Chronology of "Firsts" for Canadian Women Film Directors
Compiled by Margaret Fulford
- First Canadian woman to direct a film: Nell Shipman
Between 1920 and 1924 she directed -- and also wrote and starred in -- nine fiction films, including feature-length films (in the United States).
- First Canadian woman to direct a film in Canada: Donna Conway King
She worked for the Ontario Motion Picture Bureau (a provincial government agency) from 1923 to 1934.
- First Canadian woman to direct a colour film: Judith Crawley
The film was Four New Apple Dishes (1940).
This has sometimes been referred to as the first Canadian colour film, but it appears that at least two other colour films preceded it: Royal Banners over Ottawa (directed by Gordon Sparling, 1939) and The Royal Visit to Canada and the United States of America May 17 - June 15, 1939 (directed by Frank C. Badgley, 1939).
- First Canadian woman to direct an animated film: Evelyn Lambart
She directed eighteen animated films between 1945 and 1980: six with Norman McLaren, one with George Dunning, and eleven as "solo director".
- First woman director whose film won a Canadian Film Award: Judith Crawley
The Loon's Necklace (1948), directed by Judith Crawley and her husband F.R. (Budge) Crawley, won the Canadian Film Award for Film of the Year; the award was given to F.R. Crawley, who was also the film's producer.
- First woman "solo director" whose film won a Canadian Film Award: Gudrun Bjerring Parker
Her film Opera School (1952) won in the Theatrical Short category.
- First Canadian woman to direct a film in French: Soeur Marthe Hébert
A nun, Soeur [Sister] Marthe Hébert made films in the 1950s for the Soeurs de la Charité in Quebec City.
- First Canadian woman to direct a documentary in French: Dorothée Brisson
Starting in 1956, she directed films for the Service de ciné-photographie de la province de Québec (and its successor, the Office du film du Québec).
- First Canadian woman to direct a fiction film in French: Anne Claire Poirier
Her first fiction film was La fin des étés (1964).
- First female "solo director" to win the Canadian Film Award for Film of the Year: Beryl Fox
She won for The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam (1965).
Two films by women, The Loon's Necklace (see above) and The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam, won the Film of the Year award. Since then, three films by women have won its successor, the Best Motion Picture award (at the Genie Awards and more recently the Canadian Screen Awards): My American Cousin (1985, directed by Sandy Wilson); Away from Her (2006, directed by Sarah Polley); and Gabrielle (2013, directed by Louise Archambault).
- First Canadian woman to direct a feature-length film in French: Anne Claire Poirier
Her first feature was the documentary De mère en fille (Mother-to-Be, 1968).
- First Canadian Indigenous woman film director: Barbara Wilson
Along with several other members of the "Indian Film Crew," she directed the film These Are My People ... (1969) for the National Film Board of Canada.
- First Canadian Indigenous woman film director to "solo direct" a film: Alanis Obomsawin
The first of her many documentaries was Christmas at Moose Factory (1971).
- First Canadian woman to direct a feature-length fiction film in Canada: Sylvia Spring
The film was Madeleine Is... (1971).
- First Canadian woman to direct a feature-length fiction film in French: Mireille Dansereau
Her film, La vie rêvée (Dream Life, 1972), also won two Canadian Film Awards.
- First National Film Board program whose mandate was to produce films directed by women: "En tant que femmes"
The "En tant que femmes" program (within the NFB's "Challenge for Change/Société nouvelle" program) produced a series of films from 1972 to 1975, including Souris, tu m'inquiètes (1973, directed by Aimée Danis) and Les filles du Roy (They Called Us 'Les Filles du Roy', 1974, directed by Anne Claire Poirier ).
Subsequent initiatives at the NFB have included "Studio D" (a women's film studio, 1974-1996) and the "Regards de femmes" program.
- First women's film festival in Canada: "Women and Film 1896-1973" ("La femme et le film, 1896-1973")
This festival of films directed by women was organized in Toronto and also took place in eighteen other cities in Canada (June-July 1973).
- First Canadian woman director to win an Academy Award (Oscar): Beverly Shaffer
She won in the category Best Short Film (Live Action), for her documentary I'll Find a Way (1977).
Eight other films directed by Canadian women have won Oscars: Special Delivery (1978) by Eunice Macaulay and John Weldon; If You Love This Planet (1982) by Terre Nash; Flamenco at 5:15 (1983) by Cynthia Scott; Artie Shaw: Time Is All You've Got (1985) by Brigitte Berman; Bob's Birthday (1994) by David Fine and Alison Snowden; The Danish Poet (2006) by Torill Kove; Saving Face (2011) by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (2015) by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
- First Canadian woman to win the Montreal World Film Festival award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Louise Carré
She won for Ça peut pas être l'hiver on n'a même pas eu d'été (It Can't Be Winter We Haven't Had Summer Yet, 1980).
- First woman to win a Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction: Micheline Lanctôt
She won for Sonatine (1984).
Two other women have won the Best Achievement in Direction award at the Genie Awards (or their successor, the Canadian Screen Awards): Sandy Wilson for My American Cousin (1985) and Sarah Polley for Away from Her (2006).
- First woman film director to win the Prix Albert-Tessier: Anne Claire Poirier
She won this Quebec award (for lifetime achievement in cinema) in 1988.
Five other women directors have since won it: Micheline Lanctôt (2000), Léa Pool (2006), Paule Baillargeon (2009), Manon Barbeau (2014), and Alanis Obomsawin (2016).
- First Canadian woman to win the Montreal World Film Festival award for Best Director: Manon Briand
She won for 2 secondes (2 seconds, 1998). This was one of three awards this film won at the Montreal World Film Festival -- it also won the Best Canadian Film Award and the Montreal Award for the Best First Fiction Film.
- First woman to win the Directors Guild of Canada award for Best Direction - Feature Film: Sarah Polley
She won for Away from Her (2006).
Kari Skogland has also won this award, for Fifty Dead Men Walking (2008).
- First woman to win the Toronto International Film Festival award for Best Canadian Feature Film: Jennifer Baichwal
She won for Manufactured Landscapes (2006).
Ruba Nadda has also won this award, for Cairo Time (2009).
- First woman to win the Prix Jutra [Jutra Award] for Meilleure réalisation [best direction]: Lyne Charlebois
She won for Borderline (2008).
Louise Archambault has also won this award, for Gabrielle (2013), and Léa Pool won its successor, the Prix Iris [Iris award] for Meilleure réalisation [best direction], for La passion d'Augustine (2015).