tell stories in different mediums, I’m a songwriter so I like to tell some stories in that tighter form. Songs let you transfer large ideas with impact and immediacy. Writing lets you do different things, you can say exactly what a character is thinking, you can delve into the past. Also, with prose and song writing you can do it by yourself, you can write alone in a room and edit it for a long time.

If you want to tell a story through film you have to be sure that film is the medium it’s best suited to because it’s such a hard thing to do. You have to get a lot of people together, it takes a lot of money and it takes a long time.But there are some stories that are best told as a collection of images.This story really felt like it should be told with images, I could just picture the bus moving along.

There’s also something really powerful about an audience coming together to experience a story together in one room. I love that, that kind of experience still exists. We usually watch movies alone on our computers and I love the experience of everyone coming to physically be in a room and share a story together.

SJIWFF: It sounds like “Boarding” is partly about that collective experience of coming together to view something, the tourists are a kind of audience.

J: I was totally going to say that next. No, but there does seem to be some reflection between those two things.

SJIWFF: Did you draw on anything you learned from songwriting to make this film?

J: There’s a rhythm and pacing to a film and it’s the same with a song. A song is such a short form that it needs to be just right. Even if one word is wrong the listener gets knocked out of the song and I think it’s the same with a film. They both have to have seamless rhythm.

SJIWFF: Were there any moments where you were forced to improvise or do things differently than you planned while making your film?

T: Unexpected things always happen when you’re making a film. The movie didn’t end up being exactly what I had in mind when I wrote the script but it’s satisfying when that happens because it shows that you’re flexible and able to get what you want no matter what challenges arise.

J: I think what Tamara is saying about being flexible and having the long game in mind is important. You start with an idea, then it becomes a script, then you have the footage in the editing room, then there’s the finished film - they’re all different things. The idea and the finished film have the connection of being the same story but they’re also very different.

There were a lot of challenges making this film, even setting up the camera in the small walkway between the seats on the bus was tricky. We didn’t foresee how hard it would be to get the angles we wanted, even just moving around in the space was difficult. Having twenty-six people on a bus trying to shoot with the light changing every five seconds, as it does in Newfoundland, was a challenge for continuity.Also, we didn’t realize there wouldn’t be any power on the bus, we had to run all the equipment off generators.

SJIWFF: How did you get the bus?

J: There’s a guy who works at Holy Heart High School where I’m a substitute teacher. I was talking about how I need a bus in the staff room and he was like, ‘Hey, my uncle has a bus company’. So I called the uncle up and he gave us a great deal on the bus. Chris Duke, the bus driver was a dream, he ended up acting in the film. He was so professional and a great actor too.

Jenina on set of "The Tour"

Jenina on set of "The Tour"

SJIWFF: What advice do you have for female, first-time filmmakers?

T: You have to make sure that you know why you want to tell your story. You are involving so many people and using so many resources - it’s a big responsibility. You’re taking responsibility for a community. If you don’t know why you want to tell a story - wait. But once you’re sure just go for it. Don’t wait for people to come to you. Don’t complain that there aren’t enough resources, there will always be challenges. If you want to tell a story you tell it with whatever you have. The technology available today means that you can be very independent, definitely more so than five or ten years ago.

For female filmmakers my most important piece of advice is be confident. I’ve found that the most challenging part of being a filmmaker hasn’t been finding funding, getting people involved or getting people interested in my projects. The most challenging thing has been finding confidence, that’s the one thing you can’t lack.

J: It’s true confidence is so valuable. Tamara’s right, the technology is there. Beg, borrow, steal a camera. Write a script, ask your friend with a camera to shoot it, see if you like the feel of that. Get your friends involved, it doesn’t take any money to see if film is the medium you want to tell your stories in. Practice, take a camera everywhere with you. Definitely tap into the resources in your community, like the Women’s Film Festival. They have training workshops for women during the festival. They do Scene & Heard every year. The Women’s Film Festival is an amazing resource it’s helped so many female filmmakers in St.John’s and beyond. FRAMED just went to Nain to make films with youth in Inuit communities.

Tamara filming "Before the War"

Tamara filming "Before the War"

SJIWFF: What’s next for both of you?

T: I’m developing my first feature film, it was my thesis at the film school that I attended in Cuba. I’m adapting what was initially a Cuban story to the Canadian context. So this summer I was chosen by the Atlantic Film Festival Script Program to develop the story and I’m about to finish the first draft. Very briefly, it’s a story about an older couple who own a farm. They have someone come to work for them and eventually the woman realizes that the employee is someone from her husband’s past.

I’m also in the early stages of developing an animation project.

J: I’m working on a short film called “Skip” that I’m hoping to make through the PictureStart program. It’s about about a man who lives around the bay and is trying to get an expert rock skipping team together to go to the Michigan Rock Skipping Tournament while also caring for his aging grandfather.

I’m also in the early stages of writing a feature length film. Tamara and I both went to the P.E.I. Screenwriters’ Bootcamp this summer with the help of the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation. The film I was working on is about a woman named Marion, who works at a Halfway house. The protagonist is based on my mother who worked with young offenders when we were growing up. It's story that's very close to my heart.