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TIFF 2018: Interview With EXIT Director Claire Edmondson

BROOKLYN NEUSTAETER
ClaireAndCatherine

photo credit: craig eisenberg

Claire Edmondson is a director on a lot of people’s radar right now.

Although she’s dabbled in a variety of mediums, the director to watch is frequently recognized for her fluid cinematic style and feminist approach that’s both girly and politically assertive. Her distinct voice and aesthetic has an underlying, change-provoking intensity to it that regularly juxtapositions beauty and darkness to create a subjective shift in the viewer.

Having worked as a music video and commercial director before transitioning into cinema, the Liverpool-born, Canadian-grown filmmaker has known since high school she wanted to direct. Yet her path in getting there was roundabout. With a love for fashion and costume, she pursued that route as a stylist for musicians, most famously with being credited with Feist’s blue sequined outfit in the video for her 2007 hit “1234.”

However, it was working in the wardrobe department that gave Edmondson the realization that her passion lied in directing.

“…Once I started working on sets in the wardrobe department, it became clear to me that I made the wrong decision and I actually wanted to direct,” said Edmondson. “It all worked out [though], because I got to work with some amazing directors and watch how they work. For instance, I worked on a Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) commercial once and that felt like a directing master class. Plus, I got to know the crews and those crews helped me make my first few music videos. Everything became an education and I brought all that experience with me when I started directing.”

Edmondson’s early directing days included the NSFW music videos for Austra’s “Beat and the Pulse” and, most notably, Toronto indie group Broken Social Scene’s gory “Sweetest Kill,” in which actor and model Bijou Phillips plays a murderous girlfriend who chops a man to pieces and then buries the body parts in a garden.

 

These elegantly spooky videos triggered conversations and controversy in the press about feminism, ownership versus objectification, and the female gaze—all themes that have stuck with Edmondson and her work since.

Edmondson broke into the commercial world with her “I’m A Boxer” film for Everlast and her “Own It” campaign series for Special K, both of which artistically display Edmondson’s immersive, cinematic vision in how it relates to equality, further amplifying her voice as not just a filmmaker, but as a change-maker. She’s the kind of director that doesn’t pull any punches in drawing attention to the plight of females in male-dominated industries.

This year, Edmondson’s short film EXIT will make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival—a city she credits to helping shape her filmmaking career.

“I came up in the Toronto music video scene and I owe a lot to it—all my early music videos were for Toronto musicians, so I really got my start in film there,” said Edmondson. “I love Toronto so much, so I’m thrilled to be welcomed back by such a great, well respected institution.”

Inspired by a news story that Edmondson saw years ago, EXIT follows the story of a woman facing the ramifications of a profound decision. Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly, A History of Violence) plays the lead character, offering texture and depth to Edmondson’s affecting story. The short film also stars Britney Ever After’s Natasha Bassett, TV talent Gayla Johnson, and industry veteran Allen Kepler.

 

Yet the road to creating EXIT was not an easy one for Edmondson. The short took the filmmaker nearly half a decade to make.

“I started applying for grants to make EXIT about five or six years ago, but back then inclusion and gender parity wasn’t acknowledged as a problem that needed to be solved, so I would apply for grants and never be a recipient of them. I’d then check to see who received them and it would be these long lists of only male directors.”

The Me Too, Times Up, and Equal Pay movements are all having a moment in the film industry right now and gender parity has finally become a part of the conversation, but Edmondson still found it hard to break in with EXIT’s story.

“I was told this story was ‘too provocative,’ and I would often wonder if men ever received that note. Finally I moved to L.A. and the script opened doors for me there. United Talent Agency read it and helped bring Maria Bello on board and [now] here we are,” she said.

As a female director, Edmondson makes it a point to include women in her film crews and do her part in giving them opportunities they might not otherwise have. However, she makes it clear that a seat at the table isn’t merely given—it’s earned.

“I will always give women a chance and think about ways to get more women working on my crews,” said Edmondson. “I have a lot of first hand experience watching my male directing contemporaries get handed opportunities based on their ‘potential’ while women directors would have to prove themselves 10 times over to even be considered for, so it’s important to me to give women opportunities that I know other people may not think to give them. But once you’re there you have to prove yourself, like everyone else.”

Watch Claire Edmondson’s short film EXIT at the 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival, kicking off September 6-16. For more details on the festival, go here.

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