Edited By: Joy Jiang
Calling all cinema and film buffs! Join this new organization which takes your love for film and combines it with equity issues, to raise awareness of pressing environmental and social issues that go unnoticed in our daily lives.
Meet Yazmeen Kanji, the founder of Films With a Cause. Read all about her cinematic journey, learn why she wanted to create Films With a Cause and what her hopes are for the organization.
Majors: Cinema Studies and Equity Studies.
Hobbies: Filmmaking, Volunteering, Singing & Watching Movies.
One of your biggest passions in life is film. How did you get into filmmaking and media?
From the age of around 7 years old I would vlog my daily activities and have my younger siblings act out skits that I would film on my dad’s old camera. That camera would, of course, become my own and to this day I’m still not sure who I thought cared about my after school outfit changes. It was just clear to me from a young age that I really enjoyed documenting the world around me as well as entertaining others through video making. Since my father is Kenyan, my mother is Guyanese and my grandparents are Indian, I grew up being exposed to a wide range of cultures. As a result, I strongly believe in the importance of bringing awareness to local and global issues that are generally not well understood. I’ve always thought that diverse experiences should be shared and that has definitely been apparent in my filmmaking projects.
Who are your biggest inspirations in life?
Every day after school at 4 pm I’d be in front of the TV with my mom watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. I loved learning about the diverse lives of others and I was so fascinated with Oprah’s involvement in a multitude of fields ranging from philanthropy to journalism to reality television and film. As a highly successful woman of colour, I looked up to Oprah as an example of what could be possible for myself. My mom has also been amazing in encouraging me to pursue my passions, and without her endless support, there’s no telling if I would have the courage to dream so big.
In high school, YouTubers like Marie Forleo, Mimi and Alex Ikonn or Lilly Singh instilled a drive in myself to feel like I could create something for the benefit of others with the skill and passions I have. Female directors like Mira Nair, Ava DuVernay and Angelina Jolie were especially influential for me in the meaningful work they do behind the camera and beyond.
What have been the most inspiring experiences you have faced?
As for inspiring experiences, I have attended We Day multiple times as an audience member and within the last few years, as a volunteer backstage. The speeches every year blow me away and the incredibly inspiring stories always give me a push for the rest of the year to work my hardest towards a greater goal with like-minded people. Additionally, every year that I attend the Toronto International Film Festival, I learn something new about where the industry is headed and what it takes to make it to their level. Not that that’s necessarily my definite end goal as a filmmaker, but a girl can dream, right?
The first short film I created in 2014 was titled, One Call and it demonstrates how a simple action can make a big difference in someone’s life. The film won second place at the York Regional Police Film Festival and part of the prize included a visit to the set of one of my favourite TV shows, Saving Hope. Last year I also had the incredible opportunity to work on the set of an RBC commercial with other university students.
What inspired you to create Films With a Cause?
I’ve always believed in the power of television and films to allow audiences to discover possibilities they never considered before. I think that’s the power of art; to inspire and to open minds. I also think that when films directly or indirectly shed light on social or environmental issues, people can become more aware of the positive impacts they are capable of.
In my first year at U of T, I didn’t have many chances to engage in creative filmmaking. By the end of my first year, I really wanted to figure out how I could combine my interests or which one I should focus on if I had to choose. I had a coffee meeting with one of the recipients of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20/Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, Kourosh Houshmand. He encouraged me to bridge my passions and to stop waiting for the ‘right time’ to start a project that could become something of importance to others as well as to myself.
What is Films With a Cause and what do you hope it will achieve?
Films With A Cause is about active revolutionary storytelling. We are a Toronto-based filmmaking organization that produces socially and environmentally conscious films in an effort to instigate foreseeable change. The first film that will be released under the organization’s name is a documentary I directed about the experiences of three families who fled the war in Syria and are now living in the GTA. This film is set to premiere at the 2018 Canadian Centre For the Responsibility To Protect (CCR2P) Film Festival.
Films With A Cause aims to not only raise awareness on important issues both locally and globally but also to address these topics with possible solutions. I believe that films can bring important issues to light, leading to the implementation of changes within social institutions. When the circumstances of others are taken into personal consideration by large masses of people, change becomes increasingly achievable.
Right now, our organization operates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The organization officially launched on January 1st, 2018 and the website should be up by February 1st. Our website will allow blog contributions, video submissions and links to allow active involvement in the topics being depicted in the Films With A Cause productions. We are currently planning collaborations with other groups for future film projects and we also support the efforts of other local filmmakers by promoting their work. Our plan is to have Films With A Cause function on a collaborative basis where we will release daily clips from full-length films created by socially/environmentally conscious filmmakers.
What can you tell people who would like to get involved with Films With a Cause in the future?
I want FWAC to be a platform where filmmakers can display their content and have creative control of any projects they would like to put out through our organization. We want to bring on as many people as possible who can contribute their unique backgrounds and who have a motivation to bring about change and inspiration through films. Really, anyone who is interested in participating in any capacity can contact us through our social media accounts. Since we’ve only just begun, it’ll most likely work out if your abilities fit our needs.