Interview with Filmmaker Martha Davis (PANDALAND: MAKING IT COUNT)

PANDALAND: MAKING IT COUNT was the winner of BEST FILM at the June 2022 Toronto DOCUMENTARY Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

I’m a filmmaker and still photographer, also a retired teacher. I was working with two students in an afterschool program I designed and thought I could make a little difference during the pandemic.  It started out as a little project that evolved and grew organically.  I didn’t know I would be making a film about it until a month after the installation came down.  I have quite a long history as a filmmaker and had amassed a fair amount of footage and stills during the summer-long process.  My film friends started pestering me to make a film about it.  BTW, I self-funded PANDALAND!  I shot it completely on my iPhone XR.  I paid my editor $1500 and a local musician $600 to compose and record the score.  Besides buying a few pandas at local toy stores, I didn’t spend much.  I built the installation out of stuff I had around.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

Seven months from start to finish, project of making PANDALAND plus making the film.  The film by itself:  2.5 months.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Optimistic and uplifting

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Getting the media releases signed for EVERYBODY in the film.  Took me 2 months.  Had to track some kids down.  Had to re-cut when an overly cautious parent pulled their kid from the finished show!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was great to hear feedback from complete strangers.  One rarely gets a chance.  It’s something I’ll share with my “cast” and crew!

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I’ve been making films for over 40 years with small budgets from local, provincial and federal Arts Councils.  I started out in 1977 as a still photographer, making series of still images:  Margaret Atwood opening her eyes, a lady laughing, men working at a street excavation. They were like the still frames from a film.  When I picked up my first super eight camera and made moving images, I knew it was for me! I’ve made two feature-length films and over 20 shorts.  

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

I’ve probably seen the Wizard of Oz half a dozen times. It was the first film I saw on the big screen as a child.  Other more recent favourites include: Magnolia, UP and Parasite.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

Well, of course I wish there were an in-person event.  I so enjoyed HotDocs this year, where everything was back in person.  You are doing a great job with what you are doing, though.  The added elements, or “tiers” as you call them, are welcome additions.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

The Film Freeway experience has been very positive.  Their platform is very user-friendly and it’s very tempting to enter many, many festivals!  You have to choose carefully if, like me, you don’t have deep pockets.

10. What is your favorite meal?

What an odd question.  Hmmm.  Chicken thighs with peanut sauce, Caesar salad, not too much dressing, scalloped potatoes.  Dessert:  fresh peach pie in a flaky crust.  A scoop of Haggen Dasz vanilla.  Drink:  I’m a tea-totaller, so a mix of pear nectar and carbonated mineral water is deelish and hits the spot with any meal!

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I just finished a “tour” of every class at the local school in my neighbourhood where PANDALAND was created.  Kids in grades K to 6 thoroughly enjoyed viewing the show, since many of them were in it, and after each screening (15 in all) we talked about the issues the film raises and thought about ways that kids can “make changes happen” in their everyday lives.  This summer I’m running a Photography Camp for kids aged 7-11.  They will learn the techniques of composition, collage and green screen in order to create their own “DREAM SCENES.”  (Check out my website for more info. and examples of this work created with senior citizens:


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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