Janalee Budge was hesitant to show her mom the finished version of her latest short film, Grandma Lee’s Dress, which she describes as a quirky “fantastical drama” loosely based on her and her cousin’s mixed-race upbringing.
The 10-minute short, recently named a finalist in CBC’s annual Short Film Face Off, opens with a vivid memory from Budge’s childhood: attending her grandmother’s funeral at the tender age of 10.
“Then, after, a big family feud broke out in a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. Flash forward 30 years, and the rest of the film was made based on situations that have loosely happened in our lives and shows the power of a grandmother’s spirit,” she explains. “The opening scene, I was nervous to share it with my mom because I didn’t tell her anything about it until it was done. I did share it with her once it was finished, and fortunately she liked it.”
Exploring the complexities of intergenerational conflict in a mixed-race family, Grandma Lee’s Dress premiered last year as part of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, and is one of nine films selected—and the only one from B.C.—to compete in the Short Film Face Off. Determined entirely by public vote, the winner will receive $30,000 in production support from Telefilm to put towards a future project.
For a director like Budge working primarily in commercial film and TV, a win could offer the kind of resources and exposure that would take her career to the next level.
“I’m recently getting into drama and longer-form documentary stuff, and I definitely love it and want to spend more time telling meaningful stories,” she says.
Budge certainly had no shortage of meaningful stories to draw from in making Grandma Lee’s Dress. Her grandmother arrived in Canada under the guise of the racist and exclusionary Chinese Immigration Act, which was drafted in response to rising anti-immigration sentiment in British Columbia and stipulated that Chinese people entering the country first pay a head tax equivalent to two years of an average immigrant worker’s salary. The only Chinese family to settle in their small Manitoba town, both Budge’s grandma and mom experienced discrimination and xenophobia as a regular part of their everyday lives.
“I always knew my grandma was a really strong woman to go through what she went through: arranged marriage, feet bound, came here with a head tax,” Budge says. “I realized how strong my grandma was, and also my mom, who, at 94, is one of the strongest females, especially from that generation, that I know. I have so much female strength in my family and I’m super appreciative of that. As a result, my sisters and I have been raised to be fairly strong, independent women.”
Budge has channeled strength from her Whistler family as well over the years. Cutting her teeth on the locals’-favourite film contest, The B-Grade Horror Festival (which would later rebrand as the Heavy Hitting HorrorFest), Budge counted Whistler filmmaking luminaries such as Angie Nolan, Feet Banks, and the late, great Chili Thom as peers and collaborators coming up.
“We were always making fun little films, and that was my first introduction to doing non-commercial stuff,” she recalls. “It’s such a vast spectrum of people and from different backgrounds, and even though we are a small community, there is a cool arts community here and everyone is super supportive.”
Even with that support, however, Budge recognizes that, at a certain point in their careers, filmmakers will likely have to leave the resort to realize their big-screen dreams.
“This film I made in Vancouver, with the whole Vancouver indie crew that were super amazing. There is no longer a film gang in Whistler; pretty much everyone has left that I made films with before. I couldn’t make a film like that here—or, if I did, it would be a lot harder.”
Grandma Lee’s Dress screened on CBC on Saturday, Sept. 2, and is available to view online through CBC Gem at gem.cbc.ca/short-film-face-off. Voting for the Short Film Face Off opens Sept. 16, after the final competing film has aired on CBC, and will remain open for just 24 hours. The film with the most votes will be announced on Sept. 24. Only one vote will be accepted per email address.
Learn more, and vote, at cbc.ca/shortfilmfaceoff.