Breakthroughs Film Festival: 10 years of emerging women & non-binary filmmakers

For the past 10 years, the Breakthroughs Film Festival has been recognizing and representing the value of women and non-binary directors. The festival has provided opportunity for many filmmakers from these communities, offering an important space where their voices can be heard.

This year’s Festival theme is entitled Invisible and invites filmmakers to share stories that showcase an exploration of the stories of marginalized identities – often both highly visible and yet seemingly invisible at the same time.

There will be a total of 26 short films featured in five programs in this year’s Festival: Best of BFF, Through Our Rituals, Through the Generations, In The City and In My Body. The Festival runs from June 16 to 20, 2021 (streaming online).

Parkdale by Lisa Jackson

Highlights of the programs include the award-winning Ain’t No Time for Women (Hot Docs 2021, Best Canadian Short Documentary) directed by Sarra El Abed about a group of women who gather at a Tunis hair salon on the eve of the 2019 presidential election, giving us an intimate look into Tunisia’s young democracy; Parkdale directed by award- winning filmmaker Lisa Jackson which follows two sisters over the course of a night as they roam the streets of their rough neighbourhood trying to avoid another stay in foster care; I Do But I Don’t directed by Marlee Druker which explores weddings, marriage, and societal expectations with a look back on a childhood that set up unattainable standards; We, The People directed by Nelie Diverlus which looks at an in-depth analysis of how lack of access to food, financial means, and other resources is affecting lower-income communities in Toronto – COVID-19 being a large factor; and Houseplant directed by Angie Lawrence, an animated short film paired with an original spoken word poem, exploring issues of disconnection, body, and gender identity.

Ain’t No Time for Women by Sarra El Abed

The organization was first launched as Octavia Films founded by Brian Carver, as an initiative to offer educational and career-building opportunities to women in film, such as workshops and production grants. “Breakthroughs Film Festival was just one part of the organization’s operations but eventually became its core activity,” said Mariam Zaidi, Festival Director. “The organization has seen incredible growth over the past 10 years, building a reputation for being a celebratory, welcoming, and supportive community space for emerging women and non-binary filmmakers in Toronto.”

In 2020, like many others, the Festival went online and were then able to reach a broader audiences across Canada. “BFF’s vision has always been to bridge the gender gap in the filmmaking industry, where women and non-binary directors make up a small percentage and must work even harder than men at the sames stages in their career to finance and exhibit their projects,” said Zaidi.  “Acknowledging the lack of representation in mainstream festival spaces, BFF prioritizes the work, expressions, and experiences of those who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, trans, non-binary, working class, neurodiverse, or people with disabilities. The festival has always been committed to programming independent films by emerging artists whose voices, perspectives, and artistic approaches counter dominant mainstream narratives. We are dedicated to fostering and strengthening the larger arts community by being a resource and space that emerging filmmakers can rely on for support, guidance, professional development, and community.”

Wanted Strong Woman by Marilyn Cooke

Each year, the Festival draws a strong representation from Toronto-based filmmakers but Zaidi tells us this year there were way too many great films to choose from. So, Breakthroughs Film Festival Lead Programmer Aashna Thakkar, decided to include some of them in a shorts program titled In Our City —  a collection of films by Toronto-based filmmakers that actually reflect on what it means to live, work, and grow in a city like Toronto. Others are sprinkled through programs like Through Our Rituals, Through the Generations, and In My Body. “We’re also proud of the films in our Best of BFF program, which showcases the festival’s evolution and rich history through 6 shorts that celebrate the creators who have paved the way for filmmakers today and who continue to make waves since their very first screenings with us,” said Zaidi. Some of the Toronto based filmmakers in these programs include Niya Abdullahi, Yazmeen Kanji, Beth Warrian, Nelie Diverlus, Christine Wu, Shasha Nakhai, Reem Morsi, Jasmin Mozaffari, Lisa Jackson, and Erum Khan.

With Love From Munera by Yazmeen Kanji

Aside from offering all screenings online as a result of the current pandemic, Zaidi tells us this is actually their second online film festival. “We were one of the first in the city to pivot last year and are in much better shape to host a virtual edition for our 10th anniversary this year. Our films will be hosted through the wonderful streaming platform Sisterhood Media TV, an organization whose mandate is perfectly aligned with ours.”

Breakthroughs will also be offering panel discussions on-demand, workshops via Zoom, and virtual filmmaker meet-ups to make up for some of the skills-building, conversations, networking, and fun get-togethers that were a highlight of most festivals.

“We’re really grateful to celebrate 10 remarkable years, particularly everything we’ve been able to accomplish this last year, and couldn’t have done it without the dedication and passion of the team behind the festival, the talented filmmakers who choose to share their stories with us, and our beautiful audiences who continue to support us year after year,” said Zaidi.

For a complete list of  what’s streaming during the Breakthroughs Film Festival visit the site here.



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