In the city that holds the record for the highest number of film festivals per capita, the Female Eye Film Festival (FeFF) is not a festival to be missed. Coming to the Carlton Theatre from June 26 to July 1, the FeFF marks its 16th edition this year. Since its quiet inception, the “little festival that could” to quote Angela Argento, Chair of the FeFF, has come a long way. What’s more, in light of the most recent events that hit the film industry and the subsequent viral spread of the #MeToo movement, this independent and thought-provoking festival is perhaps even more relevant.

In a recent interview with Lesley Ann Coles, Founder and Executive Director as well as an accomplished film director herself, she summarizes very well the rationale behind such lack of morality: “Regardless of gender, if you pursue a career that is a dream, the film industry is a killing field for perpetrators who will take advantage of people’s dreams.” As festival director, Leslie Ann sees many films, reads many scripts, and knows all too well that gender identity, gender imbalance, sexual abuse are constant themes in women’s films. The short Cross My Heart by Jamaican Director, Sontenish Myers, is just one of the films in the program which features this uncomfortable truth.

Leslie Ann is very proud of the Female Eye. Beyond the obvious fact that the festival is a window for independent female writers and directors to showcase their work, she says “it’s a relationship building festival, a networking opportunity for directors, writers, and producers coming together and creating friendships.” One of the films showcased this year, The Plural of Blood, is a testimonial of the sisterly spirit that forms at the Female Eye and generates work partnerships: Mary-Lyn Chambers, director, and Roxy Shih, executive producer of the film met at the FeFF two years ago.

The festival begins on June 26 at 6:30 p.m. with a film by Valerie Buhajar, It’s Hard To Be Human, followed by a Q&A with the director. Valerie is a frequent visitor of the festival; her previous feature film The Anniversary, was screened at the FeFF in 2014. She is a living example of how the FeFF is a space where filmmakers’ talent is nurtured and encouraged through the years. Particularly noteworthy is the script development program, a “creative incubator for screenwriters” where panels of experts and aspiring writers and directors meet and discuss the potential of future storytellers and film directors. The script development program is free and open to the public.

Unlike other film festivals, the Female Eye is very keen on ensuring that women are firmly seated in the director’s chair. The director has the “key creative control when it comes to films, especially independent films” says Leslie Ann. However, the script development program is also open to male writers whose screenplay’s protagonist is a female character, and that is to address the gender imbalance and inequity on screen and behind the camera across the board. That is not to say that the Female Eye excludes men; on the contrary, men are involved in the making of the festival, men go and see the films. Interestingly, the tag line of the festival used to be “Female Eye, Flicks Not Just for Chicks” to help dispel the myth that women make films just for women. The festival stands at the forefront in the fight against the stereotype that wants women only watching fluffy rom-coms; women’s films are accessible to everyone and for everyone. In more recent years, the tagline has changed to “Always Honest, Not Always Pretty,” just like the truth, and as such it resonates with the films that women make where characters are complex, as are their relationships.

Finally, every year, the Female Eye awards an Honourary Maverick and an Honorary Director to women who have excelled and given a significant contribution to the film industry. The 2018 recipients are respectively, Debra Zimmerman and Liz Marshall. Debra runs a distribution company out of New York, dedicated to women documentary makers. Liz is a Toronto-based documentarian with a focus on social justice and environmental themes. These events take shape of intimate conversations with the recipients. All industry programs which include panel discussions with leaders in Canada’s film and television industry, script readings and the much-celebrated Live Pitch are free and open to the public.

The Female Eye Film Festival opens on June 26 and runs until July 1 at the Carlton Theatre. Tickets ($8 two-hour film program) are available for purchase online. $10 at the door. Audience Q&A with the directors follow each screening.

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