Big Picture: Film about women in music biz becomes so much more

Nicole Sorochan says she can understand why, at first glance, Amplify Her could be mistaken for a film that merely laments the lack of gender equality in a male-dominated industry.

After all, the feature documentary that the Victoria-based filmmaker and transmedia specialist co-directed with Ian Mackenzie focuses chiefly on the challenges facing three female electronic dance music artists. But the film, which launches tonight at the Vic Theatre with screenings at 6 and 8:30 p.m., does a lot more than that.

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“We wanted to re-frame it,” said Sorochan, whose project began as a traditional documentary before morphing into a multi-media fusion of documentary film, graphic novel and animated motion comic series.

“Instead of asking: ‘Why aren’t there more women [in this industry]?’ which is polarizing, let’s celebrate what unique expressions there are that women offer.”

It’s what you might expect from the cross-platform producer and co-owner of creative agency One Net Inc., whose credits include a story-driven website that launched with Nettie Wild’s Koneline: Our Land Beautiful.

While Amplify Her features many female artists, it showcases three women who battle demons from their pasts while making their way in the global music-festival scene. Their stories were so compelling, it inspired a graphic novel, then the motion comic series, “because you can’t show off the music in a graphic novel,” Sorochan said.

Blondtron is a brazenly sexual, F-bomb-dropping music producer who creates a female-empowerment anthem so racy, it hampers her entrepreneurial ambition. AppleCat, whose talent lies in encouraging listeners to release their “sexual shame,” is a single mother who has worked as an online “camgirl” to help make ends meet. Lux Moderna, who long endured a mysterious, painful illness before being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, vents her frustration through music.

The project, five years in the making, features contributions from about two dozen female artists across North America.

Local audiences will spot some familiar faces, such as Kytami, the chameleonic Victoria fiddler.

“What does feminine expression look like if women feel free and safe to express themselves?” asked Sorochan, who built a “deeply engaged storyworld” to which the artists would contribute.

Creating this storyworld, in which the film, graphic novel and motion comic series co-exist, was life-changing, Sorochan said. She said collaborating with co-director Mackenzie, whom she met at the Hollyhock Retreat on Cortes Island, was a natural fit. The two had worked together on Velcrow Ripper’s Occupy Love (2013).

Sorochan began by assembling a large group of female artists, the electronic dance music characters, comic-book illustrators and animators for three days on Galiano Island to bare their souls and ignite their creativity.

The last two days of their wilderness experience focused on story structure and creating characters, with participants working with a bodypaint artist and a photographer to flesh out their character designs.

The outcome was not just the film, but a seven-chapter graphic novel and the expanded motion comic series about female empowerment — “the digital component” — set to be released online in January.

An earlier cut of the project — whose local collaborators include producer Erin Skillen, writer Tracey Friesen, musician David Parfit, bodypaint artist Kristin Grant and animator and visual effects artist Denver Jackson — was more conventional, Sorochan said.

“What we realized we missed in the original was the emotional vulnerability that comes through,” she said, recalling how they switched gears from a typical documentary in which the director tells a story.

“With the music producers and artists and animators, what’s really different is that you have two sides of the story.”

After Amplify Her has its local première in Victoria, with ViaTec on board as a sponsor, it’s scheduled to be screened in Seattle and at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

That the film is being seen at all is gratifying, said Sorochan, who had to take out a second mortgage on her home to complete Amplify Her after it was “disclaimed” by Super Channel last year.

It was one of many Canadian films whose producers received notices from the parent company of the national pay-TV broadcaster, a significant funder of Canadian films, when it filed for bankruptcy protection.

It effectively cancelled the broadcast contracts for films whose producers rely on broadcast licence fees. Because of the complexities of Canada’s film-funding model, such fees are essential to trigger more funding.

Sorochan has high hopes for Amplify Her’s future prospects.

“It’s definitely more than just a film,” she said.

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