VANCOUVER—A locally shot coming-of-age film has gained international notoriety since being released online last month.
Award-winning The Mary Contest has been seen on Vimeo more than 5,000 times since February, by people as far away as in the U.K., the Philippines, and New Zealand.
"I don't think girls' stories are told enough in film," said first-time director Teresa McGee. "Even if it's a small story, we need more stories about girls."
The Mary Contest follows Mary, a quick-tempered, 11-year-old girl whose family moves from Moose Jaw to an unnamed Canadian neighbourhood. She befriends a nun and increases her piety while struggling to cope with a bullying classmate, Tammy.
"The message is empathy," McGee said. She loosely based the family-friendly film on anecdotes from her own childhood.
"The teacher, Sister Adelia, was based on a real teacher I had in Grade 4. She was just full of life, kind, and really loved kids." Tammy also portrays a real-life figure.
"I like to write films for women," said McGee, who has a few more screen plays in the works. "As a viewer, I relate to films about strong women and things that happen to them: women who are smart and face challenges, rather than seeing women on the sidelines of the story."
The short feature was shot entirely in the Lower Mainland; viewers will recognize the "convent" as St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School.
The cast and crew, largely volunteers, are from B.C., and local composer Cameron Wilson wrote the soundtrack.
Actress Adanna Avon played Mary. "I've always liked the concept of the film and what it was about," she said. "This is a new role to me. I've never really done a religious film before."
Avon has held roles in No Men Beyond This Point (2015), Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups (2012), and several short films.
A Christian, but not a Catholic, Avon said, "It was cool learning about some of the things (Catholics) do during the film," such as making the sign of the cross.
The Mary Contest was first screened last spring and entered in various Canadian and U.S. film festivals from March to October.
Avon received a Young Artist Award in Los Angeles for best young actor in a short film, as well as the award for best actor in a short film at Bare Bones Film Festival in Oklahoma. They were her first acting awards.
"I didn't expect to win! I thought being nominated for something would be cool, but I didn't expect to win anything, so it was really cool when I won a bunch of them."
The 22-minute film was also recognized as the best short family drama at Bare Bones and received an Award of Excellence at the Canada International Film Festival.
"We were very happy to get the recognition," McGee said. "A few people told me they were brought to tears because of the film. I don't think people expect to be moved by it, because it's about kids."
The whole film can be viewed at www.themarycontest.com.