The Birdwatcher reveals distaff side of industry at Vancouver International Women in Film Festival

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      In an industry where women are consistently reduced to empty, one-dimensional figures, where their worth is weighed on how fuckable they look in a pair of heels and just how much skin they’re willing to show alongside their decidedly better-written male counterparts, it’s easy to see why local filmmaker Siobhan Devine is so enamoured of her latest work.

      “It was all women in it,” Devine tells the Straight by phone, describing her initial reaction to The Birdwatcher’s screenplay. “They were strong, normal women, you know? There was not a single, ‘And she sat down in her smouldering red dress,’ nothing like that. They were just regular women trying to live their lives.”

      The story of Saffron (Camille Sullivan), a terminally ill mother who decides to track down her birth mom (the titular ornithologist, played by a cold Gabrielle Rose) to guarantee the welfare of her two kids, The Birdwatcher came to Devine’s attention with uncanny timing. The director knew a friend and mother who had recently died of cancer, though it should be noted that The Birdwatcher—making its Vancouver premiere at this year’s Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (March 8 to 13)—is far from being a disease-centred sob story.

      “I don’t really see it as a movie about cancer,” she says. “It’s really about the woman looking for her birth mother and then how all these women relate to each other in terms of mother-daughter. And the fact that she’s dying of cancer is just a fact.”

      At its most superficial level, the Vancouver-made film passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, but Devine’s female-fronted crew (local writer Roslyn Muir penned the script, and women filled behind-the-scenes roles that range from producer to composer to camera operator) ensures that the gender-specific themes are explored with deft precision from the perspective of women.

      Considering these mechanics, The Birdwatcher makes an apt headliner for the 11th annual VIWIFF, which will spotlight almost 50 female-backed films at the Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour Street) in the span of just six days. Among the screenings are features, documentaries, and shorts from both at home and abroad that deal with the struggles of parenthood, female experiences of love and sex, and a fictional tale of a murderous woman who hilariously targets men covered in facial hair, among others.

      A series of Q & A sessions, panel discussions, networking events, and workshops will serve to further illuminate and connect women working in film production. For Devine, it’s a vital feat, one that defies Hollywood’s perception of women and highlights what female filmmakers can bring to the often male-dominated table.

      “Sometimes I’m mystified by how many women’s films are directed by men,” she says. “Not that men can’t do it, but I do think that we have a different way of looking at the world and I think that women see other women in a more three-dimensional way—or 18-dimensional way maybe is a better way of putting it.”

      For more information about the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, or to purchase tickets, visit

      Follow Lucy Lau on Twitter @lucylau.