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Kathleen Shannon

Kathleen Shannon

Kathleen Shannon’s body of work represents a milestone in the history of the National Film Board of Canada. Along with Norman McLaren, Alanis Obomsawin and Willie Dunn, she is one of the most important artists who ever worked at the NFB. Her impact has extended far beyond the walls of the Board, leaving a lasting mark on Canadian cinema, and she’s been an inspirational figure for women filmmakers around the world. 

Born in Vancouver in 1935, Shannon was a director, producer, performer, sound recordist, image/sound editor and scriptwriter. She is credited with more than 270 NFB titles, including 20 as director and over 100 as producer (with two Academy Award-winning films among them: Beverly Shaffer’s I’ll Find a Way from 1977 and Cynthia Scott’s Flamenco at 5:15 from 1983). But Shannon is best known for being the founder and first executive producer of the NFB’s Studio D, the first government-funded studio in the world dedicated to women filmmakers.

Her directing career spanned more than two decades. Her first film, I Don’t Think It’s Meant for Us ... (1971), was followed by Extensions of the Family (1974), which deals with housing in Canada. Shannon also directed and produced films in the NFB’s Working Mothers series: It’s Not Enough (1974), Like the Trees (1974), Luckily I Need Little Sleep (1974), They Appreciate You More (1974), Tiger on a Tight Leash (1974), Would I Ever Like to Work (1974), Mothers Are People (1974) and “... and They Lived Happily Ever After” (1975). The success of this series made it clear to Shannon that there was a market for films about women’s issues, as well as women who were eager to direct,  and it served as a source of inspiration for the creation of Studio D in 1974.

In the years that followed, Shannon directed Our Dear Sisters (1975), a film about Alanis Obomsawin; Dream of a Free Country: A Message from Nicaraguan Women (1983), about women guerillas in Nicaragua; and Goldwood (1975), about her memories of the BC mining town in which she grew up. She also directed all the films in Studio D’s 1990 series Faithful Women—Gathering Together, Harmony and Balance, I’ll Never Forget You, Priorities and Perspectives, Texts and Contexts, Faithful, Through Ignorance or Design and Working Towards Peace—which captures the perspectives and experiences of women and mothers from all backgrounds and fields. 

Shannon was presented with the Order of Canada in 1986, and, in 1988, the NFB created the Kathleen Shannon Award for non-fiction films, presented annually at the Yorkton Film Festival. She also received three honorary degrees: a Doctor of Laws from Queen’s University in 1984, a Doctor of Letters from York University in 1996, and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Mount Saint Vincent University in 1997. 

In 1996, Studio D was closed due to decreased government funding and layoffs at the NFB. One of the last films it produced was Kathleen Shannon: On Film, Feminism & Other Dreams (1996) by Gerry Rogers. 

Kathleen Shannon passed away on January 9, 1998, in Kelowna, British Columbia.


i Kathleen Shannon, “D is for Dilemma,” Herizons 31, no. 3 (Winter 2018): 24–27.