by Dave Stewart
Years ago, I sat on the Island Media Arts Co-op board with Donna. A talented filmmaker who left PEI for Halifax, I’d always wanted to know more about her filmmaking, so…
Dave: How did you get into filmmaking?
Donna: I was trying to get my short stories published and saw an ad for a screenwriting and filmmaking workshop for women. I ended up in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia with about 50 other women. That program kick started the careers of quite a few filmmakers. I started Washday Productions with Halifax writer Shandi Mitchell right after that, and we shot our first film, Gasoline Puddles, a few months later. The day we finished shooting we dropped the footage off at the National Film Board in Halifax for processing. A few hours later, the Halifax Film Board burned to the ground and all of our footage was destroyed. It was an interesting start. We eventually raised the money and re-shot the film a year later. After making a few other short dramatic films including A Space For Sara, I ended up making a documentary about psychics with the NFB. That led to a few more years at the Film Board making a feature length doc about folk music called A Sigh and A Wish that featured Pete Seeger.
Dave: You started Sorcery Films Ltd in 2002. Do you see yourself more as a director or as a producer?
Donna: I just started up a new company called Ruby Tree Films. I actually started out as a writer/director. Producing is something I kind of grew into. I consider myself primarily a storyteller. It occurred to me pretty quickly that if you want to tell your own stories, your own way, you need to have control of where the money goes. Producing gives you more control over what ends up on the screen.
Dave: How would you describe yourself as a filmmaker?
Donna: I’m quirky, obsessed, and maybe even a bit fanatical about certain things. Like lighting. Lighting is really important to me and I spend a lot of time working out the look for each of my films. Same with the music. I use original music in my films and have worked with some great musicians and composers like Mary Jane Lamond, Asif Illyas of MIR and PEI’s Chris Corrigan who composed the music for Kitchen Goddess. I’m not a total control freak…. I leave room to collaborate with my crew throughout the process.
Dave: Was the move from PEI to Halifax a necessary one industry-wise?
Donna: Yes, I made a couple of short films in PEI but found that I couldn’t make a full time living. I still consider myself an Island filmmaker. Most of my stories are inspired by the Island and I film here whenever I can. There’s a huge amount of talent here. My plan is to make a feature film, or a TV series here in the next few years.
Dave: What’s next for you?
Donna: I’m heading to Los Angeles in August to begin filming a feature documentary for the Movie Network. Nightmare Factory looks at the changing role of special FX in the film industry. Oh yes, and I’m working on a werewolf musical. Seriously! Don’t ask.