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Inspired crew 

Allison Saunders zooms in on WIFT’s Atlantic chapter.

In any community it's nice to know that somebody's got your back. For women in the screen industry, it's Women in Film and Television (WIFT). Formed in 1973 in Los Angeles, WIFT was a response to the glass ceiling that women in Hollywood's film and TV industry were trying to break through. Female producers, writers and directors united in efforts to carve out their own place in the industry and make their activities better known. Since then, WIFT has grown into an international organization more than 10,000 members strong, with 37 chapters worldwide, including the local contingent, WIFT-Atlantic.

In spring 2009, Jan Miller, the director of the Atlantic Film Festival's co-production market Strategic Partners and longtime driving force in the development of Canada's screen industry, was asked to be the chair of the budding Atlantic chapter. The idea to have a support system for local women in the business wasn't a new one, but the timing was right and by September she was sitting in on the first board meeting for WIFT-At.

"There are so many pocketed communities in the region, to get cohesivity even in Halifax is a challenge," says Miller. "I think that there needed to be a couple of people who had been around the block."

Since then, the organization's board has grown from three to 14 women, representing each of the Atlantic provinces as well as various avenues of screen-based media. 

And while they've still got that glass ceiling in mind, Miller says it's more about celebration, encouragement and getting the word out. "The goal is to support women in all levels of the screen industry, to develop their skills, to have access to their work, to celebrate their work and to raise the awareness of opportunities that may have been overlooked."

WIFT-At has been a force behind accessible workshops and film screenings, and their latest venture fits their mandate to a T. The Women Making Waves Conference, timed with the centenary of International Women's Day, is all about nurturing both seasoned and emerging talent. The first annual conference aims to give industry professionals the opportunity to learn from their peers and make new connections, but also to shed light on woman-made Atlantic films during an evening of screenings. 

Rhonda's Party, from first-time director and writer team Ashley McKenzie and Christine Comeau, will represent Nova Scotia on Saturday night. The award-winning, visually captivating short film is about Rhonda, a woman living in a retirement home who's devoted months to planning her best friend Margaret's 100th birthday celebration, only to learn her friend passed away the night before the party. The film, a product of AFCOOP's Film 5 program, has been wowing audiences on the festival circuit, winning Best Film at the Young Cuts Festival and joining films from around the world at St. John's International Women's Film Festival. 

"It's funny because I feel like I'm starting to make films at a time where I don't feel that there are any barriers for me," says McKenzie, who is currently working on two shorts she's written, for which she's received funding. "I've embarked on doing what I'm doing and I think it's because of the support and work of different organizations and being able to seek out role models that inspired me to take the leap," she says.

Comeau has taken the leap as well. After the success of her first script, she's currently writing a play with assistance from She Said Yes!, a feminist theatre company in St. John's. "As artists we learn from spending time with other people, being part of a community. You need to find that as an artist, to learn, progress and go further," says the now Montreal-based writer. 

This weekend Rhonda's Party will shine on both coasts. On top of returning home to Halifax, the film will debut in the west at Vancouver's Women in Film Festival. McKenzie says knowing she has the support of her peers "affirms what you're doing and motivates you to keep doing it."

"There are a lot of women out there that question their value and self-worth, for whatever reasons in their life," says Miller. "And if we can create an organization that provides support and empowerment to affirm for even one woman that she's worthy and valued...that's what we should be doing."

Women Making Waves screening

Saturday, March 5, 9pm

Park Lane, 5657 Spring Garden Road

$5

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