Degrassi director breaks down barriers

by | Feb 14, 2014 | A&E

Shoynear Morrison
A&E Reporter

African-Canadian filmmaker Dawn Wilkinson speaks candidly about her passionate journey into the world of filmmaking.
Wilkinson used to teach independent production coordination at Humber’s Film and Production program in the 2009-2010 academic year, where she mentored students as they shot their short film projects.
It was while teaching that she directed her first television episode for Vision TV’s She’s the Mayor. “I’ve been directing TV ever since,” she said.
Wilkinson has recently directed four episodes of the hit television show Degrassi.
She also is a guest director for the prime-time drama Murdoch Mysteries, she said.
Wilkinson started her career majoring in Women and African Studies at the University of Toronto, she said. After watching films directed by Maya Deren in a Woman and Films course she was inspired to create her first film Dandelions, she said.
“I was the person who took the family photos, I made home videos, so documenting through film and video was something I’ve been doing,” Wilkinson said.
While attending a workshop she became determined to be a filmmaker, she said.
“It was difficult to become established in the film industry.
“It has taken me a long time to gain that experience of directing a crew. I had to gain the confidence that I can do it and had to build the confidence to show others I can as well,” she said.
According to Wilkinson, there is a demand for minority directors within the film industry. She said the obstacle is finding recognizable experience that is trusted within the industry.
“The challenge is proving marketability,” Wilkinson said.
Breaking barriers is also an obstacle that must be conquered for an African-Canadian to have a successful career as a filmmaker.
“The challenge is essentially not looking the part – and having to change people’s perception of what a director can look like and what a director can be,” she said.
Wilkinson advises aspiring African-Canadian filmmakers to “gain experience because in a city like Toronto you have access to shows, films and student films. Gain the experience, it’s available.”
The film and television program at Humber has African-Canadian film students acting on this piece of advice.
“I have learned a great deal from our Personal Media Project we completed in year one,” said second-year Film and Television Production student Rena Sampler.
“I spent a lot of time in school pursuing careers that I wasn’t really passionate about. I decided one day that I wanted to do something that didn’t just bring me financial satisfaction, but something I actually found joy in doing,” she said.
Sampler said she enjoys writing comedy pieces.
“I share my own life experiences in a comedic way with my family and friends. I find humour in most things.
Sampler said her ultimate goal is to be the creator of her own sitcom.
Wilkinson advises those interested in a filmmaking career to find their voice.
“I have created a number of projects thus far in my enrollment,” said second-year Film and Television Production student Adrian Wallace. Wallace has recently written and directed a comedic documentary called Pull Up Your Pants, about a mother and son who disagree on the street fashion of saggy pants, he said.
Most importantly, Wilkinson urges filmmakers to “have something to say. There is an onslaught between YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo and cable – it’s endless. So if you’re going to contribute to that, have something to say.”