May 24/05 2:58 am - Interview with "100% woman" film Director Karen Duthie and Producer Diana Wilson
Posted by Editoress on 05/24/05
Interview with "100% woman" film Director Karen Duthie and Producer Diana Wilson
By Leigh Hargrove
What happens when you put a former mountain bike racer turned filmmaker with a passion for women's issues with a Vancouver-based independent producer whose company is dedicated to producing innovative and challenging stories for the international marketplace?
You get a full-length feature film (well 59 minutes) that is making waves across both the sports world and the general public!
Director Karen Duthie, and producer Diana Wilson, devoted two years of their lives filming and producing 100% Woman. The film documents the trials and tribulations of Canadian National Cycling Team member Michelle Dumaresq, formerly Michael Dumaresq, as she made her debut into the competitive mountain bike racing scene.
The duo jumped into filming before knowing whether or not it would be financed. "It was a labour of love," Duthie explains.
Duthie remembers pitching the story to future 100% Woman executive producer Cari Green. "There's this friend of a friend, she's trans and she rides a mountain bike. She might race and I think she has a very interesting story...I thought the topic was way too interesting with the gender question in an all-woman realm and what that meant. But nobody did it."
Duthie persisted with the idea. "For me on a personal level. I've always been interested in gender issues and I've always wanted to see a film made about women mountain biking because I'm so passionate about it...and that was the intersection right there. (I thought) clearly this is the project for me. For me it was about really wanting to explore the whole gender question. It was also really obvious that you would need a really strong character."
Then Michelle decided to race.
At this point, Duthie was working with Diana Wilson at the Gulf Island Film & TV School in Galiano, BC (GIFTS) and approached her about working on the film.
The choice to do the film was an easy decision for Wilson. "I'll produce it if you want," she replied immediately to Duthie. "What really makes a strong documentary is a situation where real people get put into situations of conflict where very real values are at stake - on both sides - and there is not a real clear cut thing of good guys and bad guys where you actually have people in situations where values clash and you have to watch people wrestling with something like that...it wasn't a black and white issue."
Wilson had been the associate producer of Culture Jam, but had never produced anything solely on her own. Things seemed to fall into place right away and Duthie explains. "It just happened that the next week she (Wilson) was off to HOT DOCS in Toronto, the documentary film festival, with Cari Green as a mentor through a mentorship program through BC Films. And she said if you write a 'one-sheet' I'll pitch it for you."
Duthie wrote the first draft and then sat down with Wilson for eight hours and they wrote out the final draft together. "Next thing you know she's (Wilson) on the telephone saying The Documentary Channel is interested, Life Network is interested, W is interested and the CBC is interested...the next weekend we were making a film!"
The film follows Dumaresq during her first two race seasons, starting with her first race as a pro woman in a Mission BC Cup event and the controversy that follows.
"When you look at most films about Tran folks they're not positive stories. They're very sad stories usually; they're marginalized, so marginalized. And Michelle is, for a lack of a better term, normalized. She's just another downhill mountain biker. I think that was what inspiring to both Diana and I was that here's a person who's figured out how to survive in this world and she's strong, and she's not afraid to talk about it, which is great. Most Tran folks are stealth, it's beyond being shy, it's about personal safety, and people get murdered for this shit. She was so out."
"...Out in straight land, not in drag queen land," Duthie interjects, "where it's somewhat safe to be out, but in a very macho-like sort of environment land where they're not necessarily open to it. Based on that alone, I think that both Diana and I were very inspired to tell that story."
It was important to the filmmakers to portray Michelle as a human being and explore the issues of what happens when you don't allow her to race as a woman.
Duthie reflects on these issues. "I think what was important for Diana and I was that we, well two things, but first and foremost, we portray Michelle as a human being with expertise. And that is what the question is at the end of day, it's how do you include her in a world of human beings when we divide that world between women and men? And if you're not allowing her to race, what you're saying is that she's not a woman. Are you actually saying she's not a woman? If you're saying she's not a woman then you're saying she's not a human being."
You can't help but feel the controversy in what Michelle Dumaresq is attempting to do. 100% Woman sheds some light on the issues surrounding her choices and how people react to them. Despite a clear-cut objective of portraying Michelle with respect and dignity, even the duo struggled personally with their own opinions of what was happening, as it was happening.
Duthie explains. "We didn't know one way or another, I think we both wanted Michelle torace," Duthie then jokes, "if only because we wanted to make a film aboutit. But when you look at Michelle as a person..."
"We were really wrestling with the issue totally. It wasn't really until we sat down with our story editor. He was brilliant, he had a degree in psychology and it was actually like being in a therapy session. It really was!" Wilson joked but also indicated she was serious as well. "He really drew it out of us. He made us realize that in the end we couldn't sit on the fence and produce a satisfying film. We had to know, ultimately what the film was saying to be able to make something that would move the world. Basically we had to get off the fence and draw a conclusion about what we really felt."
Duthie confirms that the duo finally decided what they would do. "I get it all the time in Q&A and film people me asking how do you feel? And I'm like you can't tell from the film? And I say 'What do you think?' And they all say 'we think that you think that Michelle should race I think.' To me I think that both me and Diana feel the same way. It wasn't about fairness in the end, it's human rights -"
"- Well it was fairness, but a bigger fairness, " Wilson interjects. "It was about the fairness about whether or not a class of people would have a place in society would be included as fully human with all the rights and privileges that that entails, or whether a class of people would be put on the outside, and be told that you can't play, because you're not really one of us, you're not really fully human. It was a bigger question of the fairness of someone actually being able to fully pursue their own happiness in whatever form that took. For Michelle that took the form of athletic accomplishment vs. the theoretical maybe advantage or non-advantage that competitors might have."
"For every argument that people had against her racing there was an argument or something to qualify the other side."
The film does take you on a controversial ride of emotions and logic, with an inside look at the issues behind human rights, fairness and equality. The film was a film of conflict even amongst Duthie and her friends. Reactions to 100% Woman are varied in emotions and overall impressions. Since completion, the film has been shown at film festivals across the world and both Duthie and Wilson have been able to view the reactions firsthand.
"Athletes often react differently than non-athletes. Which was an interesting thing in this process because Karen is an athlete and I'm not. Even just working on it together she often had a different intellectual and emotional reaction to some of what was going on than what I did." Wilson explains the difference between perceived reactions." I played sports in high school but I did not have an athlete's psyche, I do not have an athlete's competitive spirit so she was pretty different from my perspective than from an athlete's perspective."
Wilson continues. "There's divides about how people feel along a lot of lines. Competitive athlete's personality vs. non-competitive athlete's personality, queer people vs. straight people, there's mountain bikers vs. non-mountain bikers. There are all sorts of different ways, I mean; it's not unanimous among any group. It's not like all queer people feel one way and all non-queer people feel another way."
The film brings you right up to when Dumaresq wins her first National title in Whistler in 2003. Following that, the controversy has probably doubled, as the rider has moved into some serious international competition. Dumaresq placed as high as a fifth place qualifying run at the World Cup in Mont-Ste-Anne Quebec in 2004. She went on to win her second National Championship title later that summer on the same mountain.
Toiling with human rights issues, gender issues, fairness and equality questions, 100% Woman has attracted attention in both the sports and cultural film worlds. Both the filmmakers are excited about the difference it makes in the lives of the people who watch it.
Recently the film won the Edith Lando Peace Prize at the Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth in Vancouver based on its ability to best convey the value of empathy, nonviolence, inclusion and respect. Simultaneously, the film won the "Best Film on Mountain Biking" at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival in March 2005.
The film is currently nominated for four Leo awards, three of which include Best documentary history/biography/social/political, Best picture editing, Best sound editing.
Making its Toronto premiere early this week, the documentary film 100% Woman will be making waves amongst the cycling community and world community just the same, for years to come. On Monday, May 23 at 3pm, the film made its debut at the Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival, www.insideout.on.ca. Both Duthie and Wilson were in attendance at the screening.
Duthie recommended seeing the film with an audience, rather than alone, to experience the effect it has on different people and their reactions to it.
However, if you couldn't make the screening you can buy the DVD, just released early last week. It will be sold at Mountain Equipment Co-op stores throughout Canada as well as at the John Henry The Bicycle Man bike shop in North Vancouver. You can find out more at www.100percentwoman.com.