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Shayona MacDonald is an award-winning filmmaker who has worked in the Canadian film and television industry as a writer, producer and director for more than two decades. Her recent films include “Into Light,” “Candice,” “A short Essay on Men,” and “Inside Her Sex.” MacDonald also directed the second season of VGH’s “Emergency Room: Life and Death” for Knowledge Network. The script for her feature-length dramatic film, “Back By Midnight”, was recently picked by Kristin Hibler of Screen Siren Pictures. MacDonald is currently writing her first novel.
“Dead Man’s Switch: a crypto mystery” is shown at Canada’s Hot Docs 2021 International Documentary Festival, which takes place from April 29 to May 9. The festival is digital this year due to COVID-19. Broadcasting is geographically restricted in Canada.
W&H: Describe the movie in your own words.
SM: “Dead Man’s Switch” is a feature-length documentary that explores the mysterious, twisted and unorganized world of cryptocurrency through the story of the rise and fall of QuadrigaCX, the Canadian cryptocurrency exchange, and the mysterious death of its CEO and founder, Gerald Cotten.
This is a tech movie, mystery movie, and crime movie. It is a movie about shadows, perception, assumption, and greed.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
SM: two-fold. I was commissioned to make a movie about cryptocurrencies a year before Gerald’s death and I was challenged to find a story about cryptocurrencies that was appealing enough to sustain my interest in the long run – to tell a story that would interest the audience, and a story that had some value. When Jerry was reported dead and lost money, I immediately learned that this was the story she was commissioned to tell.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after seeing the movie?
Saba Mahmoud: I want people to explore their own ideas about loss, greed, money, technology, investment, risk and reward. We hope they have fun, are better informed about cryptocurrencies, and filled with opinions and speculation about what actually happened to Gerry Cotten.
W&H: What’s the biggest challenge in making a movie?
Saba Mahmoud: The biggest challenge was figuring out – without reaching the people I was filming – who would tell the story and how. Also, how to educate the viewer about cryptocurrency, while also balancing the story of QCX and Gerry.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some ideas on how to make the movie.
Saba Mahmoud: We were very fortunate to have the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) documentary channel on board from the start. So, I had some pre-development money available through the doc channel and Canada Media Fund. Once we developed and discovered that we were moving forward with the project, I also received financial support from many other agencies and organizations. There was also a 5% contribution from the producers.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Saba Mahmoud: I am curious about people and invested in understanding perspectives or experiences that do not belong to me. I love people and I am driven to understand what makes them tick, what lies beneath the facades, and how we are all alike and we are all different.
I had hoped for the truth to be told, early on, to tell stories that made a difference, informed and informed, in the dark. I have regressed as I get older, and now I try to focus on “good projects with the good people”.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
Saba Mahmoud: A difficult question. There is a lot of bad advice, but I think the two good advice I will give as things I stick to: “Trust your instincts” and “Know what you don’t know.”
The latter has been especially important to me over the past few years as I have grown older. When I was younger, I thought I knew everything, or a lot, and therefore I didn’t look for those who were experts or knew better. Now, if I’m not good at something or don’t know a thing, I try to find someone who knows it.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female filmmakers?
SM: There is a lot of noise at the moment about who can tell stories and what stories they can tell. Tell a story that’s important to you, from your unique perspective. Bring yourself to the process, and trust your own process.
W&H: Name your favorite movie directed by women and why.
SM: Lots of great movies. Lots of women are doing an amazing job.
W&H: How do you adjust to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping your creativity, and if so, how?
SM: COVID-19 has definitely been a source of disruption! Creatively, it’s been a prolific time for me personally. I finished this movie despite the pandemic, and I also finished a short film, “Into Light,” which is also being released and will be shown in Hot Docs and DOXA. I have a feature film script that I have been working on for a few years which has been recently selected out of curiosity, in January I decided to write a novel. I have 17 classes, and I have three more. Maintaining creativity wasn’t the challenge – monetizing the creativity could be more difficult.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color on screen and behind the scenes and reinforcing – and creating – negative stereotypes. What measures do you think should be taken to make Hollywood and / or the world of documents more inclusive?
Saba Mahmoud: We need to make room. Space for various sounds. A space for people of color and other traditionally marginalized storytellers – writers, actors, producers, directors, and more – to share their voices, perspectives, ideas, and lives.
Realizing this need and being inclusive in our hiring practices and funding protocols are good first steps, but we need to move forward. We need to collaborate better, we need to increase funding for BIPOC projects, and we need to see and support unique productions that present different perspectives.
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