Before becoming a professor, Shelagh Carter studied in New York and Los Angeles as an actress and graduated from the Canadian Film Centre’s Directors Lab in Toronto.
She’s been working at the University of Winnipeg for 20 years as a professor of the theatre and film department. Carter says she never planned to be a professor, and that it just happened to her.
“What it did do was always put me in the position where I have to work on craft myself. Whether it’s with an older actor or a student,” she says. “And in directing, you get a lot of practice in terms of how people might handle material.”
Having the background and training as an actress is what urged her to become a director.
“I discovered a lot of directors didn’t know how to talk to actors. They were much more technically minded and they would talk to an actor … and I knew from my training as an actor that doesn’t help an actor. It’s a process,” she says. “You have to be able to help them get into character and not tell them ‘cry here.’”
Carter was nominated and awarded Best Director at the 2017 Milan Film Festival in November for directing Before Anything You Say.
Carter was able to go to Milan to attend the festival, and she says being there was full of camaraderie with other filmmakers she had met previously, as well as the cinematographer of the movie and her husband.
“There we are in Milan, in this wonderful hotel, talking about film all the time or going sightseeing together. It was just terrific,” she says.
She says she was thrilled to just be nominated in the Best Director category, and the competitors’ films were superb.
“They announced for Best Director, and they showed the clips, and I’m looking there. And then they announce my name. And I was like ‘what?’” she says. “I got quite emotional, got up, and everyone was cheering. It was really, very moving. I’ll never forget it. I’m very grateful.”
“I came back to the table, and the trophies are very heavy, and my husband hugged me, and everyone at the table was great,” Carter says. “And after that, my husband took me outside to get some fresh air, and was like ‘look there’s this gorgeous moon, and we’re in Milan, and you just won Best Director.’ It was quite romantic. It was a perfect night.”
What’s your favourite thing about yourself? I always like to look on the bright side. I’m hardworking. I’m a worker bee. I always know there’s going to be another bus, so I try not to rush. I like to look at the bright side of things.
What do you do in your spare time? I love being in bookstores. It’s terrible. McNally’s is our main one here, but if I was back in the States, there’s really good book stores: Rizzoli and museum bookstores – I’m always at those.