#miniMUFF Profile: Hannah Cheesman & Mackenzie Donaldson

“There are so many reasons to be a feminist, but honestly what it comes down to is that being a feminist is the only way I can be. We aren’t equal to men, we live in a world saturated in rape culture and we need to work to change that. Period.”

“Cheese”

Film: Cheese

This month we will be pairing our October feature, Legally Blonde, with the Mini MUFF selection Cheese, and we can’t get over how well these two films go together! Each flick features a strong-willed woman (who both just happen to be blonde, by the way) tackling daily battles against those who would rather see them fail, proving to everyone that they are not to be underestimated or trifled with. Just listen to this synopsis for Cheese:

Jamie’s no cheese connoisseur. And the macho cheese monger at Global Cheese knows it. So when Jamie buys some cheese for a party, she’s unwittingly drawn into a macho superiority contest. Challenged to stand her ground, this is a cheese shop face-off between old-guard patriarch and new-generation feminism.

Could there BE a more perfect match?! (Please excuse our inner Chandler Bing).

Cheese has screened at several film festivals, including: Palm Springs Short Film Festival, Cannes “Coup de Coeur,” Whistler Film Festival, Cucalorus Film Festival, Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, Relish Food on Film Festival, Breakthroughs Film Festival, St John’s International Women’s Film Festival, Toronto Short Film Festival, Maui Film Festival, Cinema Le Mange, Seoul Independent Film Festival, and more. It has racked up a number of awards as well, including Best Short at Devour! Film Festival in 2016 and the Bite TV Comedy Award at NSI Short Film Festival in 2015.

RSVP to our screening here and get advance tickets here.

Hannah Cheesman and Mackenzie Donaldson, writer/director and producer of “Cheese”

Toronto-based filmmaker Hannah Cheesman wrote, directed, and starred in her first short, Brunch Bitch, in 2013. She has worked on Orphan Black as the show’s script coordinator and was named an Irving Avrich TIFF Emerging Canadian Filmmaker in 2014.

Mackenzie Donaldson, who also hails from Toronto, is a producer and writer who started out working in casting, but now works her dream job as a Co-Producer on Orphan Black. In between seasons, Mackenzie is also the co-host of the “Clone Cast” podcast and manages all things digital for Orphan Black.

Together, Hannah and Mackenzie collaborated on Cheese and started their own production company: Aberrant Pictures. Under the Aberrant umbrella, they have completed several works and have a number of projects currently in development. Hannah penned Aberrant Pictures’ first feature — The Definites — while Mackenzie produced their first BravoFact short film — Boxing—which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Their web series (which they would rather you call a ‘Internet odyssey’) — Whatever, Linda—was nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards and has played at festivals worldwide.

Get to know more about Hannah and Mackenzie and their short film Cheese!

“Cheese” trailer

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED WITH FILMMAKING.

Hannah Cheesman: I’m from Toronto originally, and have lived in Halifax, Montreal, and L.A. I started in dance and moved into drama (acting) in high school, where I also wrote plays. Moving to Toronto for university, I continued acting and writing plays (ex. the Paprika Festival) before going to Montréal to attend the National Theatre School. I came back to Toronto and finished my degree at the University of Toronto in Spanish, then started assisting a commercial director — who happened to be a woman. From there, I wrote and directed my first short, Brunch Bitch, before teaming up with Mackenzie and making Cheese and Whatever, Linda!

Mackenzie Donaldson: I grew up in the industry. I basically learned how to walk on set with my mom and on stage with my dad — they’re both actors and so was I as a kid. I was born in Stratford, but have lived in L.A., Prince Edward Island, Montréal, and Toronto, where I now reside. I was always putting on shows and storytelling as a kid and teenager, so film and TV was already in my blood and I couldn’t run from it.

At university, I read an article about a famous producer and how he started in the mail room and worked his way up. Me, not sure how to start producing, decided to do just that. After university I interned at OAZ, a talent management company in Toronto. After almost two years there, I got my job as assistant to the show runners on Orphan Black and now five years later I’m a producer on the show. During the last five years, I produced three short films (including Cheese), the web series Whatever, Linda, and have produced and directed a feature film and a pilot teaser for a new series I will be pitching in the fall. It’s been a crazy ride and I can’t wait to see where else it takes me.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT CHEESE.

HC: This is entirely based on my own feelings/experiences buying cheese at intimidating cheese shops. I think a lot of people can relate!

MD: It’s like a sharp aged cheddar with a side of feminist glory. All mixed together into a hilarious short film.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME/ALL OF THE OTHER AMAZING WOMEN WHO WORKED ON THIS SHORT?

HC: Mackenzie Donaldson, co-producer on Orphan Black and a producer on my web series (now being turned into TV series with the Mark Gordon Company, BBCA, and executive produced by Orphan Black creator Graeme Manson) is a delight and a talent to be watched. We’ve teamed up a LOT to keep working together, and it’s been going really well. This summer we picture locked on our first co-directing feature film — she’s badass, smart, feeling.

Natalie Lisinska is a charming, intelligent, feminist actress who is (in my opinion!) a real Canadian darling of the screen! She brought the comedy to the fore in this piece, and keeps on crushing it in TV and film. Otherwise, we worked with an amazing makeup artist, Jessica Panetta, who we worked with on Whatever, Linda as well. Jackie Roda—who always brings flare and charm—edited it and she also edited my first short!

What a dream team!

MD: Hannah covered most of the basics… except herself! She’s the brain behind the film and comedian on and off the screen. She’s a great creative partner of mine and I couldn’t be prouder of what we have achieved together. She never ceases to amaze me on the page and also puts up with a lot of notes and messy ideas from me. Always coming out the other side of story meetings with witty, sassy, emotional, and fun scripts. She’s also a goof through and through — which helps when you’ve been on set for 14 hours and need a laugh!

TELL US ABOUT WHY YOU ARE A FEMINIST AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO YOUR FILMMAKING.

HC: How can we not be? When I walk onto a film set/a job and feel inferior immediately by virtue of my gender, there is no other way to respond than for me to be a feminist and express my feminism.

Like many others here, I’ve sacrificed and worked jobs I hated so I could eat — but I did it because I believe that’s what it takes. I’m all for the discussion, but I think a great way to move forward is to saturate the market. We have to keep making things. And when we do, they need to honest and true reflections of the female perspective. All the films I’ve made to date have a female protagonist and I do feel a sense of responsibility to make sure they’re portrayed as strong, complicated, grounded, vulnerable, funny, strange, and three-dimensional individuals. If I don’t, if we don’t… who will?

MD: I am a feminist because I am a woman. There are so many reasons to be a feminist, but honestly what it comes down to is that being a feminist is the only way I can be. We aren’t equal to men, we live in a world saturated in rape culture and we need to work to change that. Period.

As a filmmaker and producer, my job is to do my best to make a shift in our culture and to tell stories that inspire me from my female point of view. Does that mean women will always be the lead of my films? No, not necessarily (however, to date everything I have produced or directed is women led), but it does mean that all of the women in my projects will always be realistic, strong, interesting, three-dimensional women because that’s what women are.

“Cheese”

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WOMEN WORKING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?

MD: Hard question! There are so many. But a few come to mind in this moment. Suzanne Biers just won the Emmy for directing The Night Watchman and I think she is an amazing director. She deserves the next Bond film after her work on that series. Jill Soloway is also inspiring on so many levels from how she runs her show to the content on screen, she’s changing TV (also won a directing Emmy). And Tatiana Maslany (the third Emmy 2016 winner I’m listing) is another hero. Not only because of her amazing work on Orphan Black which I get to see every day on set (I’m currently watching her right now) but also because she is an outspoken feminist and doesn’t give a fuck who knows.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE ABOUT FILMMAKING YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

HC: Just do it. Don’t wait until you’re 100% ready because you won’t be. Team up with amazing collaborators, people who are better than you if you can, and ask the questions you’re afraid to ask. Then — make something. Write the script, cast, shoot, edit, post produce… and get a finished product.

MD: Know who you are working with, vet them, and don’t feel bad about it or rushed into a creative decision. Projects last a long time, longer than you can imagine, and if someone isn’t going to work as hard as you or care as much as you do it’s going to be hard to keep the creative momentum going.

IF A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE WAS CAST/CREATED, WHO WOULD STAR AS YOU AND WHAT GENRE WOULD IT BE?

HC: Likely a dramedy, starring Tilda Swinton (because she’s got a rad career and one of those sharp pointy faces like me and she speaks Italian. Sigh).

MD: Likely a thriller or spooky horror film starring a breakout teen actor to be discovered. Mainly because I scare really easily, love love love a good mystery, and am secretly addicted to teen stories (this is not because of real life horror stories, just taste).

WHO IS THE BEST/SUPERIOR BATMAN?

HC: The first one — Michael Keaton. Also because he was buoyed by Prince’s UNREAL soundtrack.

MD: Christian Bale. I’m a sucker for all three of those films.

“Cheese”

WHAT’S YOUR GO-TO JAM?

HC: Mariah Carey - ‘Fantasy’.

MD: Ever changing, but right now I’m really into ‘Unlock the Swag’ by Rae Sremmurd.

WHAT MALE POP CULTURE ICON OR MOVIE/TV CHARACTER ARE YOU DREAMING WOULD GET A GENDER-SWAP?

HC: Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I think that movie is partly about unchecked male power (and alcoholism), but damn — what a role.

MD: It is a real toss up, but it’s between Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in The Godfather. What would be more fun? I think I lean more towards Al Pacino as a woman coming up and replacing her father’s shoes. But either way I want to see that film.

RECOMMEND ONE #MUFFAPPROVED FILM FOR OUR BLOG READERS:

HC: Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach)

MD: Indivisible (dir. Edoardo de Angelis)

“Cheese” poster

Follow Hannah on Twitter and Instagram, and keep up with her work on her website. Follow Mackenzie on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

For more from the duo’s production company, check out Aberrant Pictures’ official website, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also follow their web series Whatever, Linda on its official website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.


Read more miniMUFF profiles here.

The mini MUFF Society is our short film program. We aim to screen at least one local short film at each of our monthly event to highlight the amazing female talent we have in Toronto. Join us at our next screening!