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Canada’s Next Generation of Women in Film 

The calibre of CanCon on the big screen has seen a marked improvement and women filmmakers are leading the charge.

by Maggie McPhee

Canadian cinema stands at the precipice of excellence. For too long, our country’s filmic contributions suffered from underfunding, lacklustre distribution incentives, and an unlucky proximity to The Entertainment Capital of the World. Great Canadian cinema was the exception, not the rule, and if audiences sought local stories they’d have to settle for a limited roster of directors — David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, Xavier Dolan — or Bon Cop, Bad Cop. 

All this seems poised to change, in great part due to the diversity initiatives tirelessly fought for throughout the last two decades. Recently, the calibre of CanCon has seen a marked improvement, with women filmmakers leading the charge. This year, Molly McGlynn’s debut Fitting In took home VIFF’s Best Canadian Film Award, veteran director Sophie Dupuis won the TIFF equivalent for Solo, and Meredith Hama-Brown’s debut Seagrass received TIFF’s coveted International Critics Prize. 

These artists stand on the shoulders of giants, brave female filmmakers who kicked down the door, like Anne Wheeler, Nettie Wild, Loretta Todd, Sarah Polley, and Elle Máijá-Tailfeathers, and they represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to femme brilliance in contemporary cinema. To celebrate this milestone-in-the-making for national film, RANGE has assembled the next generation of women directors, screenwriters, and actors shining their genius across Canadian screens. 

Meredith Hama-Brown

(Photo: Norman Wong)

The Vancouver-based director and screenwriter has helmed a handful of short films and music videos since 2012, garnering a VIFF Sea to Sky award and Prism Prize nomination. Her 2023 debut feature Seagrass, a visually lush and subtle-yet-gut-wrenching portrait of intergenerational trauma played out within the family, earned numerous festival awards. The triple-threat talent also turned in an award-winning performance in Elizabeth Lazebnik’s 2022 film Be Still. Hama-Brown brings an innate patience and respect to her craft, holding space, allowing complex truths to emerge in the interstice. 

Fawzia Mirza

(Photo: Bradley Murray)

Fawzia Mirza has striven to put queer Muslim romances on screen for over a decade, ever since the glory days of web series. Her episode for ‘The Red Line’ marked the first story of its kind to appear on network TV and her first feature film Queen of my Dreams, named to ‘Canada’s Top Ten 2023’ and out late March, is equally barrier breaking. Beyond the diversity win, the film brims with heart, colour, and kinetic energy, much like the 1960s Pakistan to which it pays tribute. “I believe in the power of art as an essential way of breaking down barriers, changing the world, and saving lives,” the director and screenwriter has said, and she’s proving that belief with every new project. 

Amrit Kaur

The breakthrough star of Mindy Kaling’s comedy series ‘Sex Lives of College Girls’, Amrit Kaur has since showcased her ability to lead a feature drama role in Fawzia Mirza’s debut film Queen of my Dreams. A York University graduate and TIFF ‘23 Rising Star, the 30-year-old actress, writer, director and comedian says she’s ready to bring what she’s learned in Hollywood to the Canadian indie world to “elevate the film and television industry” of her home country.

Devery Jacobs

Devery Jacobs has made waves since her 2013 breakout role in the late, legendary Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes For Young Ghouls, including as Elora in Taika Waititi’s series ‘Reservation Dogs’. Her success, brought to new heights by her recent turn in Marvel’s ‘Echo’, hasn’t kept her from working within the Canadian system, and she’s collaborated in a generous catalogue of excellent local films. The Kahnesatake Mohawk actress also doubles as an award-winning filmmaker. With an impressive amount of experience under her belt at just 30 years old, Jacobs promises to continue building this momentum into a lifelong career. 

Kudakwashe Rutendo 

TIFF ‘23 Rising Star Kudakwashe Rutendo stunned festival audiences in her stand-out role as Amanda in Toronto-based director D. W. Waterson’s queer cheer drama Backspot. She brought a nuance and naturalness to her character that belied her 21 years. Like so many women working in Canadian film, Rutendo possesses many talents. The University of Toronto undergraduate is also a stage actor, CBC Reads 2024 contender, emerging author and poet. She brings honesty, depth, and compassion to her work, whatever the medium. 

Ariane Louis-Seize

Ariane Louis-Seize short films grapple with taboo sexual awakenings. She pushes boundaries, both in content and form, as she bends genres to her singular vision. Like her idol Jane Campion, she’s uncompromising and unapologetic; that’s why her debut feature Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person won Best Director at last year’s Venice Film Festiva and landed on ‘Canada’s Top Ten 2023’ list. She’s already started work on a second feature film about people who abandon their lives and just disappear. The Gatineau-born director seems fixed to create one of the most unique oeuvres in Canadian history.