There’s a riveting scene in the short film A Woman’s Voice that depicts restaurant staff helping an abused woman escape her abuser. It’s from one of four interwoven stories in this award-winning 13-minute piece from Airdrie’s Rob Ing Productions.
With three original songs written by Calgary’s Métis singer songwriter Sandra Sutter as a backdrop, it follows four women who face and overcome familiar challenges, such as addiction, peer pressure and relationship abuse.
“It was a real honour to take on this project,” says producer and first-time film director Rob Ing. “It’s an important story to tell.”
The project was a collaboration between Sutter, a longtime friend of Ing’s, and his partner Deanna Hunter, who is a co-writer on the film and Sutter’s cousin.
“Sandra had applied for a Calgary Arts Development Grant to make a film,” Hunter explains. “She called Rob one day and said, ’I got the grant, I guess we have to make a film now.’”
Ing has been making music videos and corporate documentaries for 20 years, he says, but this project was all his, from start to finish.
“This was the first time I got to do everything. I got to direct it, and edit it, and produce it and get it out there.”
The film concept had three songs at its core, he explains, but it needed a story that could pull them together. While he was prepared to produce the project, he didn’t feel that he should have a hand in writing the script.
“This is your story,” he told Sutter. “It needs to be in a woman’s voice.”
Sutter and Hunter teamed up to work on the script, writing several drafts, and drawing on input from other women, friends and Elders from whom the musician had found guidance in her career.
“Sandra’s intent from the start,” Hunter explains, “was for it to be an empowerment story; a way for women to recognize that they’re not alone, that there are resources, and that they can find support and comfort from other women.”
“Then we took it to Rob, and he helped us refine it even further.”
Limiting the production to the length of the songs was the biggest challenge, Ing admits.
“There were so many scenes I wanted to expand, but I couldn’t; I had to keep it within the music.”
Filmed in Calgary, most of the actors were friends and family. Only two performers, including Airdrie actress Niki Middleton, had ever been in front of a camera, he says.
“The content of the film is heavy, but the emotions that came across from these – and I say this respectfully – amateurs, was impressive. They did a really good job.”
The film is compelling, connecting each story and theme through skillful directing, tight editing and shrewd visual imagery. Reflections of the characters captured on various surfaces create a sense of introspection, while a Jack of Spades, often seen as a tattoo or playing card, depicts the difficulties the four women face. Rose-coloured glasses are featured throughout, something that Sutter wanted in the film.
“She thought that maybe it’s not such a bad thing to see positivity and goodness,” Hunter explains. “The glasses represented the transition from helplessness to empowerment.”
“It was important for Sandra to make it real. She wanted women to see themselves, but to also see that there’s always hope.”
Though the production was technically challenging, Ing is excited about the film and how it might be used.
“I’ve done many projects where you’re telling a story, but I really cared about this project. I really wanted (the message) to come across for Sandra.”
A Woman’s Voice isn’t available for public distribution yet, but it’s currently creating a buzz on the Indie film circuit.
Over the summer, the film has won several awards, including Best Original Music and Best Women’s Film at the 4th Dimension Independent Film Festival, Best Short Film at the Multi Dimension Independent Film Festival, and Best Woman Filmmaker at the International New York Film Festival. Ing has also won Best First Time Director (Male) at the IndieX Film Festival and been nominated for Best Director at the Beyond the Curve International Film Festival in Paris, France.
Ing and Hunter are thrilled with the response.
“You know, when you’re just doing something that you think is important to your people, and then you realize that it matters to other people, it’s affirming to know that we got it right,” Hunter says.
The film’s success is also shining a light on Ing’s production company, she adds.
“Rob is a local talent, he’s very well known in the business community, but maybe they’ll be able to see him in a different way through this.”
Ing laughs and agrees.
“I wouldn’t say no to more projects like this one.”