MON FEB 27, 2012
Crankytown.ca was founded in 2011 by three Canadian actresses trying to carve out their own corner of the internet for something more substantial than self-promotion. The subsequently Gemini-nominated website is a charmingly lo-fi, candy-coloured virtual space for girls and women to share stories and information about their periods.
This Tuesday (Feb. 28) at 6:45 p.m. at The Revue (400 Roncesvalles), Crankytown crosses over into the real world with a benefit screening—co-presented with Fresh restaurants—of Jennifer Siebel Newsom‘s documentary Miss Representation, an examination of how women are depicted in a variety of different media. We met up with two of Crankyown’s co-creators, Liane Balaban (New Waterford Girl, One Week) and Vanessa Matsui (a star of the acclaimed online comedy series The Bitter End) about the screening, their plans for Crankytown 2.0 and getting free ideas from Leslie Feist.
Where did the idea of Crankytown hosting a film screening come from, and why did you choose Miss Representation?
Balaban: I saw Miss Representation in Los Angeles in the summer, and there were maybe two other people in the theatre. I thought it was such an important and moving film. I checked the website and saw that it wasn’t scheduled to show in Toronto, but there was a button to sponsor or host a screening in your own hometown. They were encouraging individuals to show the film as long as it was associated with some kind of organization. So we thought that Crankytown would be a perfect platform for that, since the message of the film aligns very closely with what we’re doing.
There haven’t been very many movies that have addressed the topic of how women are represented in media so directly.
Balaban: The movie draws attention to a really important point, which is that sexism is often invisible because it’s omnipresent and pervasive. It’s why we don’t always pay attention or stop to reflect on how women are portrayed in the media. There’s this quote from William Gibson that I like that says that young people live in two planes of reality: the present moment and an ever-present “digital now.” Media contributes profoundly to how that consciousness gets formed and we need more education around the construction of those images and why they’re constructed that way.
As actresses, these are issues that you literally take to work with you every day…
Matsui: On the Miss Representation website there’s a pledge that asks you to spend a week not commenting on people’s looks, positively or negatively. Meaning that if you’re going to say something about somebody else, make it about their accomplishments, or what’s going on their lives or what they’re thinking. Doing that experiment was like taking blinders off. You become aware of how obsessed we are with appearances.
Balaban: When I was 23, a casting director told me to come to a callback with a more padded bra. And I recently worked on a horror film where I felt like my character existed just to be objectified and brutalized, which is part of the genre, but I just had a bad feeling in my heart when I was on set.
Matsui: There was one film I was going out for and they sent me the script to see if I’d be comfortable with some of the stuff in it. It was like a torture-porn thing where the girl was strung upside down, hung up by her ankles naked eating out of a dog bowl. This is a movie with a big star in it, a Hollywood movie that’s going to get a big release.
What are your plans for Crankytown going forward? Do you want to do more live events? Are you planning to expand the website?
Matsui: We’re working with new producers in Toronto trying to get it to a 2.0 version. What we made with NFB was sort of a demo version. We want to create a whole world on the site. We have an idea for CrankyFest, which would be an online user-generated film festival for people to submit their own films themed around menstruation. We hope it can become a destination site where people can talk to each other and socialize because we don’t have that component right now.
Balaban: We’d really like to encourage more women to be filmmakers and to tell their stories that way. We’re also hoping to do a live event for Crankytown in Los Angeles. I think that both things are important: meeting on a virtual level but also actually coming together on a community level.
You told me earlier that Leslie Feist was instrumental in giving the website its name. How did that happen?
Balaban: She generously wrote a poem for us early on to use in the “Outhouse” [a collection of "poems about periods"] of the site, and the subject line of the email was “Moonslide to Crankytown.” We loved that.
Matsui: We offered her some money for the poem and she generously donated it back to Huru International, which is the charity we’re working with for the screening. They’re the perfect organization to align ourselves with. They’re providing personal period packs to girls in Nairobi. They’re all about education. We were talking about “invisible sexism” with regard to Miss Representation, and I remember reading this article in the New York Times about Huru that pointed out that whenever a disaster-relief program gets set up, things like tampons and maxi-pads are never included in the inventory. That’s fundamental stuff. Women are 53 per cent of the world population. That really opened my eyes to the fact that these things that we use every day are like luxury items elsewhere.
Photo by Kourosh Keshiri Photography