In a year with record number of applicants, Yellowknife filmmaker Jen Walden has been selected as one of six finalists for the Whistler Film Festival’s screenwriters lab.
The lab, a seven-month seminar, partners emerging creatives with experienced mentors to workshop scripts for a full length feature film.
Walden will participating with her story for dystopian fantasy Mother – a genre piece developed from a Dead North short about a 10-year-old girl struggling to survive alone in the frozen subarctic.
The screenwriters lab is broken down into a one-week online intensive of creative and business instruction, followed by six months of guided script development and pitch preparation. In November finalists will then participate in online business training.
After the program, Walden hopes to see Mother made for the big screen.
Though she has participated in previous mentorship programs and workshops, never to this degree and never so focused on writing.
A film can have all the funding and fancy equipment in the world but the foundation of a solid script and a good story is the most important start to any project, Walden said.
She said she also looks forward to the mentorship in business packaging in order to take the script and present it effectively to potential supporters that can help get the story off the ground. Oftentimes these programs are either creative or business-centric, the marriage between the two speaks to Whistler’s efficacy in supporting emerging talent, Walden said.
When she started writing Mother, the world hadn’t yet been overtaken by a global pandemic. To continue developing the script as the world went into its first lock down was “a bit eerie,” Walden said as she began to draw on the news and real life events to fill out gaps in the story.
Initially, Walden began writing Mother as a horror film because the thought of a young kid alone in the woods was a scary thought as Walden thought of her own daughter. As she continued working on the project she realized the film was really about connection and loneliness as the pandemic exposed so many stories about mental health struggles globally.
“I sat down to write about this little kid because I have a kid,” Walden said, “and it wasn’t until I had written 100 pages that I realized the theme.”
“More and more it became about connection and why that’s vital and how challenging it can be.”
Though the story is grounded in reality, Walden said setting a film in a fantastical world might dull some of the harshness and “make it a little easier to stomach.”
Following the workshop, Walden hopes eventually to see Mother on the big screen. She notes that it may be a while down the road and that major cinematic releases are not possible through the COVID-19 era, but that the movie-going experience is “the experience (she) loves and the experience (she) wants to give others.”
Having Mother be set in a Northern environment is important, she said, to prove to herself and others that filmmaking can be a proper profession without having to move to the likes of Toronto, Vancouver or Los Angeles.
“I want to prove to myself and others that we have a film industry and that I don’t have to give up my dream or my home.”