The Impact of Studio D – how it changed the place of women in film in Canada

In the beginning

The creation of  Studio D has been attributed to ongoing lobbying for a women’s studio at the National Film Board (NFB), and particularly the leadership of Kathleen Shannon. Following the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, a growing movement started to pressure governments to act on women’s equality particularly within government agencies themselves. In 1974, the NFB finally acquiesced and, on the eve of the UN Year of the Woman, Studio D was established as the first “production unit dedicated to making films by and for women.” 

How it worked

At first, Studio D operated as a tiny studio of staff filmmakers, technicians, and support staff, along with a network of freelancers across the country, all of whom were women. Even with a relatively small budget and “located in the basement in what had previously been the janitor’s storeroom,” Studio D produced dozens of films centred on women’s lived experience and films that dealt with the complex social issues faced by women. At Studio D, women worked in all areas of film: editing, sound, sets, directing, producing, etc. The studio grew more inclusive in 1991 with the New Initiatives in Film program, which provided film training to women of colour and Indigenous women.

Success!In its heyday, Studio D produced many innovative films, including films that won three Oscars and a number of other awards. The Oscar winners include Beverly Shaffer’s I’ll Find a Way (1977), Terre Nash’s If You Love This Planet (1982), and Cynthia Scott’s Flamenco at 5:15 (1984). Other notable films include Not a Love Story, Wisecracks, Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives, Sisters in the Struggle, Towards Intimacy,  and the series 5 Feminist Minutes. Studio D had made a name for itself, the NFB, and Canadian women’s filmmaking.

How it ended

In 1989, despite protests from many women’s groups, funding for Studio D was drastically reduced, resulting in the Studio having to let all staff filmmakers go, to be replaced freelancers. These cuts were part of a swathe of larger cuts to the NFB and other social programs and programming related to women. After years of reduced budgets, Studio D finally closed its doors in 1996. There were assurances at the time that the NFB would produce just as many films made by women, but the focus and community of Studio D was lost. 


In 2016, the NFB launched a gender parity initiative, declaring “that at least half of its productions will be directed by women and half of all production spending will be allocated to films directed by women”. With the emergence of new generations of women making extraordinary films, it is becoming easier to imagine a future filled with the same kind of energy, enthusiasm, and community for women’s filmmaking that led to the ground-breaking work of Studio D!

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