From Made in Canada: The Italian Way, which focuses on the Italian-Canadian entrepreneurial spirit, to The Mystery of San Nicandro about the conversion to Judaism in Italy, the films made by producer Vanessa Dylyn are thought-provoking.
“I’ve been blessed to witness worlds that are unknown to most people,” says Dylyn, whose Toronto-based production company, Matter of Fact Media Inc., has garnered accolades for its documentaries.
Dylyn was born Bina Fabrizio in Montenero Val Cocchiara, Isernia, Molise. She was only a year old when she immigrated to Toronto with her parents. She attributes her passion for the arts to her father. “He was able to recite passages from Italian literature, such as Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi,” she recalls. “As a child I tended to be bookish and, unlike most children of my generation who loved pop music and The Rolling Stones, my soul was in opera and reading about the lives of the great composers.”
While working as a teacher, she began taking professional acting lessons and performed in several plays. “I was able to combine teaching and professional acting for a short time, but then realized I wanted to give myself a real chance in professional theatre,” she explains.
That soon led to launching her production company. “I get a great deal of satisfaction from going deep into a subject I know little about,” she says. “Being able to discuss – with a good researcher and director – what a scientist is working on and why it’s important is meaningful. The process of collaborating is what keeps my heart beating.”
While collaborating is an essential component of her role, thematically there’s a humane element that emerges from her films. “I’ve been mostly motivated by stories people should know, such as The Woman Who Joined the Taliban, produced for the CBC.”
The documentary centres on Beverley Giesbrecht, a former publishing executive and devout Christian who had been living near Vancouver when the events of September 11, 2001 changed her life. Within months, she converted to Islam and travelled to the Taliban-controlled mountains of Pakistan, where she intended to make a first-person documentary. The film won the 2016 Canadian Screen Award: Best Writing in a Documentary Program or Series.
Currently in the spotlight is Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star, which chronicles the life of the acclaimed actress and dancer. It was nominated for Best Biography or Arts Documentary or Series at the 2018 Canadian Screen Awards. In November 2017, Air Canada began featuring the film on their flights. United Airlines also jumped on board and will feature the documentary until June 2018. “The most satisfying aspect of the job is when you know you’ve done well by the story you’ve told and its subjects,” says Dylyn.
She’s currently working on The Divided Brain, which is expected to be released in May 2018. It’s based on psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary about how the brain’s left and right hemispheres have impacted society. Also in development are three television projects: Beast Hunters of Rome examines thousands of animals got to the Colosseum from the four corners of the Roman Empire; Extinction Stinks delves into species’ extinction; and Marco Polo’s Unknown Adventures, a forensic history/science mystery that considers whether Polo might have glimpsed America before Columbus. “A great satisfaction comes from producing accessible, well-written, well-researched films with high production values,” Dylyn says. “I try to work with the best talent in this country and good foreign production companies. These films are my children, so I want to send them out into the world with pride.”