Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmakers Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers and Carmine…

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Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmakers Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers and Carmine Pierre-Dufour Are Helping To Change Our World

If you can think of something else you want to do with your life, go do that other thing. We both heard a version of this advice early in our careers. It sounds brutal, but in a way, it’s just saying if you are not truly passionate about this business, then this is not the place for you.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sandrine and Carmine.

Co-directors Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers and Carmine Pierre-Dufour’s FANMI is a heart-wrenching story of a daughter who is so engrossed in her own life after a breakup, she doesn’t notice her mother is hiding the real reason behind her sudden visit. This sombre yet beautiful short aptly plays with quiet looks and lighting to capture what isn’t being said between the two characters. This timely short has qualified to be considered for the 95th Academy® Awards after winning the Best Narrative Short Film at Provincetown International Film Festival.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

Sandrine :

My parents were strangely very supportive. After high school, I hesitated between actuary or arts. Mom and dad told me: you can always go back to school to study actuary, go to art school. My initial background is music. I studied cello and opera, that led me later on to write music for some of my short films. My passion was theater, but my studies led me to direct some movies at school. It also helped that I got grants that allowed me to continue on this path. I finished a bachelor degree in Film Production at Concordia University. Then I moved to London, where I did a Master in European Classical Acting at the Drama Center (UAL). Then I did a certificate in Feature Writing at l’INIS. After my studies, I’ve written and directed over 15 short films. JUST ME AND YOU won, among other prizes, the Crystal Bear at the 2019 Berlinale. FANMI went to TIFF, Canada TOP 10, and more. I just finished my first feature HOW TO GET YOUR PARENTS TO DIVORCE. I’m currently teaching part-time Acting and Directing for the screen at Concordia University whilst also writing my second feature and finishing a course as Intimacy Coordinator. JUST ME AND YOU and FANMI were both nominated for Best Live Action Short Drama at the Canadian Screen Awards. They also won prizes in festivals that were Oscar qualifying. So, it is my second time to be in consideration.


Ever since I’ve learned how to write, I’ve wanted to tell stories. Raised in Montreal by Haitian parents, I didn’t really think being a director or a screenwriter was a possibility. When it came time to go to university, I finally told my parents I wanted to pursue a career in the arts. I first did a bachelor’s in Communications at Concordia University then a master’s degree in Television, Radio and Film at Syracuse University. After my master’s, I moved to Los Angeles and worked all kinds of entry-level jobs. It’s when I came back to Montreal that I was really able to focus on my writing career. I’ve worked my way up in writing rooms to eventually become one of the writers of the hit medical drama Transplant. Directing came after, as a means to gain more creative control on my own projects. I’ve since written and co-directed two short films, Mahalia Melts in the Rain, which was nominated for Best Live Action Short Drama at the Canadian Screen Awards in 2019 and Fanmi, which premiered at TIFF and was also nominated at the Canadian Screen Awards. I am currently writing two feature film projects with the financial support of Canada’s cultural institutions.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Sandrine : Ok… I’m very shy to share this one but it’s the best one I have so… I’ll go for it! When I got out of school, I thought it would be great to make some money and be on sets. So I got a job as a PA on a Canadian Horror movie. It was an outdoor shooting. I blocked a street for the entire day very far from the set and to reward my great (boring) work, my boss had me come closer to the set for the last scene. My job was to make sure no one would make any noise during the scene. So, before the shot, I went diligently around and asked everyone to be quiet. Some cars and trucks were turned on so I asked them to close their motors… One of the big trucks’ driver was very reluctant, almost puzzled by my request. He kept asking me if I was sure he had to turn his truck off… I was like: “yes, well… I’ve been asked to go around and make sure everything was shut down, so… yes.” He closed his motor and as he was doing so, I turned and felt a sudden silenced panic. The director, 1st AD,… well everyone’s faces turned into horror and mine too as I realized the big truck was actually the generator and all the set was shut down because of me! I was melting in my pants. I never wanted to set foot on a set again! But 10 years down the line, I now direct films and I now know what a generator on a big set looks like : a big truck. I’m also very patient and empathetic with people that make mistakes!

Carmine: The anecdote I can recall isn’t exactly a mistake (though I’ve done many in my life, trust me!). My very first paid job in the movie and television business was as a personal assistant to a writer/director and a producer. I was very green and my boss was asking me if I liked a certain TV show that just came out at a time. He wondered if a younger audience was interested in this type of show. I was too ashamed to tell him I hadn’t seen it so instead, I pretended I didn’t like it. When I finally watched that show a couple years later, it turned out to be my favourite show of all time: Mad Men. That really taught me the lesson that knowledge is power. Now, whenever someone mentions a film or a TV show I haven’t seen, I’m not afraid to admit I haven’t seen it and I simply add it on my list of things to watch!

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Sandrine: Mireille Métellus and Marie-Evelyne Lessard, the two actresses we worked with on Fanmi, are both incredible and interesting people. They had a genuine connection with the material and it was a gift to dive into a creative process with such amazing and generous partners. I will always remember when we shot the scene where the mother opens up to the daughter at night. The entire set was crying with them. We felt like a family supporting two of our members confiding in one another. It was very surreal, so tender and human. These deep moments of connections are so rare and precious, we felt really lucky to live one on this set.

Carmine: I agree with Sandrine, it was a dream to work with both Mireille and Marie-Évelyne. I have a pretty good story about how we got Mireille to play in the film. I had gotten Mireille’s info from a fellow filmmaker and sent her our script though we had never met. Then, one evening, I was out celebrating my birthday with two of my childhood friends in a fancy French bistro in Montreal. Mireille was there with a group of actors she was doing a play with at the time. I figured this was my opportunity to accost her and tell her about our film. So I waited till she went to the bathroom and followed her. I pretended it was total happenstance that we were in the bathroom alone at the same time and told her I was the filmmaker who sent her a script for a short film not too long ago! I passionately pitched her the project and she smiled, looked me in the eyes and simply said: I’ll do it. As she walked out, I was over the moon and couldn’t believe my strategy worked!

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

We feel inspired by people who have made a difference in the world, whether they be social activists, politicians, filmmakers or writers. There are too many to name, but closer to home, we feel very inspired by Mireille Métellus, the actress who plays the mother in our film. Passionate and cultivated, she’s a well-known actress in Quebec, effortlessly passing from the stage to the small or big screen. She’s also very involved with “La Maison d’Haïti”, a cultural organization based in Montreal dedicated to welcoming Haitian newcomers. She’s one of the everyday heroes you meet from time to time in your life that makes you want to be a better person.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

We feel, as filmmakers, we have a responsibility in choosing the type of stories we share with the world. One element of that is making sure underserved communities are being represented. Black women we see on screen are often portrayed as strong despite facing unimaginable trauma. As the screenwriter of Fanmi, Carmine found it important to portray the complex yet unwavering love between a black mother and daughter as they face very universal tribulations. It’s also what was interesting to Sandrine. This film needed to be genuine and sensitive.

We hope the stories we champion will impact viewers, but we aspire to a kind of cinema that makes people reflect on topics and engender discussions. We don’t aim to give answers or impose solutions, we’re more interested in exploring the nuances and complexities of how human beings interact. So far, we feel that our film Fanmi has found its audience and we’re really proud of that. We feel very touched that this kind of cinema is thriving.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Carmine wrote the first draft of the script for Fanmi in 2013, we made the film in 2019 and it was finally presented to the public in 2020. Through the seven years it took for this film to materialize, there were many moments where it felt like it would never happen. We (including our producer François Bonneau) applied for several different grants and never got funding. Eventually, we had to figure out, should we forget about this project or should we try to make it with our own money, enlisting the help of friends and family members? Thankfully, the three of us really believed in the project so we decided to keep moving forward. There were no specific aha moment but for Carmine, it felt like the film started manifesting itself in her life; coincidences and similarities kept on popping up. Eventually, the timing was right and we just went for it! Following our instincts and taking action to make sure this film got made has led the film to be presented at festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival, Aspen Film Festival and Provincetown International Film Festival where we won the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Film Award. Fanmi’s success has truly exceeded our expectations!

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Marie-Évelyne, who plays the daughter in the film, lost her mother a few years ago. The shooting of the film seemed cathartic to her; she was able to share beautiful stories with us about her mother and honour her memory.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

As filmmakers, we make films so people can see them so what everyone can do individually is to watch our film! 😉

Seeing how much our film resonated with the public made us realize that audiences are ready and hungry for these types of quieter, nuanced stories. In a world saturated with action-packed tentpole films, we hope decision-makers in the film industry will understand we also need films that dive into the complexity of the human spirit.

If we could ask for anything from our political leaders (other than real action to tackle the environmental crisis!), it would be for a better social safety net for all to allow us to lead more balanced lives and spend more time with those we love.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

We compiled our best advice together!

  1. If you can think of something else you want to do with your life, go do that other thing. We both heard a version of this advice early in our careers. It sounds brutal, but in a way, it’s just saying if you are not truly passionate about this business, then this is not the place for you.
  2. Know why you are interested in becoming a filmmaker. It seems basic, but we don’t often stop and wonder why we are pursuing a career as a filmmaker. Is it to tell stories? To help people? To make our voice heard? To build empathy? To be famous? Have a great income? Once you are honest with yourself, certain sacrifices aren’t as hard for you to make because you know why you’re making them.
  3. Hard work outweighs talent. When you’re first starting, you’re often doubting your skills, wondering if you’re meant to be a writer or a director. There is something reassuring in knowing that even if the person next to you seems naturally more gifted than you, they will not be able to have a lasting career in this industry unless they are also hard-working and disciplined. There are so many people who want to be in this business, the ones who make it are the ones that don’t give up, show up on time and are prepared.
  4. Writing is rewriting. No matter how talented you are, you will go through several iterations of an idea and numerous drafts of a script before it will get made. Writing is hard. But if you love your story, love your characters, you find the desire and the will to dive back in over and over again until it works.
  5. There is no magical “you’ve made it” moment. You may think that everyone’s «making it» except you, but nobody is actually making it, they just keep on going. There are moments when you’ll feel that you’ve made it — when you get your first paid gig, when your film is premiering in a big festival, when you get an agent — but ultimately, you’re the one who can give value to these landmark moments, who can feel satisfaction from them. Or else, you’re always looking for some kind of recognition.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We’ve both worked with young actors before and we’ve seen how talented and eager they are. They have such a beautiful way to see the world that surrounds them, especially concerning social equality, gender identity/expression and the environment. All we can do is encourage them to be themselves and share their unique stories with the world.

We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Carmine: Ava DuVernay! She is a talented and inspiring filmmaker, but also, as an executive producer, she’s done so much to clear the path for women filmmakers, especially BIPOC women, it would be a dream come true to have a project of mine produced by her production company, Array. There are a few actresses who are also producers that I’d love to collaborate with in some capacity: Viola Davis, Julia Roberts, Kerry Washington. I wouldn’t mind writing a script directed by Barry Jenkins and if Kelly Reichardt and Sofia Coppola ever wanted to give me notes on a script, I’d take it!

Sandrine: Ava DuVernay, yes! Another woman I admire (thanks to my friend Holly Brace!) is Dede Gardner (Moonlight, 12 years a slave, …). She seems to vouch for important social films and bring them to their full potential. Working with her would be a dream come true. Getting artistic advises from Jane Campion, direct a film written by Charlie Kaufmann, get Omar Sy to act in my next feature (I actually have a role for him!) or be under the radar of Judd Apatow or Megan Ellison would also be more than fantastic. But that is purely for artistic reasons! ☺

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It may be cheesy, but we both love the classic: it’s the journey, not the destination. We find it’s a lesson we both keep on having to learn. You have to enjoy every step along the way, relish in it, find satisfaction in it, because if you’re always waiting for the destination, you’ll spend most of your time waiting and the destination’s never all that you thought it’d be!

How can our readers follow you online?

Carmine: On facebook as @carmine.pierredufour, on Instagram @carminepronouncedcarmeen

Sandrine: On facebook as @sandrinebd, on Instagram

This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!

Thank you or having us and being interested in our film Fanmi!

Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmakers Sandrine Brodeur-Desrosiers and Carmine… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.