A family squabble at her beloved grandmother’s funeral when she was only 10 has a Vernon woman inching closer toward a major prize.
Janalee Budge (née Guenther), a 1982 graduate of Vernon Senior Secondary School, is an indie filmmaker living in Whistler. Her short film, Grandma Lee’s Dress, which stems from Budge’s memory as a 10-year-old, is one of nine finalists in CBC-TV’s Short Film Face Off, now in its 16th season.
“I have a real Grandma Lee, and the opening scene of the film is my memory of 10-year-old Janalee at my grandma’s funeral and there was a big family feud,” said Budge. “It has different traits and things, of being in a mixed race family, and my grandma was quite the character so her personality and and strengths come out in everybody in little ways.”
Budge’s film was one of three shown on the season’s opening night Sept.2. If you missed it, Grandma Lee’s Dress and the other eight offerings can be viewed on the CBC GEM app.
In each of the first three episodes (Sept. 2, 9, 16, 8 p.m. Pacific, CBC-TV), three filmmakers and their films and self-videos are aired, as well as commentary from the show’s three panelists (SPOILER ALERT - they loved Budge’s film).
At the end of Episode 3, host Amanda Parris will announce the details on how viewers can vote for their favourite film this year. The voting is done online and Amanda will give the URL - cbc.ca/shortfilmfaceoff (This link won’t work until Sept 16). The voting window is open for 24 hours, and note: the show will accept only one vote per email address.
The finale airs on Sept. 23 (8 p.m.) and will reveal the three finalists (based on audience vote) and the overall winner, who will collect the grand prize of a Telefilm Canada grant of $30,000.
Budge is the only filmmaker from B.C. to make the final nine.
“I was ecstatic,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity, especially for an indie filmmaker. Getting your stuff out to share with a bigger audience is amazing. Not only that, the prize ($30,000) would be amazing because then we could make more films.”
The idea for Grandma Lee’s Dress came to Budge about five years ago when she was talking with her cousin, Ana Pacheco – who wrote the script and is one of the actors – about the idea. Then, she said, she forgot all about it. Until 2022, when the Vancouver Asian Film Festival’s Mighty Asian Movie Making (MAMM) contest was putting out an entry call.
Budge and Pacheco pitched the idea to film festival organizers.
“Even at the time, we wondered if we Asian enough to be in the film festival,” laughed Budge.”They told us, ‘Of course your voice matters,’ and we still weren’t convinced. We’re half-and-half. They picked 10 films to make, gave us a little bit of money to make the film. We didn’t win, but it was shown at a big gala at a sold-out venue. It was super exciting.”
She had 10 days total to shoot and edit the 10-minute film. She paid homage to her hometown in the movie.
“There is a line about Vernon,” she chuckled.
Budge started submitting Grandma Lee’s Dress to other festivals, including the CBC Short Film Face Off. Just last week, her movie won Best International Film at the Huntington Beach (California) Cultural Film Festival, and was one of the three finalists for Best of Fest (did not win).
“Just getting nominated is huge,” said Budge. “We were thrilled. We were among some really provocative and deep films. Ours is light and charming, but has a lot of layers, a lot of different meanings that mean things to us, and to those raised in a mixed race family, especially Chinese, they’ll get a lot of underlying things going on.”
Budge worked in a creative agency for a number of years, starting as a graphic designer and then getting into directing TV commercials. She was, essentially, self-taught behind the camera, took no film courses. That is, until she turned 52. She left the agency to enrol in film school to get the art degree she always dreamed of.
“I’ve been making documentaries,” she said. “Grandma Lee’s Dress is my first true narrative film with several actors so that was exciting and nerve-wracking. I’m super happy with how it went.”
Budge is currently working on an artistic mini-docuseries with the Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. She is working with Indigenous artists telling their stories. She also has another script based on her family roots that she hopes to develop into a series or feature.