Toronto International Film Festival 2018
‘Emptying the Tank’
In her striking portrait of Chippewa female mixed martial artist Ashley Nichols, Caroline Monnet eloquently demonstrates and celebrates the athlete's inner strength, fortitude, and dedication to her physical and spiritual health.
Hey Caroline, thanks for talking to TNC, how is everything going?
Things are going really well. I just got back from TIFF where we had the world premiere of Emptying the Tank, starring Ashley Nichols. We had a great response from the public and critics so we are totally ecstatic about it!
With this being your World Premiere, did you have any nerves ahead of the screening?
I was definitely nervous going into the premiere because Ashley had not seen the film yet and she discovered it at the same time as the audience. She really liked it and felt proud of being part of it, so that totally alleviated the pressure. It’s always a big deal to show a film for the first time. And it’s really nice when it’s well received.
What does it mean to be screening Emptying the Tank at TIFF?
TIFF has been a great supporter of my work over the years and I am always grateful when the programmers believe the film is strong and compelling enough to be included in their program. TIFF is highly competitive and to have a film there brings recognition of the efforts we’ve all put towards making the film happen.
It also secures a certain festival run because festival programmers from around the world get to notice it and eventually invite the film to screen at their own festival. There’s a lot of pride that comes with having your film screen at TIFF. It’s an important networking event and the occasion to also speak about future projects.
Tell me a little bit about Emptying the Tank, how did the film come about?
The film is produced by a small collective of creative minds. Sebastien Aubin, Daniel Watchorn, Eric Cinq-Mars and myself). One of its member Sebastien had been a fan of UFC and Ashley Nichols for years. He would always push for the collective to do a film on her but somehow we could never find the right time to do it. That idea was put on the shelf for a couple of years until CBC Docs came on board and was interested in showcasing strong models for youths.
We collectively decided that I would be directing this one because the angle would be more compelling if told from a female perspective.
Ashley evolves in a male-dominated industry and I felt the filmmaking industry could be comparable. As an artist, I could also identify with the strength and level of dedication it takes to keep on bettering yourself and your craft. I think the parallel is quite nice and getting to know Ashley and her respect for her culture and martial arts, I knew we had something interesting to work with.
What was the most challenging part of making this film been?
I don’t recall many challenging moments in making this film. There were such generosity and trust coming from Ashley that everything was running smoothly. We approached this documentary with heavy mise en scène and scheduled night shots and early rise shots. So maybe working with a very specific schedule was the trickiest part of shooting this film.
Sound composing was also extremely crucial. I worked with Serge Pelletier for the first time. We really had to find the right tone in order to really convey the inner strength of Ashley, while keeping the energy of fighting. I think Serge did a fantastic job in creating a moody, yet inspiring and uplifting soundtrack.
How much has your approach to filmmaking changed since your debut film?
Every project is approached very differently and I keep learning each time. But over the years, I can definitely tell that I am drawn to mise en scène, studio shots, precise movements and working the image in a particular esthetic way. I’m also much more interested in working with actors and placing the characters within a space, within the frame. Even though Emptying the Tank is a documentary, it was approached almost as a fiction film, with precise shortlist and lighting setups.
"If you come from an honest place, then I think the project can only be valuable."
Have you always had a passion for documentary filmmaking?
Filmmaking is a powerful tool for education and empowerment. And documentary filmmaking is really a testament to the world around us. The first film that made me want to work in film because it changed me was Alanis Obomsawin’s incredible documentary 270 years of Resistance. I was 12 years old at that time and that’s when I realize the importance of telling stories, documenting the history and trying to reach audiences to create a better world.
How would you describe Emptying the Tank in three words?
Inspirational, Dedication, Strength
Do you have any advice or tips for any fellow filmmaker?
Keep on trying. Practice makes perfect. It’s really important not to limit yourself. Approach each project as a learning curve and believe that your ideas are worthy. If you come from an honest place, then I think the project can only be valuable. Listen to that inner voice and trust that you are making the right decisions.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
Meeting Ashley Nichols inspired me to be a better human being. I hope that the film can pay tribute to her and touch people in the same way she’s touched me and my team. I hope young indigenous folks can relate to her and feel inspired to pursue their dreams and believe they can do anything in this world.