Shaw Media Fearless Female Director Month: The Smoke Shack and Awkward

It’s the final installment of Shaw Media Fearless Female Director Month in the NSI Online Short Film Festival.

Shaw Media supports the Fearless Female Director award in our film fest, presented to the best film by a female director four times a year. To honour the award, we’ve brought you a month of our favourite films by female directors.

Each week we’ve highlighted two fantastic films by talented Canadian female directors: they’ve all been in the NSI Online Short Film Festival, some have won awards and all are totally worth seeing again.

The last of our films this month are from directors Kaniehtiio Horn and Kellie Ann Benz.

And a word of warning: Awkward is definitely not safe for work or children.

The Smoke Shack


The Smoke Shack is directed by Kaniehtiio Horn (Tiio for short). Tiio wrote, directed and is the star of the film.

A lot of people on the rez rely on the cigarette industry as a means to get by and pay the bills. One of the jobs created is working in the actual cigarette store, waiting for people to buy the death sticks.

Cigarette stores range from fancy convenience stores with luxurious indoor plumbing to people selling straight from their trunks. This is a little taste of the work day in one of the many cigarette stores.


Awkward is directed by Kellie Ann Benz.

MATURE CONTENT: When four couples meet for dinner – and have their usual conversation about everyday pleasantries – they have no idea how different an unexpected guest will be to their version of normal.

Kellie Ann Benz says, “I can’t believe how perverted so many of you are. I mean, I like it, I’m glad for it, it’s given this little film more legs than I ever expected. It’s kind of remarkable that this film has screened at as many film festivals as it has by now.

Seems the Latin American countries super love this film, so do the French – delightful pervs that they are –  Korea loved it, so did Austria and the Yukon.

So, here’s the story on how it got thunk of in the first place.

I was maybe a little bit sort of online dating. During one of my lame attempts to connect to another human via the computer, this one dude went off on this whole elaborate plan of the things he was going to do to me when we met.

I was trying to get to know him asking normal questions like ‘Are you insane?’ and ‘Are you on parole for anything?’ But he had moved us past those introductions and right up to the first meeting.

Thing is, the first meeting for him was more like a Penthouse Forum letter. Which got me thinking: what would it be like if this is how we all talked to each other in real life?

So I sat down and wrote Awkward in about 20 minutes. Then, worried for my own sanity, I sent it to my star and co-producer Christopher Shyer and said, ‘Is this messed up?’ He said, ‘Yes it is. When should we shoot it?’

And that’s honestly how it came to life.

I had some savings from a script fee – and when a filmmaker has money in their bank account the first thing they think of is – what can I shoot with this?

We shot on 35mm film, which in the end probably cost me an additional $10,000, as I discovered later that film festivals screen on beta tape now, not on film print. Lesson learned.

We rehearsed one weekend, shot the next and kept the crew as small as possible. I didn’t hold auditions, just chose people I loved working with like Christopher and Jennifer and trusted my gut on the rest of the cast who were all new to me. I cast Sarah Edmondson based on her picture alone and Sasa Brown after seeing her brilliance in a play.

After our shoot, the charming Benjamin Arthur went on to become Gemini-award-winning Benjamin Arthur, star of Less Than Kind, developed through NSI’s Totally Television.

Some $20,000 of my own money later, I had Awkward. The first two festivals turned us down but then the BFI London Film Festival invited us before they even stopped viewing films and then the other invitations poured in.

I thought the best we’d do was London so I actually flew there and took in the screening. I also visited Paris for the first time in years since I thought, when’s the next time I’m going to be in France?

To my complete surprise, we got invited to Clermont-Ferrand, the prestigious short film festival in the middle of France. And hell yes, I had to go!

Managing Awkward‘s invitations by then became a full-time job. The delightful and hilarious Sarah Edmondson was nominated for a Leo Award in BC and I won the Writers Guild of Canada Award for short film, both in 2009.

It was a very exciting time.

It’s been an unexpected journey and I’ve learned so much about short film distribution, festival strategy and marketing that I started The Shorts Report which led to writing columns for NSI – and getting to meet a million of you amazing Canadian filmmakers. We are a mighty army!

Thanks for watching Awkward, put on your headset, make sure no kids are watching and don’t get caught watching this film at work!

Okay, you wonderful pervs, enjoy the film.”

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We’ve also programmed two new films in the NSI Online Short Film Festival: Pop the Grapes by Nicole Dorsey and Nina by Rheanna Toy. Find out more.

The NSI Online Short Film Festival is made possible through the support of Presenting Sponsor Shaw Media, Program Partner Telefilm Canada, Comedy Award Sponsor Blue Ant Media, Female Director Award Sponsor Shaw Media, Overall Best Film Award Sponsor A&E Television Networks, and Supporting Sponsor Netflix.

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