43North is not waiting around for Canadian film to meet equity goals

The Toronto-based production company is making and developing projects that reflect deeper, more thoughtful approaches to diversity


The film industry is trying to change.

Film festivals and funding bodies have enacted plans aimed at closing gender gaps, in front of and behind the camera.

But the founders of Toronto-based film, TV, digital production company, 43°North Productions – V.T. Nayani, Simone Ince and Camaro West – are not waiting around. All the work they are producing today is aimed at reflecting deeper, more thoughtful approaches to diversity.

“It’s 2019 and it’s not enough to just talk about ‘female-to-male disparity,’” says writer/director Nayani, who has worked as a filmmaker for nearly a decade. “Both are scientific terms, which reduce individuals to their reproductive parts. Those words erase countless folks who work in cinema and television every day – those who self-identify as men or women, and those who don’t conform to a specific gender identity. We’ve got decades, centuries really, of unlearning and decolonizing and reimagining to do.”

43°North was born out of a beautiful “friendship and sisterhood that has evolved over time” after the three met through a mutual friend, explains Nayani. But their friendship became a professional collaboration in 2014 when Nayani asked West to be the post-production producer on her first feature-length documentary, Shadeism: Digging Deeper.

A few years later she succeeded in convincing Ince to co-star in her 2017 short, Sad Girls Club, a film that tackled depression in the lives of women of colour. Soon the pair were co-writing a pilot for a digital series Nayani had created, and it got her thinking.

“When I started co-writing the screenplay for This Place, with Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs and Golshan Abdmoulaie, I knew it was a project that I wanted to maintain creative control over. I also knew I wanted the team to look like people from the communities I grew up in, the communities I am still a part of. Working with Camaro and Simone – building and dreaming with them – it was a natural fit.”

In 2018, 43°North Productions Inc., a nod to Toronto’s latitudinal coordinate – rounded – became official. “This is the city where we were raised, where we met, and where we’re embarking on this journey together,” explains Ince.

Recent projects include music videos for Witch Prophet (Time Traveler featuring Lido Pimienta) and Tanika Charles, including the just-released Tell Me Something, the second track from her Polaris Prize-longlisted sophomore album The Gumption. It is the second of her three videos shot by 43°North (the other two are Love Overdue and the upcoming Look At Us Now).

Directed by Nayani, Tell Me Something is a day-in-the-life video that follows Charles as she goes from beautifying in the morning to confidently wowing on stage, all the while scolding an unseen lover about finally making his intentions known. Nayani’s ability to create intimacy and vibrancy in her videos while showcasing her subjects’ star quality is one of the hallmarks of her work.

Now they’re days away from going into production on their first narrative film, This Place, funded by Telefilm’s Talent to Watch Program and the Reelworld E20 program. This Place is the story of two young women, one Tamil, the other of Iranian and Mohawk descent, who meet at a Toronto laundromat late one night. From parental loss, to familial dysfunction and unlikely love, the film explores “the stories of those living in the liminal space between worlds, displaced both abroad and at home,” says West.

In a recent interview, This Place’s co-writer and star, Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, told NOW that the film is also a story about “allyship across marginalized communities.” “We don’t have the same experience, but we can empathize with each other,” she said.

The theme of displacement reaches beyond the script and into their lives, and the lives of the people they explore and celebrate on screen.

“Diversity is a term that’s been co-opted over the years from BIPOC [Black/Indigenous/People of Colour] communities, in ways that no longer centre or support us directly,” says West, explaining that this commandeering has only made them more dedicated to marginalized voices of colour, as well as “multiple gender, cultural, religious and other intersecting identities.

“We want to cultivate a rooted and supportive culture of inclusion, where people from across our communities have the room, resources and respect, to tell their own stories. Until that is possible, equality or equity is not really going to be a reality.”

On the Tell Me Something shoot, the company’s ethos was mirrored throughout the set, which boasted women and non-binary crew members in every position.

“Crewing up with other women and non-binary artists is very intentional on our part to help showcase the talent of BIPOC artists, both in front of and behind the camera,” acknowledges Ince.

And it’s this inclusivity, community and drive for authentic storytelling that they hope helps change the Canadian film landscape for the better.

“Film can only represent the culture of those in society who have the power to tell their stories. Our work seeks to shift the balance of power by centering stories that are normally marginalized or erased in mainstream filmmaking,” says West. “Film can uplift, educate and shape perspectives. It can affect change. We know [the] damage that can be done with unethical and unrepresentative filmmaking.”

@chakavgrier

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