An Interview with Filmmaker Penny Eizenga

“I want to get into the feature film world so we can tell stories about women that are deeper.”

This is what multi-faceted writer, director, actress and producer Penny Eizenga says she’s most excited for. Eizenga is a long-time London resident who now works out of Toronto as an independent filmmaker. She is well-known to many in her field for her outside-the-box imagination and her upbeat smile.

 

Penny Eizenga

Eizenga wasn’t always a filmmaker, she was actually in medicine and pharmaceuticals for most of her life. However, six years ago, she decided that she didn’t like what she was doing. Following a death in her life, she was struck with the realization that life’s too short not to do what you love. She describes this experience as “a rude awakening that we’re all mortal beings, but when someone dies younger than you expected it can really shake you up. If you’re not in a place where you want to be, death can be a huge awakening.”

Despite being new to the filmmaking scene, Eizenga is quite decorated. Her first foray into directing, The Run, won an Award of Merit in the Best Shorts Competition in La Jolla, CA, and has been screened all around North America at various international film festivals. Two short films that she wrote and produced, Margaret Finds Her Mojo and Wilderness, have also won various awards. She has worked with many award winning directors, writers and actors such as Brett Heard, Gordon Pinsent and Shelia McCarthy, to name a few.

The fact that Eizenga entered the game later than most isn’t a bad thing. She passionately strives to tell real stories about real people as her lifetime of experiences as a mother, nurse and business-woman beam effortlessly into the realism of her films. Eizenga doesn’t regret going down the path of her previous career but thinks nothing should negate a passion for art. “It’s a good time to be in the industry,” Eizenga says, “the gender inequality has been discussed a lot over the recent years. It’s a good time to be a women in the industry.”

Another part of Eizenga’s mission as a successful filmmaker is to support other women creators. She started Dog-Eared Productions to expand the creative role of women both in front and behind the camera. “The reality is that women have to start from the ground up and continuously make their presence known.”

She cites the male-gaze as typically hyper-sexualizing young women and how hard it is for older women to find roles that aren’t just your typical annoying, overbearing mother. This is where women supporting women in film comes into play: “Women come at story in a different way. It influences the ways stories are told. At all levels, we have a different way of approaching story.” Even behind the camera Eizenga says you have to hire the best people that you can and give them the space to play. She describes the recent St. John’s Women’s Festival as empowering and uplifting as well as a fantastic example of women supporting women.

When asked which one of the films she’s worked on that she’s most excited for Londoners to see at the upcoming Forest City Film Festival, it’s definitely Martin’s Hagge. Written by Gordon Pinsent and directed by Eizenga, Martin’s Hagge is described as “a middle-aged despondent writer, is burdened with Hagge, his wily personification of anxiety and depression, but after freewheeling Norah encroaches on his workspace, he learns apathy is a choice.”

 

Shelia McCarthy as Hagge with writer Gordon Pinsent

Sheila McCarthy, who plays Hagge, refers to the film as one of the highlights of her career. But Eizenga reasons that this film as so theatrical and deals with concepts McCarthy could really get into. “Women want to do things with depth,” she says, “something that they can sink their teeth into. Women are interesting at a variety of ages and we need to honour that with our storytelling.”

We end our conversation as I shyly tell her that I was nervous about interviewing someone who wasn’t a friend. As she laughs, you can hear the upbeat smile she so famed for. “Now we’re friends!” she says. It feels good—women supporting women.  

You can check out three of Penny’s films at the London’s Forest City Film Festival. Find showtimes for Martin’s Hagge (here and here), Go Fish (here), and Margaret Finds Her Mojo (here and here).

 

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