Birks Diamond Tribute: Women in Film’s Best Friend

News: Birks Diamond Tribute to Women in Film

It’s not about square cut or pear-shaped, the Birks Diamond Tribute honours the unsung contributions of women in Canadian film, where the female sex is still grossly under-represented

By Katherine Monk

It started with a tribute to two actors in 2012: Emily Hampshire and Sarah Gadon. This year, the Birks Diamond Tribute will honour a full dozen women in Canadian film, including actors, directors and screenwriters.

Slated for celebration at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival are directors Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Ashley McKenzie, Catherine Bainbridge, Chloé Leriche, and Mina Shum; actors Amanda Brugel, Ellen Wong, Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, Mylène Mackay, and Shailyn Pierre-Dixon; and screenwriters Joanne Arseneau and Sherry White.

With a few exceptions, such as Vancouver’s Mina Shum (Double Happiness) and newcomer Ashley McKenzie (Werewolf), they are not household names — yet. The whole point of the Birks  Diamond Tribute is to change all that, according to Telefilm Canada’s Carolle Brabant and Birks’s Eva Hartling.

“High-profile events such as the Birks Tribute are important because they contribute to raising the media profile of female talent, to reinforcing their notoriety, and to helping advance their careers,” said Brabant in the news release announcing the winners of this year’s awards.

Hartling said this year’s fifth anniversary is especially notable, given the it coincides with the nation’s 150th anniversary.

“Our yearly celebration of women in the screen industries … gives us an opportunity to applaud the best female talent in Canada and Birks has been proud to support this important initiative from the start,” she said, adding it’s become a staple on the TIFF calendar.

Though the first awards were handed out during the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Toronto has hosted the gala every year since, ensuring the celebration of Canada’s own gains more profile with each successive outing.

Considered a “public-private partnership” between Birks and Telefilm Canada — Canada’s film funding and marketing agency — Birks President and CEO Christophe Bédos said the award was designed to “recognize that much like diamonds mined in Canada, pure Canadian talent shines beyond our own frontiers to delight others around the world.”

Indeed, Canada has made strides in recent years, with this year’s honourees playing a part in that raised profile. Screenwriter Sherry White wrote the screenplay for Maudie, the critically hailed film about folk artist Maud Lewis. Actor Amanda Brugel starred in The Handmaids Tale, the successful miniseries based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, and Shailyn Pierre-Dixon played the daughter of Will Smith’s character in Suicide Squad.

Yet, women still remain grossly under-represented in the Canadian film industry. According to the last published report from Women in View in 2015, only 17 per cent of directing jobs in film and television went to women, with the same inequities found in web series. Female writers fared a little better, making up 22 per cent of the employed screenwriters in film and 38 per cent in television.

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival has made the promotion of female talent a priority. In July, the festival unveiled the Share Her Journey campaign, which aims to raise $3 million over five years to promote and nurture female talent.

@katherinemonk

Photo (above): Sally Hawkins as Maudie, the story of folk artist Maud Lewis, written by Sherry White, one of this year’s recipients of the Birks Diamond Tribute. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.
THE EX-PRESS, August 20, 2017

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