Andria Wilson - Executive Director of Inside Out Queer Film Festival in Toronto

She/her - Andria Wilson is the Executive Director of Inside Out, Canada's largest LGBT Film Festival. Now residing in Toronto, she was an integral contributor to the arts and LGBTQ communities in
Atlantic Canada for the last 15 years, holding key leadership roles at the Atlantic Film Festival,
East Coast Music Association, TD Halifax Jazz Festival, Creative Nova Scotia Awards, and with
renowned international touring company 2b theatre. In 2011 she co-foundedOUTeast, Atlantic
Canada's Queer Film Festival.

Andria and I Skyped in late June, 2018. Although I had sent her a cold-call email to chat, we quickly realized that we had many connections and acquaintances. We mostly talked about movies, being a queer filmmaker, and the ways we can start to help people who are not white, straight, cis-men make art! Its all about passing the microphone! 

{Jacob} - At the moment, you’re the Executive Director for Inside Out Queer Film Festival in Toronto, but you’ve also been the Executive Director for Out East, East Coast Music Awards, TD Halifax Jazz Fest - lots of organizations that make my Haligonian heart soar! Some of those are queer spaces, and some are not. How does it make you feel to be working in a queer organization?

{Andria} - To be honest, it makes a huge difference in terms of the culture of your workplace. I’ve worked in non-profit and arts organisations my whole working life, and because of the culture in those spaces, and often because they are so under resourced, they often feel like families. When you’re a queer person working in a non-profit organisation run by not-queer people, that can be challenging in the same way that family structures can be challenging. That was something that I didn’t fully understand until we started Out East - working with a team of all queer and trans people - and now at Inside Out which is a larger organisation. How those dynamics can influence your health and wellness on a day to day basis. It just eliminates certain conversations from even having to happen. We work with a lot of corporate partnerships, and they are having these beautiful conversations about how to have their staff bring their whole selves to the workplace, but in a queer run organisation, we are here. That question mark of, are they going to get me if I talk about my personal life, just doesn’t exist. It creates a safety net for all kinds of ideas and creativity. You don’t have those thoughts in the back of your head about being taken seriously or tokenized - you know, she’s pushing the gay agenda or the feminist agenda, which I have absolutely experienced.

{Jacob} - As a queer artist who is working in a largely non-queer space, I often find that when I get the opportunity as a conductor or musician to work with queer artists that there is an immediate vocabulary that exists. That I don’t have to translate anymore. That we’re more immediately and more artistically connected. Have you had similar experiences in your own art and work?

{Andria} - Absolutely! The thing that has 100% driven my work has been collaboration. I started my work in dance and in theatre, which are both so much about collective and creation, and I bring that into my work in arts management. There is that vocabulary, that connection, that understanding, that underscores everything. You’re not starting any project at square one. You’re already a step ahead. You get me, I get you, and even if we’re not coming from an identical experience, at least we’re coming from a shared understanding.

{Jacob} - I think that is a huge part of the purpose in a queer film festival as well. That visibility. Shared understanding and starting in the same place. In music, so often we have the opposite. At least, more often than not, everything we do is inherently disconnected politically. That is a self contained piece of art that stands alone, at least in intent has nothing to do with the performer or thier politics or life. Film is so inherently message based. What are your thoughts on making film art as an unavoidably activistic and political medium? Just by being a queer artist, let alone talking about queer politics in film.

{Andria} - It’s interesting. We work so closely with organisations in the states and across Canada. There are those people who say that they stay out of politics and that they are not very political. They are coming from places of privilege where they don’t have their identity politicised. As queer and trans people, our identities are constantly politicised and taken away from us. Used against us. I think the power of film, and any queer art and storytelling, is that we are owning our own identity, history, and stories. The great political tool of that is as an empathy builder. It’s not just an exercise in saying “this is my experience. This is my trauma and I need to get it out as an artist” though that is absolutely an important thing. But it’s about creating an opportunity for those who are not part of a marginalized identity to see the personalized and true place that those voices and work are coming from. Not allowing people to turn away, to opt-out, to un-follow those queer narratives.

{Jacob} - In a past interview, you said “If you don’t see yourself represented, you don’t exist.” I think we often have a good pat on the back that we have decent diversity in the arts at least compared with other fields. But that a white, gay, cis-gendered male should barely warrant that pat on the back. We obviously still have a long way to go, but do you think film is doing better than other art forms? If it is, how are you doing that and what can we learn?

{Andria} - I think we are making small steps. The stats continue to come out and they continue to not be anywhere near where we want them to be. We will get over one hurdle of say, women directors getting funding in Canada. We’ve reached our first goal-post. How many of those women are women of colour? How many are trans women? How many represent non-binary people? How many are trans women of colour? How many are new Canadians? There needs to be an intersectionality in these discussions and so often these steps are happening in a completely binary way. You can have this discussion to make 50% of the pie be for women, but within that half, what is the representation within it? That’s where the conversations need to be. They have to be intersectional and they have to be ongoing. And film, as a visual medium - we’re connecting to faces, and we’re connecting to bodies. We also need to make sure that the people not seen on film - the writers, directors, producers, casting directors - are also representing the voices of the world we live in. Sometimes it happens in the queer community that things become a hot topic. Oh, we need to add a gay character, or a muslim character, but they don’t bring in a gay writer or muslim writer and so that voice isn’t authentic. It can’t be a patch job. We need to rebuild the entire system!

{Jacob} - And that system, with all its flaws, is systemic and built in to our understanding of how we create. I agree we need to tear it all down and start from scratch. So how do we go about dismantling all those systemic arts education flaws? Access to arts education for marginalized groups or people who don’t have the privilege and money to go do a lot of those arts things. There is only so much offered in public schools!

{Andria} - It’s such a great question, because access is everything. I think we have to decolonize our perspective on education and training, and the value of certain kinds of training work. How we rate artists looking for funding and training and how the systems we use to evaluate them are inherently biased against many marginalized groups. When I’m lucky enough to be on certain panels or in meetings, the first thing I do is look around and see who isn’t here. When I look around the table, very often I may be the only women, or the only queer person.  These juries and entry panels need to decolonize their criteria and reflect the broad diversity of the people we want to have in the field. If I’m not funded for something and I find out that the people of the jury is not reflective of my own experience, I can’t help but feel like what am I supposed to do here? I can do my very best work but if no one on the other side can relate to my perspective, I’m screwed! No funding, no support, no access. Its critical!

We had this documentary this year called Half the Picture. The director, Nisha Ganatra, talks about when she was trying to hire a woman Director of Photography. She had all these reels from male DOP’s and a few women. And she says that all the women’s ones were just not good. The quality was really poor. She wanted to hire a woman, but that made it so hard. But she started to interview them and she realized that the reels from the men were all taken from when they had the opportunity to shoot $100 million movie and women had no resources and no access. They had to be so innovative just to get enough material together for a reel because no one would hire them. For Nisha, that made her realise that she wasn’t being an ally to her own people. She kept thinking that she just wanted quality, but what is quality? Can it be innovation in someone with no resources? Can you give them what they need to be amazing?

{Jacob} - And that plays into the larger conversation that so many groups are having at the moment. That even from within the LGBTQIA+ community - let alone from the outside - that people with privileged voices should speak up and be allies to those even more marginalized groups. For you, from the perspective of all the groups you work with, what does true allyship look like?

{Andria} - The first and most critical step is to listen. And to be open to maybe hearing things that are not easy to hear. Going into situations where the privilege I bring as a cis-white-woman is apparent. Knowing that it’s not my job to talk or to teach, but it is my job only to listen. And then, to take what I have heard and not repurpose it in my own mouth. It’s about passing the mic and making sure there is the space within my own organisation for that perspective to be heard. One of the things that I love about my organisation, as a queer artistic space, but maybe different from any of the Pride groups across the country, is that they are so often required to be the spokespeople for everyone. That is incredibly challenging and I don’t think that I’d be up for that task. I feel so lucky that we present the work of 150 artists every year, and they speak for their work. Not me.

{Jacob} - So, being vocal when you can. Using what you have been afforded to let others speak.

{Andria} - I’m lucky enough to have a voice in parts of my community. So I’m either going to pass the mic or use it to call attention to something that needs to be looked at.

{Jacob} - So with all the leaps and bounds we’ve made in the recent past with representation and visibility, what is your ideal next queer frontier for film?

{Andria} - I love that. We’re in such an interesting time. Both within our industry but also in our world. For me, my job is to ensure that queer artists are well resourced and able to tell their own stories. Both inside and outside the traditional system. We also have to be flexible and be able to react to the shifts that happen in our world. Not get stuck. So I try to be engaged when it comes to what’s next with that national and international conversation. For me, what would make me so happy is that the next wave of more mainstream queer film is also made, produced, and created by queer and trans people. This past year for instance with Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country. There were absolutely queer people on the creative team of Call Me By Your Name, but in God’s Own Country it is a queer writer, director telling his own story. I would love to see the opportunity for films made authentically by queer and trans people to rise to that level. To challenge the expectations of distributors, audiences, academy voters. Everyone.

 

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