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When Calgary-based filmmaker J Stevens was working as a director of the CBC series Sort Of, there were a number of non-binary, trans and gender-nonconforming film workers on the crew.
It was through a program called Trans Film Mentorship, which gave emerging trans film workers the opportunity for paid work on projects. Stevens says the program was great, but they were often approached on set and told they were the first non-binary film worker in a key industry position such as director that the mentees had ever worked with.
“It didn’t make me feel good, by any means,” says Stevens. “I’m happy I was there but I was like ‘Ah, I wish there were more folks that were already doing this and were in those positions and those positions of power.’ ”
Stevens was one of the first openly non-binary filmmakers in the Directors Guild of Canada. They co-created and directed the mockumentary series Slo Pitch — they were also the cinematographer — and episodes of Crave’s Astrid & Lilly Save the World. Playback named them one of the “Top 10 Filmmakers to Watch” in 2022 and they recently wrapped production on their debut feature film Really Happy Someday, which they also co-wrote and produced. This year, they also founded the Spindle Films Foundation, a Calgary-based non-profit organization that has launched its first mentorship program to support transgender, non-binary, two-spirit and gender-diverse Canadian filmmakers. The six-month program will begin in Banff in the winter of 2024 and applications are open until Sept. 30.
“It’s specifically focused on writing and directing and helping people get up to those positions of power and also make change and have more of a say in who is being hired as well,” says Stevens.
The program is open to any Canadian or Canada-based trans, non-binary, two-spirited or gender-diverse emerging filmmaker over the age of 18. The Spindle Films Foundation is being funded by the Canada Council for the Arts with support from The Skipping Stone Foundation, the Directors Guild of Canada, William F. White, Scriptation and shot Deck.
“Ideally, folks who have some sort of major project under their belt, whether that’s a short film or a digital series or just a script they have written,” Stevens says. “Just some sort of experience so we know as we bring in these mentors who will be quite established in the industry there will be a shared language and some concept of what is involved in creating a film or writing a film.”
Three mentors and various guest speakers, who haven’t been named yet, will be part of a week-long intensive in Banff at the start of the program. Participants will spend six months finding job shadowing or job opportunities in the industry.
Stevens began filming Slo Pitch, which centred on a queer slo-pitch beer league team called the Brovaries, in 2020 in Toronto. Its second season was picked up by IFC to stream in the U.S. and on AMC+ in Canada. They co-created the series with Karen Knox and Gwenlyn Cumyn and the cast and crew were people who have traditionally been under-represented in the film and television industry. Fifty per cent of the cast were BIPOC and 70 per cent of the cast and crew identify as female or non-binary. Eighty per cent of the cast identified as LGBTQ+.
“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Stevens says. “It’s so important to lift up the folks around you. I’m excited for the opportunity to create a community as well and have these filmmakers feel supported … and if they are in their career and having a tough moment, they know they have support.”
For more information visit spindlefilms.ca/mentorship-program