Four years ago, Ingrid Veninger was standing at a podium at the Whistler Film Festival, accepting an award from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
“I had no idea I was going to get that award,” Veninger said over the phone from Toronto. “At the podium I said, ‘I’d like to see more films from more women. I’m initiating this lab in January and I’m asking this room for a contribution. Would anyone step up $6,000?’ That was the spontaneous pitch from the podium.”
Even though it was a spur-of-the-moment request for an initiative she’d been thinking about for some time, it was still disappointing when no one responded.
In a last-ditch effort she told the crowd, “You all have six seconds and I really hope someone stands up,” and started counting down from six. “Before I hit ‘two’ a woman with braids and glasses shot out of her seat and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ It turned out to be Melissa Leo.”
The Academy Award-winning actress made good on her promise and, as a result of the pUNK Films Femmes Lab — which also helped five other women write film scripts — both Porcupine Lake and The Other Side of Porcupine Lake are screening at this year’s Whistler Film Festival.
“Whistler is where this film started,” Veninger said. “It completely came out of that moment of Melissa standing up and that lab and those specific women and all of us discussing what kind of stories we want to see and the ways we’ve seen ourselves reflected in movies or haven’t.”
Porcupine Lake is Veninger’s sixth feature film. It chronicles the complicated friendship forged between two preteen girls — one a local to cottage country and the other a newcomer from Toronto. “I haven’t seen a lot of films centered on girls’ friendships and intimacy,” she said. “I’ve seen it with boys or girls and boys, but I’ve never seen this very intimate experience I had at that age or my daughter had or many of my friends had —why haven’t I seen that?”
Eventually, she realized it’s probably because of logistics. “You can’t have 16-year-olds tell that story authentically,” she said. “You have to work with young actors — most likely they’re going to be first-time actors.”
In this case, those actors are Charlotte Salisbury playing Bea and Lucinda Armstrong Hall — a young Australian actor who had to spend months learning a Canadian accent — as Kate. “The two of them are very different personalities and have very different approaches to acting,” Veninger said. “They were quite nervous around each other and even a little competitive. By the end — which is a beautiful thing to see — you see friendship.”
That blossoming friendship is captured in The Other Side of Porcupine Lake, a documentary directed by Julian Papas — one of Veninger’s students at York University — about the making of the film. “Especially for these two young girls, who were 13-years-old, I wanted to preserve the process so it could be something they look back on and remember alongside the fiction,” she said. “That was my main intention for it… When I approached Julian to do it, I gave him complete freedom to capture the process and be around it in whatever way he wanted. I didn’t direct that for him. It was a big act of trust and a big surrender.”
While the two films will tour separately, at the Whistler Film Festival, they’re screening back-to-back. “I can’t wait to have that Q&A with Julian and the crowd,” Veninger said. “I’m really so happy it’s happening for the first time in Whistler.”
Porcupine Lake is screening on Friday (Dec. 1) at 5 p.m. in Village 8 Theatre 6 as well as on Saturday (Dec. 2) at 3 p.m. at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre. The Other Side of Porcupine Lake will screen on Saturday (Dec. 2) at 5:30 p.m. at the SLCC.