Bill Mason produced his feature film Waterwalker in collaboration with an unusual department of the National Film Board— Studio D, the all-woman unit devoted to making films on women’s issues. In fact, Waterwalker boasts Studio D’s name only because Mason briefly joined its staff during an expansion period when no women directors were available. But in the movie’s quality, if not its content, Waterwalker does reflect the unit. Since film-maker Kathleen Shannon persuaded the NFB to establish Studio D in 1974 in preparation for International Women’s Year, it has produced more than 40 documentaries on women’s issues, many of them highly acclaimed. Among the best-known: Not a Love Story and three Oscar winners, If You Love This Planet, I'll Find a Way and Flamenco at 5:15. The NFB’s records show that Studio D films are booked twice as often as its other English-language films. Yet despite its success, the studio currently faces some of the most perilous times of its short life.
The problems stem from cutbacks to the NFB’s general budget—$10 million over three years. The reduction has
left the board with a diminishing amount of what it calls “free money,” what remains after rents and salaries are paid. In the 1981-1982 fiscal year, Studio D received 10.9 per cent of the board’s budget for film, freelancers, travel and other necessities. In 19841985, that figure dropped to 6.2 per cent of the reduced budget. “Everything but editing stopped this July,”
Despite winning three Oscars, the National Film Board's Studio D could not afford a $3.50 roll of splicing tape
said film-maker Dorothy Todd Hénaut. “Then we got a little bit more money. We stopped again in September.”
That month funds became so tight that when film-maker Terri Nash (,Speaking Our Peace, a feature documentary) requisitioned a $3.50 roll of tape for splicing bits of film together, the board refused to supply it. The reason: Studio D was over budget. Anoth-
er department finally provided the tape. But, said Hénaut: “I don’t know when we will be starting another film. We need another $300,000 to finish the films already in progress.”
To some extent the studio is a victim of its own success. Because it proved there was an audience for films made by women about women’s issues, resources it might have used are now going to a major NFB push to integrate women into all programs. And NFB president François Maceróla has set aside $300,000—the exact amount of the unit’s shortfall —to launch a French-language version of Studio D.
Meanwhile, another problem looms: no successor has yet been named to replace founder Shannon (an associate producer on Waterwalker), who last June announced her intention to step down as executive producer as soon as a replacement could be found. Still, the beleaguered unit continues to receive praise. In fact, in mid-September the Caplan-Sauvageau task force on broadcasting urged that the unit “serve as a model to the entire broadcasting industry.” For now, the 13-member staff at Studio D are hoarding their splicing tape and planning for the future. Said Hénaut: “We have enough projects to keep us busy for the next five years.”
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