Joy Webster was shortlisted in the Filmmaker Fiction category for her thrilling short Menace. We catch up with the Canadian filmmaker to discover more about her creative approach.
What was it about filmmaking that appealed to you?
I was a ballet dancer growing up and I was also interested in visual art and writing. When I realized that filmmaking combined so many aspects of the art forms I loved – movement, costume, music, choreography, storytelling, lighting, color, visual composition, and so on – I knew I’d found my calling. A turning point was when I was about 10 years old and I spent countless hours watching the behind-the-scenes features for the The Lord of the Rings films – it just looked like the most fun thing ever! I’ve also always been quite concerned with social justice and I think the power of film to communicate a message and incite empathy by utilizing those creative elements has always fascinated me.
What themes are you exploring in Menace and how did you use different filmmaking techniques to reinforce those themes?
Menace is about how cycles of trauma can move from one relationship to the next and the damaging effects of invasion of privacy. I spent a lot of time working with cinematographer Nikolay Michaylov to create a visual language for the film that would effectively communicate those themes. I learned so much from him about the importance of ensuring that every shot has an intention and perspective. Some of the shots in Menace place the audience in the main character’s perspective and create a sense of being watched, while others put the audience in the position of the watcher, playing off the themes of invasion of privacy and surveillance. The sound and music also play a big part in reinforcing the themes and tone. Composer Matthew Kinahan did a fantastic job with the original score, which I think is one of the strengths of the piece. And of course, not to mention the incredible performances of our actors, especially our lead Michaela Kurimsky who brought an intense vulnerability and depth to her character. The whole team really knocked it out of the park!
We read that Menace won best short in the Canadian Film Fest and was screened at the Brooklyn Film Festival congratulations! Has anything else exciting happened for you or your filmmaking projects since we last spoke?
Thank you! Menace has a couple more upcoming festival screenings that I’m not able to speak about yet as they haven’t been officially announced, but I’m excited to have the film continue its festival run! I also recently graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Scriptwriting and Story Design from Toronto Metropolitan University, so that was another milestone for me this year.
Are you still in touch with any of the other filmmakers you met at Culver City?
Yes! We all follow each other on social media so it’s always so great to see what everyone is up to. I also had the chance to connect with fellow Sony Future Filmmaker Award alumni Alfie Barker when he was in Toronto for the TIFF filmmaker lab in the Fall and it was so lovely to catch up!
When we talked in LA you were working on your first feature-length film. How is that project going?
My producing team and I are continuing our quest to secure funding for our first feature, which has proved to be no easy feat! But we are staying positive and will be looking into developing the project further through applying to development labs and talent accelerators, as well as continuing to make as many short films as we can before we are able to reach our feature film goal.
And did your experience at Sony Pictures Studios help your filmmaking?
I think the biggest thing I took away from my experience at the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards was encouragement to keep pursuing a career in filmmaking, even though it can be a really difficult challenge full of both successes and disappointments. Having the opportunity to meet other emerging filmmakers from all over the world who are at a similar stage in their careers was inspiring and comforting. We all share similar values, a passion for making art and using storytelling as a vehicle for positive change in the world. Even though filmmaking is such a collaborative art form it can feel isolating at times, especially in the early stages of a project or when searching for inspiration, meaning, or funding. Dealing with rejections is also a big hurdle. So to be able to share these struggles and feel a sense of community was so encouraging and I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity.
What stood out to you most during your time at Sony Pictures Studios for the Sony Future Filmmaker Awards?
Coming from the Canadian film industry, to take in the sheer scale of the Sony Studios lot and see the films being made at Sony Pictures was wild. Hollywood truly is a beast! It was also great to learn from the other filmmakers about how they are making films in their own countries, even though our film industries are much smaller than in Los Angeles. Most of us are still in the stage of our careers where we rely on government grants (which are sparse!), non-profit funding, or grassroots filmmaking. Hearing about the different ways my new filmmaker friends are getting stuff made all over the world was really cool and inspiring.
Joy Webster is a screenwriter, director and editor from Toronto. Her short films have screened at film festivals around the world and won numerous awards, such as Best Short at Canadian Film Fest and the National Screen Institute’s Short Filmmaker Award for Game (2017).
The short film Buzzard (2019) was selected as part of a showcase of Canadian films at the Cannes Court Métrage in 2020. Joy is currently completing a Master’s degree in Scriptwriting and Story Design at Toronto Metropolitan University and is in development of her first feature film.
Menace (2022) is her latest short.