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Alumnus Kyisha Williams Discusses How Motherhood Influences Their Filmmaking

“I feel like we, as mothers, deserve to prioritize ourselves. After all, prioritizing my education and my work ended up benefiting my kid at the end of the day…and it also teaches my kid that they can do anything they want to in life.”


For Film Production alumnus Kyisha Williams, the experience of motherhood is one that sparked a desire to pursue a more creatively fulfilling career path.


“I had my kid in 2018, and at that time, I was, like, ‘What do I love to do?’” said Williams, a Toronto-born writer, director and actor who was working as a health promoter at the time.


“I told myself, ‘If I have to work and spend time away from my kid, I want to be doing something with my days that I love.’ So, in 2020, I decided to start my Toronto Film School journey.”


What Williams didn’t know, however, was just how much inspiration they’d take from the experience of raising their child, nor how profound an impact motherhood would have on their work as a filmmaker.



Mothering in Quarantine


First in Williams’ cinematic examination of motherhood came Mothering in Quarantine – a deeply personal documentary short they directed during the beginning of their studies at Toronto Film School.


The film, which won the 2020 Toronto Film School Festival of Films award for Best Documentary, follows Williams and their two year old, as well as two other Black mothers and their children, as they all struggled to juggle the sometimes competing commitments of motherhood, society and wellness during the onset of the COVID-19 lockdowns.


“I think, at first, I was dealing with themes of motherhood a bit more shyly, but I feel like I kind of dove into representing motherhood in different ways in my projects as of late,” Williams said.


“I’m currently really interested in exploring the mother as a character more deeply and with more nuance, because I don’t think there are that many representations of mothers and motherhood that are overly complex out there.”



The Zoo


Lauded as a “brilliantly subtle, yet powerful drama exposing one of the most pressing and overlooked political issues of our time,” Williams drew on their past work experience as a health promoter to tackle the impact of incarceration on mother-child relationships in The Zoo.


The short narrative film, slated to premiere at the 2022 Toronto Film School Festival of Films on May 13, follows a mother named Magi as they attempt to repair their bond with their 12-year-old child, Kik, and partner, Anaelle, after two years of navigating the carceral system.


“Before film, I worked with closely with criminalized women – including trans women and non-binary folks – who are incarcerated or are at risk of incarceration, and I wanted to make sure those realities were reflected in the kinds of stories I was telling,” said Williams, who wrote and directed The Zoo as their TFS thesis film.


“I wanted to make a project that would spark conversation and thought around how we deal with folks who are criminalized and have records, and how that really limits their ability to fully function in society – and also, how that impacts not only them, but their families, as well.”




Next up for Williams is Zarmina – a sci-fi short currently in post-production that they intend to build out into a series.


The 10-minute project follows Evelyn, an abused mother who’s attempting to escape Earth and flee to the real-life, distant planet of Zarmina with her young child in tow.


“It’s a near-future sci-fi project that’s layered – there’s a lot that happens and can happen, so it’s a little creepy and Black Mirror-y,” Williams explained, noting that the short is expected to be complete by this summer.


“It deals with motherhood and domestic violence issues in a way that I think is respectful of survivors, because I’m really conscious and aware of not wanting re-traumatizing people, but, at the same time, being able to talk about things that are not always easy to talk about.”




Currently in development, Williams is also working on a feature film called Preference, which tackles the issues of sexuality and reproductive health.


“It’s a film about two bisexual best friends who both end up getting pregnant at the same time while they’re out of touch and they end up kind of coming together to figure out how to support each other through their choices,” they said.


Williams hopes to pitch the film, which TFS instructor Emilija Davidovic is producing, to Telefilm Canada’s Talent to Watch program next year.


Universal Themes


The common thread binding all of Williams’ latest projects together, they said, is their attempts to interrupt the narrative that mothers need to be “perfect superheroes.”


“In certain ways we are perfect imperfect superheroes, but we are also human and we are complex and we have really important jobs to do – one of which, of course, is to raise our children,” they said.


“In doing that, we’re changing the world by how we parent – and I think there’s more time to be spent there.”


To support Williams’ work, visit their Patreon page here.


Film Production alumnus Kyisha Williams


About Kyisha Williams


Kyisha Williams is a Toronto-born writer, director, actor and health promoter. Kyisha fuses public health (MPH) and digital media to create socially relevant content that discusses health and promotes healthy sexuality and consent culture.

They believe that the screen is a beautiful and engaging teaching tool. Kyisha created their first film Red Lips [Cages for Black girls] (2010), with the support of the Inside Out Film Festival’s New Visions Film Program. In 2016, Kyisha completed the Black Women Film! Leadership Program, and in 2017 their team won the BravoFACT pitch competition allowing them to create Queen of Hearts (2018), now getting International attention.

Kyisha is a graduate of Toronto Film School’s Film Production program (2021). Kyisha has acted in over twenty TV episodes, feature films, short films, commercials, and PSAs.