During her final year of a BA in Women’s Studies and African Studies at U of T in 1996, Dawn Wilkinson took a one-week filmmaking workshop in Mount Forest, Ontario, that persuaded her to pursue a life behind the camera. The young writer had been crafting plenty of fiction and literary criticism in her classes, but, at the screening of her five-minute film, she was floored by the “immediacy” of the response. “Seeing people connect to my story was something I’d never fully experienced with my writing.”
In 1999, Wilkinson studied at the Canadian Film Centre Directors’ Lab in Toronto. She also served as a director observer (in which a young filmmaker-hopeful watches an established pro at work) during the shooting of the movie Hurricane, with director Norman Jewison (BA 1949 VIC). Wilkinson had established the production company, Afterlife, in 1998, and has since made four short films, as well as several documentaries.
Her first feature, Devotion, recently won the Audience Award at the 2005 Reel World Film Festival in Toronto. The movie explores the concerns of belonging and alienation facing an 11-year-old biracial girl. Alice, the main character, also struggles with her mother’s death, caused by her father’s drunk driving. “The plot is not about being biracial; it’s about her not fitting in at school, about not getting along with her dad. Being biracial is the lens she’s looking through,” says Wilkinson. “I wanted to show that complexity: how she saw herself wasn’t how she was seen by others.”