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How a teenager from Halifax ended up directing her first short film

Vera Dunlop-Vaillancourt's short film Around Me is now streaming online. (Oula Maguire - image credit)
Vera Dunlop-Vaillancourt's short film Around Me is now streaming online. (Oula Maguire - image credit)

It's not every day that a teenager gets to call the shots on set, but that's the position Vera Dunlop-Vaillancourt found herself in two years ago as she prepared to direct her first short film.

"It was a little bit of a different world for a 14-year-old because you're so used to being always told what to do," said Dunlop-Vaillancourt, now 16, on Saturday.

Produced with the help of her mentor Spencer MacKay, and support from the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-op, Dunlop-Vaillancourt's short Around Me has been admitted to film festivals around North America, including in Palm Beach, San Diego, Montreal, Toronto and Fredericton.

The film is now available to watch for free on Vimeo.

"It's about this teenage girl who's going through the change of becoming a young adult, and how she's expressing her feelings for the first time, and her mother's trying to understand it," she said.

Dunlop-Vaillancourt first met MacKay, a director himself, when she auditioned via Zoom for a role in one of his short films during the pandemic.

She was too old for the part and her younger sister ended up getting cast instead, but MacKay sensed a keen interest in filmmaking and invited her to come on set.

"He was like, why don't you come shadow for a day, and my mind was blown," said Dunlop-Vaillancourt.

On set, she recalled watching how MacKay directed his actors and crew, and communicated to make sure things were running smoothly. Afterwards, he told Dunlop-Vaillancourt that if she ever wrote a short film, he'd be happy to offer some feedback.

Still not even 13 at the time, she took him up on the offer. Soon after, they were meeting once a week to go over the script.

"I was very surprised by how good and how much of a story it was from someone her age," said MacKay.

Vera Dunlop-Vaillancourt (left) shadows Spencer Mackay on the set of a film.
Vera Dunlop-Vaillancourt (left) shadows Spencer Mackay on the set of a film.

Vera Dunlop-Vaillancourt, left, shadows Spencer MacKay on the set of a film. (Jessie Redmond)

Initially, working on a script was just an exercise and there was no expectation that it would ever be filmed.

But Dunlop-Vaillancourt said MacKay then encouraged her to apply for a grant and see if she could make a film a reality.

There was no age included in the application so the script could be judged on its own merits. She got the grant.

"As it progressed, it was soon onto technical things, like what were you imagining for this, where do you want the camera set up, who do you want the focus on, what are you trying to get out of this?" said Dunlop-Vaillancourt.

With additional contributions from family and friends, and some money she had saved, the funding for the $5,000 production was secured.

Around Me was filmed with a professional crew when Dunlop-Vaillancourt was 14. Now 16, she's not done with directing, and hopes to do so again — just as soon as she gets over a bout of writer's block.

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