Words by Heather Heagney
After studying Communications at Concordia, and working as a Video Producer at MediaStyle, Gabriela Warrior Renaud has decided to break out on her own as a filmmaker and tell her own story. With Hyphen, Warrior Renaud makes her debut into the world of documentary filmmaking and begins a storytelling journey that she hopes will help to redefine identity in Canada from a new perspective.
On Saturday, May 30, she will screen the first part of HYPHEN at Arts Court. Her screening is also a fundraiser to help her complete the rest of the film. Sponsored by the Ottawa International Film Festival with refreshments from Seed to Sausage and Beau’s All Natural Brewery, the evening will give the audience a first look at what the overall HYPHEN project will become.
HH: What inspired you to make this film? Do you remember the moment when you realized that this was a film you had to make?
GWR: I’ve always been really passionate about this subject, and it’s come up in a lot of different ways throughout my life. I remember during one of my courses in Communications Studies at Concordia, I think the class was TV Studies, we had an assignment to pitch a TV show. I came up with this series that focused on these 2 sisters who were multiracial, and didn’t look anything like each other or their parents. I really liked the idea of a show that challenged how people perceived the idea of family. But the moment when I knew Hyphen was going to be my film was last summer during a roadtrip across the country with a good friend of mine. Traveling through the country at a slow pace really made me think about what makes us Canadian, and how many different perspectives make up the Canadian identity. The identity that I know more about is the multiracial identity and I wanted to explore that topic more in terms of where it stands within Canada.
HH: Why is it important to you to tell this story and to explore this topic?
GWR: The question of identity is something that challenges everyone. I don’t think anyone goes through life 100% confident in who they are and what they’ve chosen to identify with. Add a multitude of cultural references, some awkward instances of racism and a confused society, and you have a really great example of how identity should not be defined with such strict definitions. Culture is such a big part of how our society structures itself and when you start mixing things it gets complicated. A growing diversity of realities has been brought to the forefront in the last decade. I think awareness is a very important issue for our generation; it’s not because you don’t see that perspective on TV that it doesn’t exist. I know a lot of people have struggled with the same issues as me, and I think it’s amazing that film is letting us finally talk about it. Multiracial couples are much more prevalent now, and I want to be part of the change in people’s perceptions about these families and kids. I know a lot of multiracial kids and I want them to grow up without the stress and pressure from the judging outside opinion. When I am at a restaurant with my dad, we get looks because people assume I’m his girlfriend. I think it’s time for a wake-up call. I think as someone who has struggled with issues like racism and discrimination, I want to allow others an opportunity to speak and share their stories. As a woman who is sometimes perceived as a visible minority, I’ve had my share of obstacles, and I still do. So in my mind, if I’m still struggling, others are as well, and if I can use my position as a filmmaker to give them a voice, then I think that is my responsibility.
HH: Your part of the film is one of several you plan to tell in the overall film project. Have you chosen the other subjects for this documentary? Do you know how many stories you plan to tell?
GWR: My goal is to interview 6 families, including my own. I want to interview people across the country, to explore perspectives in different provinces. I haven’t met my “subjects” yet. I knew I wanted to flesh out my idea before I started pulling in other people and families. It’s been a really challenging project for me, and I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing and was confident in the film before approaching other people. I also want to make sure each story gets the right amount of space to properly tell their story. But I’m really looking forward to just collecting stories! Bradley Cayford, who will be facilitating the Q&A session after the screening on May 30th suggested I could even start a forum for the stories. People can share writing, photos, letters, stories from relatives. I think it might actually be an amazing way to end the documentary. I’ve been thinking a lot about that.
HH: Since you are exploring such a personal topic, has the filming process been difficult, emotional, or therapeutic?
GWR: All of the above! When I decided that I was making this film, I had to tell my parents. They’re divorced, so I had to do this twice. I was pretty nervous because I was asking them to be vulnerable with me, but they were and continue to be incredibly supportive. I used to be the video producer at MediaStyle, a communications firm here in Ottawa. The videos that I would produce, I was able to them objectively. Our goal with all of our projects was to help our clients tell their stories in a compelling way. So during each video shoot I was making sure that the person felt comfortable, that I was editing the video so the message would be clear. But setting-up my mom in the little sound recording booth at SAW video — everything I knew disappeared. When I first announced to her my project, she was thrilled. She dug up all these old VHS tapes that she had taken throughout my childhood. For the first few months, I sat in front of my TV, rewinding, fast forwarding and took notes on all these videos. The first few sessions I spent mostly crying. I saw footage of my late grandparents, my parents in love, my relationship with them evolve. And it’s such an intimate project for me, I have rarely spent so much time with myself, watching myself, listening to my voice. HYPHEN has been the hardest and the most challenging thing I’ve done to date, but holy crap it feels amazing to do this and I can’t wait to hear other people’s stories!
HH: Why do you think is it important to make documentaries?
GWR: Someone once told me that there are so many amazing stories in this world, it’s hard to believe that you could make up something more powerful. Fiction films definitely have their value, and once I get enough confidence, I’d like to give that a shot. Documentaries are how we learn about what’s actually going on. We are able to watch different perspectives and learn about things that are outside of our own reality. If we want to become a more accepting and conscious society, we need to make sure that what we consume in terms of media is diverse.
HH: Do you know what your message is with this film now, or do you hope to find it in the rest of the filming process?
GWR: When you make a documentary film, your message doesn’t come from you. In this case it’s a bit difficult, because I’m part of the story. But I think by the end, the collection of people I will have interviewed and who have participated in this project will have helped shape what the message of Hyphen will be. Right now, my goal is to start a conversation about identity. I want to challenge how people perceive it and I want to start a discussion around it.
HH: What’s next for you after Hyphen? Are you working on any new projects?
GWR: I’ve never been busier in my life! Right now, I’m producing Hyphen and will be for probably the next year or two. I also co-own a houseware company, Third Son Laserworks; I work part time at the Seed to Sausage General Store, and I still do freelance video projects. It’s been a crazy year for me and I love it! So my radar is staying pretty close to the present these days, because I need to make sure I don’t drop the ball on anything. After Hyphen, I’m not sure — I know I want to continue to make films, and I think finishing this project will give me the confidence I need to really call myself a filmmaker. I also really want to travel. I talk about this in the film, but I’ve never been to India, and that’s a big missing piece in my world. So my mom and I have a plan to visit when the doc is done. She wants to take me to where she grew up, but also to visit where her family is from. Our family home still stands and I am so eager to see it! I’d like to take that opportunity to visit Asia, and then who knows, make my way back slowly towards Canada; a few (long) pit stops in Europe wouldn’t hurt anyone. I’m sure I’ll find inspiration for movies in there somewhere.
Presented by the Ottawa International Film Festival
Saturday, May 30, 7 pm to 11 pm
Arts Court Theatre, 2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa
RSVP at hyphen-fundraiser.eventbrite.ca
Entry by donation
$20 at the door gets you a drink voucher