The “crazy” in Crazy8s presumably refers to the mindset—and production schedule—required to get a short film ready with only $800 in eight days. But emerging director Liz Cairns isn’t balking. She’s one of four women directors taking the reins of Crazy8s shorts this year, along with Arianna McGregor (“Tunnel”), Angelina Cantada (“Sikat”), and Kellie Ann Benz (“Stupid Chainsaw Tricks”). They make up more than half of the finalists, which is a female filmmaking first for the competition, now in its 11th year. Dwight Hartnett (“The Education of Wendy Wisconsin”) and Zia Marashi (“Cat vs. Man”) round out the finalists, whose quirky, high-concept scripts pushed them to the head of a record 115 applicants and into the final showcase on Saturday (March 27) at the Vogue Theatre, where their eight-day efforts will be screened.
Cairns, who works collaboratively with Taran Chadha, Joe Lo Bianco, and Erica Landrock as part of the filmmaking team Gentlemen Bandits, will be realizing Lo Bianco’s screenplay about “Sad Bear”, who roams the earth collecting people’s saddest souvenirs. “It’s a meditative story about grief and objects and letting go,” Cairns explains over coffee on Commercial Drive. “I’m really honoured that my team trusts me with this project. They said, ”˜You should direct it.’ ” This comes as a personal validation of her skills after film school and an industry apprenticeship where gender stereotypes still thrived. “I was told by one colleague, ”˜You’re good at organizing things and I’m good at thinking.’ Or, ”˜You’re quiet, so you won’t work well with actors.’ ”
That more women filmmakers have succeeded in Crazy8s in the same year that The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win a best director Oscar is probably due less to the Zeitgeist than to concerted effort by Crazy8s staffer and filmmaker Diana Wilson. “I was dismayed last year to see that only one of six [Crazy8s] films was directed by a woman,” Wilson explains by phone. “And when I looked back throughout the history of Crazy 8s, I saw similarly low numbers for women filmmakers.” She brought together some industry professionals, who collectively decided to virally “triple dog dare” their female filmmaking networks into entering the competition.
Sharon McGowan, a documentary producer, director, and UBC professor, enthuses by phone from her office: “I’m so glad the dare worked!” She explains that the B.C. Institute of Film Professionals commissioned a study in 2005 to see what had changed for women in film in the past 20 years, “and nothing had, believe it or not. Women are equally or more trained and educated than men, and yet when it comes to getting major leadership positions on productions, they’re not getting the work.”
For Cairns, her ambitions are clear: “I want to be a filmmaker.” And even now, it’s not an identity she feels she owns quite yet. “Until you get an opportunity like this, you feel like you have to justify yourself as a filmmaker even if you are making films and you’re working outside the framework of the industry.” After a gruelling eight days, which will add “Sad Bear” to her list of film credits, she plans to continue collaborating on—and justifying—her work. Expect feature films from a quiet and strong voice.