Artistic & Executive Director
Leslie Ann Coles
We look forward to celebrating the 20th anniversary Female Eye Film Festival (FeFF), March 10 to 13, 2022, at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.
FeFF was conceived in 2001 when I observed there were few women directors being represented at international independent film festivals. I was among them, with my film In the Refrigerator. This raised a critical question for me: are there so few female filmmakers or are our films not being selected? This question begat the first FeFF, at Toronto’s Bloor Cinema in November 2001, where we presented 42 independent films, all directed by women.
Fast forward to March 2020. The day after FeFF’s closing celebration, international borders closed because of the global pandemic. Theatrical releases froze, and cineplexes faded to black. In 2021, FeFF met the challenge and produced the festival digitally, with the support of Encore+ and TIFF Digital Bell Lightbox. The pivot was swift and dizzying, but some of the elements that grew out of this crisis will be woven into the fabric of our live event as we move forward.
While we missed the collective in-person experience, we surpassed our expectations and grew our viewing audience substantially, as numbers swelled to more than 8,000 and festival offerings were doled out throughout the entire month of March. Highlights included FeFF’s signature Best in the Biz Tribute and Maverick Award, presented to filmmaker Patricia Rozema on International Women’s Day. Another highlight was Shattering the Glass Ceiling, an impassioned panel discussion that brought together leaders from female-driven organizations: Tonya Williams, executive director and founder of Reelworld; Karen Bruce, executive director at Women in Film & Television – Toronto (WIFT Toronto); Ella Cooper, founder of Black Women Film! Canada; Aisha Jamal, Women in View; Dr. Carol Whiteman, co-creator and producer of Women In the Director’s Chair (WIDC) and executive producer of the WIDC Feature Film Award; and Leslie Ann Coles, FeFF founder and artistic and executive director.
It’s true that the Female Eye was way ahead of its time. FeFF tackled gender inequality in the film industry from its inception by focusing exclusively on women directors. We’ve served to bridge the gap between the written, visual, and media arts with our script development program, book signings, and the annual FeFF Photo Exhibit – a curated group exhibition of works by local female photographers. In 2009, we produced the inaugural Young Filmmaker Development Workshop. In the same year, we launched the Indigenous Filmmaker Series, with filmmaker Jules Koostachin as the program director. To date, we’ve mentored 46 debut female filmmakers, 26 of whom are Indigenous.
In 2014, we moved the needle further by joining hearts, hands, and minds with sister film festivals abroad and began guest-curating programs with films culled from FeFF, many of them Canadian. We have showcased FeFF titles in Armenia, Turkey, Chile, Lebanon, Portugal, and the United States.
As we approach our 20th anniversary, I could not be prouder. I believe my early experiences and observations as an artist and filmmaker shaped the Female Eye, and as I reflect on the last 21 years I realize it’s now come full circle. I’m delighted to have returned to my own creative work. In 2020, I was invited to join the Directors Guild of Canada and the Writers Guild of Canada following the success of my award-winning documentary Melody Makers. In 2021, I received development support from Telefilm Canada for feature films and was recently awarded a Creation grant from the Canada Council for the Arts for my short film The Curtain, which I’ll be directing in February 2022.
May we all continue to stand strong and in solidarity, knowing that there’s room at the table for all of us – and if the table is not big enough, we’ll build a bigger table.
Leslie Ann Coles, FeFF founder and executive director