TIFF 2019 Interview: Karen Chapman
“We are taught that heroes wear capes or uniforms but the heroes that I’m interested are found in the most unlikely places.”
There’s nothing better than a film that washes over you and slowly reveals itself as it unfolds. You can’t help but become fully absorbed in the characters, the plot, the setting.
This is exactly what happens when you watch Karen Chapman’s MEASURE. Despite being only nine minutes in length it packed everything you’d find in a feature-length film: mystery, tension, grief, hope, joy. And it does all of this with minimal dialogue, instead focusing on the quiet in-between spaces of our emotions. It is a marvel of a film, plain and simple.
Measure follows nine-year-old Shane, who we think at first is ditching school but what he’s actually up to is so much more. I honestly don’t really want to say too much more than that, because this is a film that is better having simply experienced. You can get a first introduction to Shane (played by super talented Joseph Burke) and the thoughtful, poetic cinematography (by Josh MacDonald).
The short also shares a universe with Chapman’s upcoming feature-length film Village Keeper and I for one CANNOT wait to get to experience it. She describes both films as exploring “trauma, loss, and finding joy in every day after.”
Karen Chapman’s Measure has its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 5th.
Born to Guyanese parents, award-winning filmmaker Karen Chapman has screened her work everywhere from subway displays, airplanes and hospital lounges to international festivals, classrooms, living rooms and mobile devices. In 2017, Chapman was named one of CBC’s “great Canadian filmmakers of the future.” She was most recently recognized by her five-year-old for “always playing with me at the playground, letting me eat ice cream sandwiches and rubbing my feet at night.”
You can see the World Premiere of Measure at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, screening as part of Short Cuts Programme 1 on September 5th at 9:00PM and September 12th at 6:00PM.
Tell us about Measure. Where did the idea come from?
Karen Chapman: We are taught that heroes wear capes or uniforms but the heroes that I’m interested are found in the most unlikely places.
You’ve been working really hard to get your feature Village Keeper made. Can you talk a little bit about your experience navigating the Canadian film industry? Have you found it supportive?
KC: At this scale, on a micro-budget, there have been many challenges but at the moment, my main focus is story structure which takes time. Telefilm has been very supportive in ensuring that I felt confident with the story before going to camera.
Measure is a film that slowly reveals itself, and without a lot of dialogue. Can you talk about your approach to telling Shane’s story this way?
KC: A very quiet story was always my intention but I initially didn’t trust it, I wrote the dialogue and even scenes. But on the day, time started ticking and I quickly realized that the words didn’t feel true. I pivoted and pared everything back. That decision influenced everything from time, to performances, music and the mix. I learned a great deal.
Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?
KC: There are so many and I worry that if I start naming names, I’ll leave someone out. I will say this, there are so many from the camera department, to producers, writers and show runners. It feels like a flood in the best way possible. I would however, like to continue to see more Black and Indigenous women behind the screen, more people of colour, more differently-abled folks, more queer and trans folks. More perspectives. There is room, there is always room. Those numbers are growing faster in the States and I’d like to see our numbers here in Canada increase faster.
What’s the best advice about filmmaking you’ve ever received?
KC: Some great came from my friend Tiffany Hsiung and I think she learned it from another woman director: address inappropriate behaviour on set immediately, loudly and with the entire crew. Film sets are many things but they should always be safe spaces.
What’s your go-to jam?
KC: I have Santigold, Alice Coltrane, Isaac Hayes and Nujabes on constant repeat. And “Savannah Grass” by Kes on all of the other times.
If someone narrated your life, who would you want to be the narrator?
KC: I would want it to be my cousin Kristin. She’s the most honest person I know and has a memory like Rain Man. I mean, total recall. It’s frightening.
Finally, recommend one #MUFFApproved film for our blog readers!
KC: I adore I Am Not A Witch by Rungano Nyoni. Her work breaks the conventions of the gaze and reminds me that it is necessary to decolonize the very way that I was taught to consume and create cinema. Her work embodies an unabashed way of telling Black stories that are exploding with nuance and craft that I greatly admire.
Follow Karen Chapman on Twitter.