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A salute to Studio D

Jenn Strom always wanted to work for the National Film Board.

Jenn Strom always wanted to work for the National Film Board.

For years, the Centennial secondary graduate and freelance editor and director had chased Tracey Friesen, the executive director of the NFB's Pacific and Yukon Centre, hoping the two would connect some day.

And, in the fall of 2010, opportunity knocked when Friesen was looking for an emerging female filmmaker to tell the story about Studio D, the NFB's women's documentary production lab.

Friesen asked Strom to watch some Studio D films and create a contemporary short. "It was totally open for me to do a riff on whatever content I wanted to do," Strom said, "which was a dream."

Before the assignment, Strom had never heard of Studio D. Formed in 1974 to make films by, for and about women, Studio D's aim was to promote females amid the women's liberation movement of the late 1960s and '70s.

One of its founding members was Kathleen Shannon, who joined the NFB in 1956 and was appointed the executive director of Studio D - at the time, the first government-funded film studio in the world that was dedicated to women filmmakers.

Strom used Shannon as her main character for her animated tribute, titled Assembly. "I told the story through her point of view because I work as an editor and Kathleen Shannon worked as an editor for years," Strom said of the late filmmaking pioneer. "She was a very good editor and sound designer yet, prior to Studio D, she was training all these men and watching them get promoted and given raises while she just stayed in the same place."

In her research, Strom said she found clips of Shannon "talking about these moments where she would say, 'This is really beautiful' and she would have these male superiors leaning over her shoulder saying 'No, it's boring. Who wants to look at that?' It's the difference between the stories that women might find valuable and the stories that the men, who were in control, wanted to shine a spotlight on."

"The idea for this film came from that moment," Strom said.

Under Shannon's guidance in part, Studio D produced more than 125 films - including three Academy-award winners: I'll Find A Way (1978); If You Love This Planet (1982); and Flamenco at 5:15 (1984) - before it shut its doors in 1996 because of federal government funding cuts.

For Assembly, Strom painted 1,200 pieces on glass with oil and a marker. The "labour of love," as she describes it, was done part-time while Strom worked as a promotions producer and editor for the Knowledge Network, BBC Kids and on other projects.

A Vancouver resident who trained with Don Portelance (the now-retired art teacher at Centennial secondary), the Gulf Islands Film and Television School on Galiano Island and at the Vancouver Film School, Strom said Assembly has been well received.

Last month, the four-and-a-half minute flick debuted at the Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival. This week, it will be screened as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, and at the 23rd annual St. John's International Women's Film Festival next week - an event that Strom will be attending.

Assembly can be seen tonight (Wednesday) at 9:15 p.m. at Empire Granville 7 Cinemas and Thursday at 3:45 p.m. at Pacific Cinémathèque in Vancouver. To view a clip, visit

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