The following article was written by Jennifer Cikaluk as part of a series of articles about filmmakers coming to the Salt Spring Film Festival on March 2-4, 2018. Filmmaker Ian MacKenzie will be attending the festival and leading a discussion about the film following the screening. The Filmmaker series is sponsored by Stonehouse B&B, Harbour House Hotel and Hastings House.
“We are frequency hunters, vibe shifters…I get to score the soundtrack for those moments of your life” (from Amplify Her)
A multilayered, sensorial story telling collaboration, Amplify Her started as a documentary film and grew into something so much more. Emotionally and visually charged, this dynamic film weaves beautiful cinematography with animated motion comics to tell the story of seven female emerging electronic music artists. The music, imagery and energy give access to the colourful world of the electronic music scene. Yet, what lies at the heart of this film are the intimate stories of these women challenging themes of identity, sexuality, artistry and the feminine power.
“The ushering in of a more feminine consciousness. That is going to change the nature of the conversation and change the nature of the game.” (from Amplify Her)
Amplify Her evolved into a transmedia project, including a documentary film, an animated motion comic series and a graphic novel. The film highlights the power of the feminine creativity and expression, nurtured through collaboration and inclusivity and shows the rise of these female artists as they find their unique voices within a male-dominated world. Shaped by the challenges and wounds of their pasts, a tribe emerges, conquering limitations and pushing the boundaries of the electronic music scene.
I reached out to Co-Director, Editor and Director of Photography, Ian MacKenzie to talk to him about the film and his experience as a filmmaker on Amplify Her.
MacKenzie started making films 10 years ago. After being invited to work on a project with a long-term friend, he quit his job and spent a year on the road with a video camera shooting the project. The resulting film was picked up by the CBC. He has been making films ever since.
Q & A Questions:
You refer to yourself as a ‘new paradigm media activist’. Can you tell more about that and how you brought this to Amplify Her?
I started work on a project with another Canadian director Velcrow Ripper and that film became Occupy Love. My work there really cued my understanding of the power of media to shift culture, particularly filmmaking. In that sense the ‘new paradigm media activist’ came to me as a way of understanding I was using media to amplify these emerging pieces of what could be called the new paradigm – the emerging paradigm, the world that works for all life. So that led me to this enquiry around Amplify Her as one of these pieces of emerging culture.
How was the project Amplify Her conceived? Do you have a personal connection to the subject?
I was leaving the International Indigenous Leadership Gathering in December of 2012, as I was leaving, I picked up a fellow and gave him a ride back. He looked at my iPod and saw this artist by the name AppleCat. He said, “Oh AppleCat is great.” I didn’t remember actually downloading her mix. He put on the mix and as we were driving back, there was something in it that I was caught by. It was this mysterious something I didn’t quite know.
After Occupy Love, I thought about this idea of doing a film primarily about women, just given the fact it felt necessary to do so. This kind of medium of the emerging feminine seemed to be just getting going or maybe it was just the spiral of it was building. Those two things: a film primarily about women and electronic music somewhat coincided. Then it really hit when I went to Burning Man that year. This was my third time. I ended up seeing AppleCat play at Burning Man in the desert. Being in the presence of her crafting made it clear, there is something mysterious going on here, and I needed to know what it was. Two things collided: a film about women and about electronic music.
When was the decision made for a Directorial collaboration with Nicole Sorochan? Can you tell me more about the importance of collaboration in the filmmaking process and if you found this integral in the success of this specific project?
We had been friends for years. We worked together on the film Occupy Love, and she did the transmedia. I said to her, “I have this film idea about female DJ’s and what do you think?” She was definitely a little skeptical at first but something about it caught her attention, so she came on board as producer. With her team she built out this idea that all these women have interesting names, interesting outfits and from there it seemed clear that they could be seen as some type of super hero. The idea for expanding it into a graphic novel came from Nicole and her team.
It was a five-year journey for Nicole and I. She came on board so strongly as producer but also the overseer and director of the graphic novel part. They became so interwoven with the film itself and Nicole shouldered so much that it became obvious we should be co-directing. The film itself is not about replacing the toxic patriarchy with a matriarchy, that women are now dominating. Instead, we are trying to demonstrate a culture of partnership. This film, this whole project, would not have come about unless Nicole and I could really work together. Each gives out different strengths to the project. So that was absolutely integral to the success.
You held several hats in the making of this film: Director, Editor and Director of Photography, each with it’s own creative process. Which role do you enjoy most and why?
There are definitely moments I feel are most enjoyable. I love interviewing subjects. There is something really alive in bringing art to a conversation and hearing someone’s story and even shooting is in general kind of an exciting, dropping into a flow state of following the intuitive process of gathering footage for a scene. Editing, on the other hand, I don’t know if I like editing per say. It’s incredibly time consuming but it’s where the film comes together. So there are these mixed emotions for me: on the one hand its so time consuming and often just daunting but really there are moments of magic where a scene comes together and it’s like wow, this is it.
Did you encounter any resistance or challenges in the making of this film?
Definitely. In the early stages we talked to some broadcasters that didn’t really understand how we could make a film about this. But then again, we ended up getting various Canadian grants. Super Channel came on board as our broadcaster, which was really supportive. Unfortunately, they ended up filing for bankruptcy through their own monetary challenges. That ended up throwing our project for a pretty significant loop because it jeopardized the rest of our funding structure. This is how it works in Canada, where certain grants are only accessible if you have a broadcaster on board. But with fewer and fewer broadcasters it has become much harder to secure funding. That definitely punched a big hole in our budget so we had to scramble quite a bit to complete the film. Nicole has essentially reinvested pretty much the entirety of her payment on the project to keep the film afloat. We are in this position where we have this beautiful film out and it’s amazing, yet we are still quite a small team and we are still trying to make impact in the world. I wouldn’t say that anything has been easy along the way, and at the same time it’s been incredible to hear the impact of the film, and how people are responding to it, especially women but also men.
Why is the ‘women’s voice’ and creative expression so important – now?
For me as a man I can speak and say, there is often this feeling that you look out at the world and often you can see a lot of the destruction of the earth and the momentum of an economic system that is pretty much run on debt-based currency as well as various times of course of dominate relationships. Power dynamics. One response can be that men are terrible and we just need to shut up and there is a place for that certainly, but I think there is also a necessary role for men to use their resource and privilege to create the space for women to speak what’s true for them and to allow a different type of creative expression to come through. In this case, it’s not about one being better than the other. It’s about creating those spaces that maybe don’t fit a current paradigm of value. Certain qualities that might be attributed to feminine power have been generally dismissed or shunned over the last while. The more we can create space for that, the more diversity of creativity and imagination can come through. Especially now as we look at the destruction of the world, we absolutely need a new direction. I believe importantly, the feminine from this deeper intuitive place of listening can really reorient the culture at large.
Have you worked with animated motion comic before in a documentary film? How do you think this addition added to the film?
I had never worked with animated motion comic before. Initially it was meant to be quite separate. We actually had a complete cut of the film that didn’t have the comics in it. It was only after the bankruptcy with Super Channel that we had the space to think. Is this really the film we wanted to make? It felt like there was something missing. There was something in the women’s stories that was told to the comic that we didn’t have in the film before. When we started playing around and thought, what if we put the comic in the film? Suddenly it clicked. Suddenly it made sense. The wholeness was clear. So we kept going and the result is the film that you see. We look at it now and say I don’t think it’s possible the film could have been what it is without the graphic novel. It’s just that important. I think audiences respond that way too. They see the cut of wholeness through the weaving of the two.
Amplify Her has evolved from a documentary film to now include a graphic novel and animated motion comic series. When and where can we see the graphic novel and comic series?
We are still working on the release. The final comics are being polished. We are in the process of figuring out what is the best release strategy for it. Probably we will release overtime, through online episodes or a combination of film festivals and online. Stay tuned and we will definitely be sharing long before it happens.
How do you know when your story is finished? When do you walk away? Do you feel you captured everything you wanted in Amplify Her?
As a filmmaker or even an artist, there is definitely a moment where any kind of external metric of success is ultimately never-ending. If you don’t define what your metric of success is then it will always be something else. It’s a never-ending kind of game. With Amplify Her, I feel with the addition of the comics into the film with the current version, with the resources we had, the stories we found, the time in, this moment culturally, this is absolutely the film we wanted to make. In that sense we feel quite proud of it. And of course, seeing the impact it has had on audiences and the impact on the women in the film. All of them have said how transformative it was to be featured in the film. For the film, it absolutely could be continued, life continues, the story continues, but for now we feel we are complete. We are excited to bring this film to the world.
Watch the Trailer: