Pepita and I met at the 1998 WIDC workshop at the Banff Centre for the Arts, a meeting that sparked a life long friendship, numerous trips, a multitude of film projects, and more than one wild adventure. The mid-January cold in Banff was literally breathtaking – but we both found the WIDC experience invigorating. Stacey Curtis was our mentor and she inspired us all with her enthusiasm and can-do attitude. Pepita used the workshop to explore an idea she’d been thinking about for a while – the dramatization of the story of Emma Edmonds, a 19th c. New Brunswick woman who escaped an impoverished life and an arranged marriage by running away disguised as a travelling Bible salesman. Edmond’s claim to fame was not her considerable skills as a Bible salesman, but rather her later adventures as a soldier and spy for the Union side in the American civil war. Pepita was determined to find a way to bring Edmond’s story to the screen; she’d already had great success with a series about exceptional women – “The Petticoat Expeditions”- and she was keen to start on Edmond’s story. The encouragement she received at WIDC was invaluable.
But finding support for women’s stories was tough in the 90’s, and we both spent a couple of years in documentary television, Pepita directing “Dogs With Jobs” while I worked for a the CBC series “Man Alive”. We enjoyed our television careers (and Pepita became an avid dog lover, sharing her last years with two adorable canines, as well as her human partner) but we yearned get back to our own projects.
Fast forward three years to 2001 and Pepita and I find ourselves in Manassas, Virginia, at a reenactment of the 1861 Battle of Bull Run, a bloody affair that cost thousands of Union and Confederate lives. Thankfully for us, although the “soldiers” and their horses were real, the ammo wasn’t, and we managed to capture thrilling footage of charging horses and sweating soldiers (it was August in the South) without much damage to ourselves. The re-enactors took their roles very seriously, and we were both struck by the chilling (to us) conviction of the Confederate players. Fifteen years later we looked back on that experience and surmised that we’d met many of the people who voted in the current American president.
Pepita finished her movie ‘The Unsexing of Emma Edmonds” in 2003, and continued to make inspiring films about people of both sexes, culminating in her tour de force “Capturing Reality” in 2008. We consulted and contributed on many of each other’s projects throughout the years, and visited each other frequently, sometimes to work, but mostly just to share a walk down a country road, a glass of wine and a good laugh. She was always able to see the humour in the frequently frustrating world of the film industry, and never let the inevitable slings and arrows get her down for long. She saw the silver lining in every cloud and lived her life by that playbook. Pepita was an inspiring filmmaker, a generous colleague and a wonderful friend, and we will miss her lovely presence in this world.
From fellow alumna, Naomi McCormak