Not a lot of filmmakers have been lucky enough to spend the last year sheltering in place with their principal collaborator. Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli are the exception.
The personal and professional partners’ inventive and unnerving short films Slap Happy, Chubby and Woman In Stall led to last year’s devastating first feature Violation, which stars Sims-Fewer as a woman working her way through trauma as methodically and horribly as possible. They’ve been enduring the pandemic together, shepherding Violation through the mostly virtual festival circuit and trying to figure out their next thing.
“The beauty of working with a collaborator is that I feel like we’ll never run out of ideas,” Mancinelli says. “We literally don’t have enough time to develop all the ideas.”
The pair had been working separately in Toronto for nearly a decade before they met at the 2015 TIFF Talent Lab. Which doesn’t sound especially interesting, until we pull back a little.
“We both went to York, just a year apart, and never met each other,” Sims-Fewer says. “So we’re both going to Talent Lab, and we had all our friends saying, ‘Oh, Dusty’s there, too! You guys should meet each other!’ And I watched Dusty’s films – we all got the chance to watch each other’s work before the lab – and just really loved the films he was making. We just had so much to talk about, right from the first day.”
“We were both discovering the kinds of filmmakers we wanted to be,” Mancinelli says, “both in terms of the stories we were interested in telling and the aesthetic that we were drawn to. And there’s almost a similarity to self-actualization as a human being as you try to get comfortable in your own skin and figure out who you are. I feel like I didn’t really know who I was as a filmmaker, really, until we started.”
“That’s something we discovered together,” Sims-Fewer adds.
The pair work in concert as writers, producers and directors, though that can be complicated by the fact that Sims-Fewer is also acting in most of their projects – and frequently doing something very, very intense.
“We have certain rules that kind of help us negotiate or mitigate any potential conflict on set,” Sims-Fewer says. “Simply: the most passionate idea always wins. We carry that forward in the writing process, too.”
“If Madeleine rewrites me and then I put something back, she can see that I really like it and leaves it,” Mancinelli says. “Or she’ll try to rewrite it again and I’ll rewrite her. But we try to avoid the idea of ego and negotiating each other’s own desires, rather making it about the work itself.”
Lockdowns meant we couldn’t host the usual photoshoot our annual Canada’s Rising Screen Stars feature. So we sent this year’s actors and filmmakers disposable cameras to shoot themselves. All photos by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli.