TIFF 2021 Women Directors: Meet Shasha Nakhai – “Scarborough”
Shasha Nakhai is a Filipina-Canadian filmmaker. Her directorial projects include documentary shorts “Thirty Eight Minutes,” “18 Roses,” “Paruparo,” “The Sugar Bowl,” and the documentary feature “Take Light.” Her projects have been nominated for five Canadian Screen Awards and her work “Frame 394” was shortlisted for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. “Scarborough” marks her feature debut.
“Scarborough” will premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival on September 10. The film is co-directed by Rich Williamson. The fest is taking place September 9-18.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
SN: “Scarborough” is a feature drama that is shot documentary-style over the course of a school year. It follows the stories of three children and their surrounding community as they navigate different challenges and as their lives intersect at a community reading program.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
SN: When I first read writer Catherine Hernandez’s novel I was really taken by the truth in the smallest details of her writing. As a Filipina-Canadian filmmaker, I had never seen Filipinx representation done well in the Canadian film landscape and wanted to be part of making that happen.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
SN: We have a lot of hope for this little film and if audiences come away with any of the following, we will have done our job correctly. We want folks whose experiences are reflected in the film to feel affirmed and seen; to center communities that are often an afterthought to those in power; and to remind everyone of the value that educators, caregivers, and frontline workers have. We hope folks come away with a strong sense of community and the ways in which we are inextricably linked to one another; with a commitment to nurture community wherever possible, and to resist the forces that seek to erase, fracture, and monetize it.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
SN: We faced a lot of challenges making this film, but a lot of them stem from the fact that this was an ambitious micro-budget production. Having to shoot on evenings and weekends spread out through a year, wearing multiple hats, working with children and animals — this coupled with snowstorms, heat waves, and a global pandemic made for a very interesting year of filming.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
SN: The film was funded by Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch Program, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Canadian Film Centre’s Slaight Music Fund.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
SN: I’ve always had a love for storytelling, but I realized film was the medium for me when I was in journalism school. I began volunteering at the Hot Docs Film Festival and realized how incredibly creative and moving feature documentaries could be. They didn’t have to be boring and had so much more potential for impact. They just didn’t compare to the 30-second news bites that I was going to school to create.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
SN: I always used to laugh when my mentor Ed Barreveld would repeat “The same people you see on the way up are the same people you see on the way down,” but it’s really true and reminds me to try to never forget what people have done for me in my career, no matter how small. The worst advice I received was that I had to choose between being a director or being a producer. I truly believe you can be both if you have the capacity, although I would definitely advise against being both on the same project at the same time.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
SN: This is a bit of a tough one to answer because this is such a broad category and different people need different advice at different points in their careers. I guess one overarching constant that I try to let guide me is to focus on the work itself. It’s very easy to get distracted by the shiny things, and when you begin to crave them and get addicted to them, you need to interrogate yourself a bit and understand why you want that external validation.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
SN: I can’t pick one. I have too many and for different reasons.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
SN: It was really tough to find motivation at the beginning of the pandemic, and I still don’t feel like I’m at 100% of my old capacity right now. I try to give myself extra grace. We just finished this four-year marathon feature, so now I am going to take a significant amount of time off before incubating new ideas.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make it more inclusive?
SN: We need to center those who have been left out of decision-making, and we need to do this with an intersectional lens.