Inspired by Dream: Profile on Michelle Latimer

Featured Story: Michelle Latimer

April 2015

Latimer directs her most recent film, 'The Underground' (2014)

Michelle Latimer is a M├ętis/Algonquin filmmaker, actor, and curator who grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Although she wasn’t exposed to a lot of art when she was a child (the first time Michelle saw a play was when she was 16 years old), being creative was always a part of her identity. In Northern Ontario, nature was Michelle’s AGO; the outdoors inspired her to use her imagination and create worlds and universes in her mind – something she continues to do today with her films. 

Michelle began her artistic career as an actor, performing with Crow’s Theatre, Theatre Smith-Gilmour, and others. Unsettled and unsure of next steps, Michelle was asked a question during a walk in High Park with a friend. “If you could take away the financial hardship and instability, if you were to do anything in this moment, what would you do?” Her answer: “I would make film.” “Then why aren’t you doing that?” her friend asked.

“I just never saw myself as enough of a professional artist to get a grant” notes Michelle. But the conversation during that walk helped her decide to apply for the first time. She applied to TAC’s Media Arts Program with a proposal to make a short film. “I’ll never forget getting [the notification letter] in the mail, and opening the envelope. I just started to cry.” Getting the grant gave her the confidence to apply for other funding, and she was able to complete her project. The film was called Choke, and not only did it premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, it received the Sundance Special Jury Honourable Mention for Best International Short Film.

Latimer reviews footage on the set of 'The Underground' (2014)

Latimer’s approach to filmmaking is fluid and attentive. Her openness to outside influences and her ability to recognize what the story demands means that she will never be boxed in to one genre. “I prefer the story to tell me how to tell it… Choke was originally supposed to be a documentary about kids in an art class in Northern Ontario.” Michelle’s experiences with the children while doing her research led her instead to make stop-motion animation about urban isolation and the search for individual identity. Through stop-motion animation, she was able to focus on the issues that faced the community, which was the real core of the story.

Dreams are the inspiration for many of her projects. “I really love when reality takes that extra step to magical realism, or dream. I believe that dream affects the now of our everyday. This goes back to the place of dream in my own heritage; it’s something that’s definitely given weight and respect.”

Michelle has made a career out of making art; receiving that first grant gave her the confidence to pursue her true desire, and she has since completed many films and projects. Her advice to others who are writing their first grant: “The process of writing a grant is really overwhelming, but I feel like the process of articulating what it is you want to do – not just what, but why – forces you to flesh out your vision, and the voice behind it. People get so wrapped up in what they’re doing, but I say more time could be spent in the why: why are you doing this, what do you wish to say, what do you wish to contribute to the world?”

You can see Michelle’s most recent work at the National Arts Centre’s upcoming Ontario Scene festival, where she worked with Article 11 on a video component of an installation entitled DECLARATION, in collaboration with Digging Roots, Monique Mojica, and Santee Smith. The filmmaker is also currently developing a documentary entitled Forgotten: The Freedom Project about a woman who is in prison.