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Breaking Ground With Breakthroughs Film Festival: Q&A With Sarah Kolasky

Breakthroughs Film Festival, happening THIS WEEKEND, is the only festival in Canada dedicated to showcasing short films by emerging female directors.

One of the powerhouses behind the festival is Sarah Kolasky, Chair of Breakthroughs. She has an impressive resume, which includes acting, producing and writing credits. We caught up with her this week to talk more about the festival.

SDTC: What is your number one goal with Breakthroughs Film Festival?

SK: We want to empower emerging women directors by showcasing and promoting their work. When you’re starting out, whether you’re 18 or 45, it’s so important to feel as though there’s an audience out there, hungry for your work. We hope it gives women confidence to keep pushing forward in an industry where they’re significantly under-represented.

How would you say the film industry has shifted most (regarding female representation) in the past five years?

I would say the two biggest shifts are that there are initiatives happening around the world to increase women’s representation in front of and behind the camera (including in Canada) and that we are openly talking about the gender pay gap, at least in America.

I think people view Hollywood as a pretty liberal place, but when stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep speak out about how much less they earn than their male counterparts, it is a really sad reminder of how sexism is still so culturally ingrained.

How have studios gotten away with this for so long? I hope that it gives other women, no matter what industry they’re working in, the encouragement to demand equal pay.

What’s your best advice for aspiring female filmmakers in Toronto looking to get their foot in the door? 

I always tell people to find their community. Film is a collaborative art and you need the support of others to make your work happen. If you didn’t go to film school, there are organizations like LIFT and Raindance in Toronto that offer classes and opportunities to meet other filmmakers and potential crews, plus there are tons of filmmaker groups on Facebook that have regular meet-ups, which are open to people of every experience level.

Don’t be intimidated just because you’re starting out! And if you have an idea for a short film, don’t let money stop you – tailor your idea to meet your budget and get it done. Don’t be too precious about it; it won’t be the last film you ever make.

How did you find all the films you programmed this year? 

We publicly announced a call for submissions back in the winter via filmfreeway.com, which helped us reach filmmakers all over the world.

We program a mix of world premieres and award-winning films that haven’t screened in Toronto yet, so we look at the shorts coming out of Sundance, Berlin, Clermont-Ferrand, etc., and invite them to submit. Year-round, our programming team is always on the hunt for shorts that catch our attention.

If you look at your programming for 2017, are there any overarching themes?

We don’t program with a certain theme in mind because we are really just looking for the best films, but since we’re only selecting emerging directors, the main theme that emerges is identity.

As a filmmaker myself, I know that your first films tend to be very personal, often exploring an idea you’ve been holding on to for a long time, so we often see stories about characters looking for belonging, or undergoing a sharp shift in their reality. It’s a universal theme, but a woman in Canada may tell the story very differently than a woman from Romania, and that’s where things get exciting.

What’s your favourite thing about this festival?

Bringing amazing films to our audiences! I love watching people enjoy the films we’ve programmed, and I always look forward the Q&As we have after the screenings because it gives filmmakers a chance to connect directly with the viewer. It’s not the same as posting your film on YouTube. Our audiences are bright and curious, so we have fantastic conversations every year.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting BFF?

I joined Breakthroughs in its third year, as a member of our Board of Directors, and then I became the Chair of the Board in 2016. Over my three years, it’s really opened my eyes to how much work goes into running a film festival year-round. We only have two nights of programming, but we spend half the year preparing for it.

The other half of the year is spent organizing our fall fundraiser, our Post-Production Grant Program, and educational opportunities for emerging filmmakers. We are a fully volunteer-run organization and we operate on a very tight budget, so it’s really inspiring to see how hard our dedicated team works to make everything happen!

Breakthroughs Film Festival takes place June 16th and 17th. To check out the full list of programming or to buy tickets, click here.

Sarah Kolasky is an actor, writer, and producer from Toronto. She plays Lauren in the feature film Great Great Great, which she produced and co-wrote with her long-time collaborator, Adam Garnet Jones. It premiered at the Canadian Film Fest in March 2017, and won Best Feature, Best Screenplay, and Best Performance in a Feature (for Sarah Kolasky). She also produced and acted in the short film, LIAR, which premiered at the prestigious 2012 SXSW in Austin, TX. Other producing credits include the short films A Small Thing (TIFF ’08) and Cloudbreaker (TIFF ’06). She received a BFA in Film Studies from Ryerson University, and is one half of the sketch comedy duo Ex-Adults.

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