It isn’t news to the Canadian music community about the difficulty gaining proper funding and wider-spread exposure for their art. Last year, the MuchFACT video grant was killed, which had a profound effect on many music communities. Established in 1984, the grant provided over $100 million to approximately 9,000 projects, allowing for artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Roy Woods, Tanya Tagaq, Jessie Reyez, and so, so many more, funding for their music videos. But it was a specific kind of blow to independent artists by Bell Media, the owner and operator of the grant, to not strategize properly and thoughtfully how to allocate the money going forward, and instead end it altogether.
Which is why singer Charlotte Day Wilson’s new Work Film Grant is a special and potentially tide-turning initiative for burgeoning filmmakers and directors to see hope in their creative futures, not bleakness. Wilson, along with her director Fantavious Fritz, won the 2017 Prism Prize last year for her “Work” video, which was released as part of the international Women’s March movement. Wilson and Fritz, rather than use the $15,000 prize money for their own respective projects, decided to create the grant, which is a $10,000 one time allocated prize to a director. (The other $5,000 of their prize was donated to a women’s shelter in Toronto).
One of the interesting aspects of the grant is that applicants can only be women or non-binary identifying. A painful, on-going reality about the music industry (not just in Canada) is that women and non-binary folks are shut out of conversations, projects and their voices don’t get the amplification men so easily do. (The industry is historically terrible at equal representation). And yet they are easily dominating genres, scenes, running their own businesses, advocating for themselves and other marginalized groups. The visions of female and non-binary directors or musicians often isn’t taken as seriously as that of any man in the same position but they are expected to work harder and faster to gain what is often far less. “I'm one of them,” Wilson says, “and I know as well as anyone how difficult it is to be taken seriously as a woman if you want to do anything other than sing or act—and even then.” To make this grant exclusively for women and non-binary directors is not to shut out men from their work. Rather, it is to say that women and non-binary directors shouldn’t be underrepresented in the Canadian music industry.
The Work Film Grant doesn’t fill the void MuchFact left behind but it is a unique opportunity for an artist and director to give back to their community and keep that spirit alive. Wilson credits the help of the music community in Toronto for her rise—and that the “Work” video, too, is so much about that collective feeling. With her stepping in to give back it does feel like a genuine expression of gratitude and paying it forward to a new generation of visionaries. Noisey spoke to Wilson about why she wanted to specifically set up a grant that benefited female and non-binary directors and her thoughts on the future of music video production in Canada.
Submissions for the grant are open until Oct. 26 and can be submitted here.
Noisey: Was there a catalyst or specific situation that led to the decision between you and Fritz to turn the Prism Prize monetary reward into a grant?
Charlotte Day Wilson: It's no secret there is a significant lack of women in directorial and producer roles, among many others... and given the subject matter of the video, it only made sense to pay it forward. When I spoke with Fritz about it after we won the prize, it seemed like a positive and productive idea and we both got excited about it.
Why do you believe it is important to still invest in the visual side of the music industry?
I don't watch many videos, to be honest, but a great piece of visual content attached to the right song, we all know can be immensely powerful. There are so many ways that visual elements enhance and even help define amazing music, releases, scenes, etc. At the best of times, they are inseparable, and it's a magic I still think is worth pursuing in spite of all the forgettable efforts.
That this is a grant for female and non-binary directors exclusively is monumental and important. Can you speak to what led you and Fritz to come to this decision?
It just made sense given what the “Work” video tried to express. We could have donated the money, but creating a platform, however temporary, it just seemed like it would create more of a dialogue and some energy. Just developing skills building treatments and budgets have its own value for would be directors and producers. Even if we can only fund one or two projects for right now, it's nice to think of all the work that will be generated from this... and hopefully, some things that live on.
There hasn’t been anything like this in Toronto, that I can recall, that centers women and non-binary folks this way. A big part of this grant, you have said, is giving back to the community who helped you. What has the community reaction been to this grant opportunity?
I think you can always expect some criticism, but I've been really encouraged by the wide extent of the support and interest in the grant. It probably speaks to just how sorely needed initiatives like this really are.
There is a substantial gap left now that MuchFact no longer exists, of which no one expects this grant to fill, but it’s a hopeful turn toward a positive future that encourages artistic expression. Do you see an optimistic future for art and music in Toronto—in Canada? Toronto has a bright future creatively—I don't think there's any doubt about that. People from this city are doing amazing things not only here but around the world. I think the commitment is strong—though often threatened—and will persevere. I've been encouraged by other initiatives that look to fund music videos and the funding system in the music industry in Canada.
You’re independent and so much of your career so far has focused on doing your work on your own terms. Do you believe a grant like this helps encourage other artists to retain a sense of agency over their work?
Being able to truly exact creative control is an empowering feeling, but it's also a risk. I am proud of what I've been able to accomplish so far in my career and I am going to keep working extremely hard at it in the years to come. I'm happy for anybody who is able to take ownership over their art and their career, and who has reconciled what that really means in creative industries. If this grant helps create a path towards that for even one or two people, that's a good thing, but I'd be just as happy to see some young women get a chance to work their way into the technical side of film and television.
Sarah MacDonald is on Twitter.