Collaboration in isolation: Veninger teams up with women filmmakers living around the world

Ingrid Veninger
Ingrid Veninger

Ingrid Veninger, a filmmaker, founder of pUNK Films Inc. and assistant professor in the  Department of Cinema and Media Arts in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University, had planned to spend part of her time in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic working on a second draft of her upcoming feature film. However, when she sat down to write, her body froze.

“It felt pointless, given the circumstances,” she said. “It felt completely futile and my heart wasn’t in it.”

Ingrid Veninger
Ingrid Veninger

Veninger says that within an hour, a switch had flipped, and she started thinking about collaboration. “My work has always been grounded in a link to community, a link to family,” she explained.

Because she had been working on a script focused on four generations of women, Veninger felt a pull to connect with other female filmmakers.

“When I moved into thinking about a collaboration that would put me in conversation with other filmmakers all around the world,” Veninger continued, “I felt immediately inspired and excited, and my heart just started racing. I knew I was on the right track.”

Veninger began emailing women filmmakers she knew, or knew of, from around the world, to bring together a group that would represent a delicate balance of different voices, styles and strengths from different locations.

“I really wanted a group of filmmakers that were going to contrast and compliment one another so that I could not possibly conceive or imagine what this film would look like from the outset,” she explained.

“It would be a surprise. Very much an emergent process, the film would be revealed to us at the end.”

Veninger describes the process of reaching out to build her team as instinctual and urgent. “I was looking for a sensibility,” she said. “Every person, who said ‘yes’ reshaped the whole endeavour.

“Gathering the filmmakers was challenging as I was approaching artists in the midst of global upheaval,” Veninger elaborated. “Some of the filmmakers were friends, but others I had never met. For some, committing to a filmmaking collaboration was not a priority or even a possibility as they were trying to heal with family, travel home or make sense of what was going on in the world.”

Understandably, a few of the women she reached out to were too overwhelmed given the circumstances, but most were eager to participate.

Whether one filmmaker said yes or no had a profound influence on the composition of the team and who Veninger would contact next. “It was like putting together a puzzle, one piece at a time,” she said. “In the end, all the pieces had to fit together.”

Within 10 days, Veninger had a team in place, or rather, places.

“10x10 Project” participants, left to right: Slater Jewell-Kemker, Lydia Zimmermann, Carmen Sangion, Shengze Zhu, Mina Shum, Dorothee Wenner, Violeta Ayala, Ingrid Veninger, Isa Benn and Jennifer Podemski.
“10×10 Project” participants, left to right: Slater Jewell-Kemker, Lydia Zimmermann, Carmen Sangion, Shengze Zhu, Mina Shum, Dorothee Wenner, Violeta Ayala, Ingrid Veninger, Isa Benn and Jennifer Podemski

Under a working title – the 10×10 Project – Veninger and a group of nine other women living in Canada, Spain, Australia, South Africa, the United States and Germany will collaborate remotely on one cohesive film, telling separate stories linked through the common theme of isolation.

Veninger describes the intended outcome as not an anthology of 10 separate films, but as a whole with 10 individual parts. “The goal is to make a film greater than the sum of its parts,” she said.

With no predetermined sequence or imposed narrative, Veninger says the uncertain nature of the film project is fitting for uncertain circumstances. She says the project was specifically informed by the manifestos of the surrealists because this is a very surreal time.

“We’ve taken this vow of trusting ourselves, trusting each other and being courageous.”

Veninger described how, using limited resources – phones as camera, family as cast, natural light – the group of filmmakers will create something similar to the “exquisite cadaver” pen-and-paper game, where participants draw one picture together, but on separate sides of folded paper, unaware of what the other side looks like. “You can uncover this incredible mystical creature,” she explained. “No individual would likely conceive of this kind of form, but together a surprising figure is revealed.”

All filming for the project will take place in April, with a plan for editing in May and a finished, 100-minute film completed in June – a process Veninger calls fast and intense.

As her work on the project has proceeded, Veninger has contemplated the potential lasting impact of uncertainty and isolation on her own filmmaking as well as filmmaking in general. In that, she hopes the 10×10 Project can serve as an inspiration to ignite different kinds of collaboration and co-creation.

“Truly original, innovative and creative voices have an amazing opportunity to breakthrough now because the playing field has been slightly levelled out,” she explained. “It’s not about money, it’s not about scale, it’s not about the biggest, boldest equipment. We are making our films in isolation, which demands that we are resourceful, and that puts us in sync with these very restrictive times. However, limited resources doesn’t need to limit imagination. It’s about the idea and the story you feel you absolutely have to tell, right now, today.”

Veninger hopes that the urge to develop different kinds of collaborations will be contagious, noting that one of her graduate students is pursuing a similar idea with her cohort from around the world.

“I think it’s an exciting time to be teaching, and an exciting time to be a student too,” Veninger mused. “Being at York, you are part of a large community that’s constantly reimagining and innovating and looking at new models and new methods and new ways to tell stories and make art.”

"The World or Nothing (El Mundo o Nada)"
The World or Nothing (El Mundo o Nada)

“Maybe come June there will be an incredible range of innovative, unexpected and surprising projects,” said Veninger, “and I think out of that – the next wave of Canadian storytellers and stories will be born.”

Veninger’s most recent film, a documentary titled The World or Nothing (El Mundo o Nada), is described as a tender look at the millennial search for online fame, the immigrant dream of “making it” and the inspiring bonds of brotherly love. The film was her seventh feature and had its world premiere at Hot Docs 2019.

The filmmakers involved in the 10×10 Project are Jennifer Podemski (Canada), Lydia Zimmermann (Spain), Violeta Ayala (Bolivia), Slater Jewell-Kemker (Canada), Carmen Sangion (South Africa), Isa Benn (Canada), Shengze Zhu (China), Mina Shum (Canada), Dorothee Wenner (Germany) and Ingrid Veninger (Canada). Their biographies and images can be accessed on Dropbox.

More information on Cinema and Media Arts at York University can be found on the department’s website.

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