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DOXA Connexions: Barriers

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This post was written by one of the young women participating in the 2011 Kris Anderson DOXA Youth Connexions Forum, as part of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival. “Connexions” is an immersive 2-week program where 6 selected emerging female filmmakers create 6 short films in 6 days, while also connecting with industry professionals & checking out all the doc films & panels.

The big moment had finally arrived. I stood on stage beside 5 brilliant aspiring filmmakers. We waited prettily in our party dresses and high heels to introduce our films to a sold-out house at the Rio Theatre. My friends and family filled the entire front row.  Despite being blinded by the spotlight, I grinned at them proudly. My years of hard work had gotten me here. I could get used to this. The announcer began thanking sponsors and volunteers. I kept smiling.

Then the announcer turned his attention to us, the participants of the 6th annual Kris Anderson Connexions Youth Forum. But what he said made my stomach crunch and my feelings of excitement and anticipation curdle into confusion and smallness. “The Connexions Youth Forum is designed to help youth who face barriers in attaining their goals as documentary filmmakers…”

What!?! Barriers?? Really? And all this time I thought it was a program for talented young women. But I haven’t faced any barriers, I thought to myself. Actually quite the opposite. Through my privilege as a Canadian university student, making films found me, picked me up, and coddled me. I was troubled by this and continued thinking about it over the next few days.

Am I just a girl being given a chance to break through barriers? Or do I actually have talent as a filmmaker? This is a question that taunts many female artists. We are given special recognition for our womanhood, rather than for our art. The same goes for many artists of “marginalized” identities. We remain in special categories, we have our special shows, and are celebrated for our ‘different’ (non white male) identities.

I now realize the barriers I face are not obvious at the surface level. Women filmmakers are dealing with internalized barriers. Barriers arising out of the collective psyche that tell us women and technology don’t mix. Don’t touch those buttons, mind the wires, nevermind the lingo, you wouldn’t understand. It is the reason that in my youth I was an aspiring actress, not a filmmaker; a model, not photographer; a dancer, not a music producer. As a woman I am conditioned to see myself as an object of the public gaze, not as a cultural creator.

It is only in recent years, in the safety of academia (where I have always excelled), that I began touching the buttons, using technology as a medium to enhance research. But it was not until the incredible support I received in Connexions Youth Forum that I am now hoping to pursue documentary filmmaking as a career.

Throughout the Connexions program I felt empowered, excited, motivated and capable. Surrounded by incredible female mentors and peers, and equipped with a PD 150, a tripod, and a shotgun I broke through barriers that I had never even considered challenging.

So next year, if they decide to introduce the Connexions participants as ‘aspiring female filmmakers’ rather than ‘youth facing barriers’ (which skirts around entrenched sexism anyways…), this conversation about ‘barriers’ remains a necessary one. To address a problem such as sexism within the film industry we must recognize and name it. And although we must continue celebrating those who break through these barriers, we must not forget that their art is still art, and must to valued and integrated into mainstream culture as such.

Nathalie Down