The Canadian Comedy Series ‘Ghost BFF’ Tackles Important Social Issues With Humour

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we consume media, we usually gravitate towards series or films that we can hopefully relate to. If we are lucky, we can find a show or film with characters who speak to us on a different level. That is why representation on-screen is important, whether there is a diverse cast, or stories that highlight different social issues. There are creators who highlight issues such as mental health, suicide, and depression. Not only do these conversations need to be had among friends or family, but it is important to show these conversations on-screen. The Canadian comedy series Ghost BFF tackles all this effortlessly and is nominated for four performance Canadian Screen Awards for stars Vanessa Matsui, Kaniehtiio Horn, Jean Yoon, and Angela Asher. 

Ghost BFF is a dark comedy about depression, following two women, Tara (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Amy (Vanessa Matsui) – one alive, one dead – as they struggle to find themselves and right past wrongs following a suicide. The series shines a light on mental health, highlighting tough topics like depression and anxiety, suicide, treatment, and mindfulness, while adding some well-needed humour. Kaniehtiio Horn and Vanessa Matsui have incredible chemistry on and off-screen, they both understood the material and they created a very honest space, to explore their characters mental struggles. Matsui, who is also the showrunner, really wanted to bring these social issues to the forefront because of her personal connection to the subject matter.

Web series Ghost BFF puts the focus on mental health via two friends. And  one of them is dead. | TV, eh?
Courtesy of Babe Nation Creations

Matsui wanted to make sure people, especially women, feel represented on-screen. She could see all these young women suffering and no one was talking about mental health,

“I wanted to make a show that used comedy as a bridge, to talk about something that at the time, was pretty taboo and arguably still is. At the same time, I wanted the series to make you laugh, so it’s not so heavy or difficult. And if you are suffering, that hopefully you feel a little less alone, after watching this show.”

– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF

The reason why many can connect to this show is because of the humour that is added to painful, emotional moments when discussing these difficult subjects. Not everything has to be grim and dark; humour is sometimes the best release and as Kaniehtiio Horn said, it’s a way to cope during hard times. When asked about her connection to this character and to Matsui, she said that after knowing her for 15 years or so, that it was a collaboration in the making. Horn said that one evening, during TIFF, they connected and Horn wanted to audition for the project. Sometimes projects can choose the person, and in this case, Horn didn’t know how much she needed the character of Tara in her life, “It gave me confidence to start working on my own things. Just seeing my peers, these women who are my age making things happen and that really lit a fire under me.” The way Horn and Matsui came together and supported each other through this process is truly inspiring.

Vanessa Matsui on Twitter: "… "
via Vanessa Matsui on Twitter

Since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is always important to shed light on these issues because these conversations need to be presented on-screen. Media has a wide reach, no matter what form it takes, and it is important that it connects with people. Whether it is because of diversity in its cast or social issues, these stories are important in order for everyone to feel seen. Matsui and Horn are both on the same page when it comes to representation in the media, “I think you realize once you start talking about it, or see what you might be doing, that it might be reflected back to you in the content that you’re consuming, you feel a little less alone.” Horn went on to say that she even started going to therapy and that working on this project allowed her to explore her own mind, while diving into the character of Tara.

The reason why diverse stories matter is because everyone can be going through something different. In one way or another, someone is struggling in their own way and it would benefit them, if there was an atmosphere to help them through. When making Ghost BFF it was important for Matsui to be inclusive and have a diverse cast. The industry has definitely shifted and as Horn put it, diversity is hot right now, which can also be a long-term issue. Matsui and Horn are both weary about what the future holds for the industry but they see the shift as a positive change,

“I used to feel so little and meek and just be thankful that I got the job. That’s how I used to feel. But now with all of these initiatives, I feel a bit more confident to say things and yes there’s a shift, and it’s amazing to see and I guess I feel like I’m a part of it in terms, on the Indigenous side of filmmaking and television and it’s exciting. But again there’s this underlining thing.” 

– Kaniehtiio Horn, Ghost BFF
Ghost BFF
Courtesy of Babe Nation Creations

Matsui and Horn remain hopeful moving forward because there are still so many stories left to tell. And the push to have different stories in the Canadian film industry will always be relevant,

“My Japanese family has been here since the 1800s that’s a lot longer than a lot of white people who have been here and yet I’m always asked ‘Where do you come from?’ Why is that question even being asked to me when I’m from here? I think part of it is that we are not represented in the media, people have this really narrow version of what a Canadian looks like.”

– Vanessa Matsui, Ghost BFF

The most important thing that Matsui wants audiences to takeaway from this series is that hopefully people will feel a little less alone. That if you are going through a rough time, this show will bring you some laughter. Matsui went on to say, “If you are a young woman, or woman of colour and you might not fit into the perfect casting, I hope this inspires people to create their own work, especially young women.” Horn and Matsui have put so much of themselves in Ghost BFF and you can see the love for their characters on-screen.

Matsui is slated to make her directorial feature film debut very soon and she is currently working on the show Hot Zone. Horn has also been busy with guest starring on an American television show called, Reservation Dogs and will be turning her podcast, Coffee With My Ma, into an animated series!

If you want to check out Ghost BFF the first two seasons are online. And if you want to cheer them on during the Canadian Screen Awards it will be streaming live on academy.ca from May 17th – 20th.

How ‘Woman In Car’ Presents The Female Experience: An Interview With Writer-Director Vanya Rose


By: Amanda Guarragi

Woman in Car premiered at the Canadian Film Festival last week. It is such a multilayered film, that dives into the female experience through relationships, trauma and deceit. It is always interesting to explore the female characters in high society because there can be so much to unpack. It is an in-depth look at the psychology of past mistakes and how it can affect the future. The script is well-written and Vanya Rose peels back the many layers of Ann (Hélène Joy). There are so many things to unpack in this story and Ann’s experience as a woman is really interesting to dive into.

Rose wanted to explore this bourgeois society because of her interest in Edith Warton’s novels. Warton always wrote about it and more importantly she questioned it, even though she was a part of it,

“We have this neighbourhood in Montreal, called West Mount which is kind of what used to be the center of money in all of Canada. Montreal was the center of everything. It was home to the richest people in Canada. And so that interested me bc it had never been explored in Quebec at all. We see a lot of the working class films, which are great, beautiful films but we don’t really see how Montreal had that historically, and it’s still there.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car
Courtesy of Thievish Films

In order to understand Ann’s internal struggle, one has to understand the society she lives in and the family she is connected to. As we see in the film, Ann’s persona is quite different around her mother-in-law Charlotte (Gabrielle Lazure), stepson Owen (Aidan Ritchie), and newcomer Safiye (Liane Balaban). She hides pieces of herself from the people she meets with. The one thing that really interested me was Ann’s sense of control. Rose wanted to give Ann a passion, so she chose archery,

“I wanted Ann to have a passion. I wanted her to have something that she had given up. What’s amazing about these archers is not only are they complete perfectionists, like to the nth degree, they’re a little bit odd these people, they have a very specific skill that they developed. It’s a skill of shooting something directly on the nose and that’s all you do over and over again. You have to have a personality type, that’s just so foreign this desire and this training that goes into that.”

– Vanya Rose, Woman in Car

Archery has always interested Rose and it came through with the character of Ann. The way that the archery, can be interpreted through Ann’s character is that she always needs to be in control. Even as she was losing herself in her former marriage, she found something in her stepson to regain that control, even though the events made her spiral even further. She wanted to make decisions on her own but this society she was in, this family that she married into, wasn’t easy for her at all. We see that Ann has a clear shot at the beginning of the film, she was composed and reserved. She managed to hit the bullseye. Then towards the end of the film, she can’t even calm herself down in order to shoot the arrow at all.

Courtesy of Thievish Films

Ann slowly unravels as the film goes on, and it is connected to her feeling neglected, in her relationship with her soon-to-be husband. When asked about showing that kind of emotional experience and why it is necessary to show on screen, Rose said, “I think that’s what art is right, isn’t art all about showing our human experience? I think that as a man or woman, though our human experiences, there is a lot of pain and I think joy is actually a very small part of all that.” She goes on to say that we all go through hardships, whether it be relationships or even pandemics, they impact us more than the greater joys in our lives, but that is what makes those moments special.

Woman in Car is all about human connectivity and relationships. Rose explores the way people treat each other and how they can change their perspective. Rose wanted to show a little compassion in this film, especially between women, “I think that’s the key. I think women have been traditionally pitted against each other because of competition and survival. What if we got rid of that? We don’t need to follow that old scenario, get beyond it and reach out to each other.” The relationship between Ann and the women in her life is very strained. There are vulnerable moments shared between the female characters in the film, where they each gain a deeper understanding of who they are. The film is multilayered, nuanced and incredibly sophisticated. It is a film that will keep you glued to the screen and will have you questioning what is possibly going to happen.

How the Female Experience is Depicted in the Short Film “Twist”: An Interview with Aly Migliori


By: Amanda Guarragi

Women have shared so many similar experiences with each other for many years and there have been films that have truly captured the female experience. The short film Twist, written and directed by Aly Migliori, analyzes the loss of innocence in this coming of age thriller. It takes the female experience and tells a universal story that women know a little too well. Migliori gives a fresh take and elevates the experience through the use of colours, lighting, minimal dialogue and the score.

Migliori wanted to put these character in a space and in this heightened period all in one night, “I wanted to show the consequences, the learning, the growth and kind of feeling the loss of innocence without any kind of explicit blame or anything. It’s a pretty impactful moment for her, it’s pretty innocuous for the others.” The film takes place at night as a teenager named Hannah (Helena Howard), finishes work at her local ice cream parlour and she walks home alone at night. A car, with three boys pulls up right beside her and they convince her to get in, so they can drive her home.

She takes this universal story, this universal experience and makes a great thriller while addressing a young girls first encounter with the dangers of being a woman. Naming the film Twist was extremely clever because it’s an entendre. Migliori played with the idea of the expectations of the title, both literally and how everything unfolded at the ice cream parlour. She goes on to say that, “The ice cream parlour, this very Americana ice cream parlour has connotations with American nostalgia, American childhood and kind of American censorship. I think this story is kind of resisting that mythology, while playing with it.” That is why the ice cream parlour as the centerpiece of the film worked so well. It felt like a wholesome location because of the nostalgia tied to everyone’s childhood and then Migliori turned it into a place that has scarred its lead character.

Courtesy of First Hunt Films

What was most impressive was how the score elevated the moment Hannah realized what was happening and how this moment would affect her for the rest of her life. All women remember the one moment where everything changed, when their perception of the world, of boys, changed. The score had this teenage pop angst as Migliori described with a sinister undertone that completely worked with Howard’s performance. The connection was so raw and it forces the viewer to remember that specific moment in their own lives.

What really tied everything together was the cinematography and the use of lighting. The choice to light up the ice cream parlour and make that the standout while keeping everything else around the parlour in darkness worked very well. There were bright reds used at the beginning of the film and then as the film got deeper into the story, it got darker, “The red takes on a much darker meaning later on, as the story progresses we’re still using the same colour palette, we’re just shifting it darker and she’s kind of growing up and losing her rose coloured glasses on all of the elements of the female experience.” Watching Hannah go through that experience and having all of these elements change with her made a huge impact.

Twist is a short film that offers so much in such a short period of time. It dives into the female experience and leaves you questioning the moments in your own life. All women have a similar story and no, that is not an exaggeration. Aly Migliori delivers on all fronts and her biggest aspirational takeaway is that hopefully some people find a certain parallelism in their own experiences and feel heard, while also truly enjoying this story.

Cake Day: A Story About Recovery With Filmmakers Phillip Thomas and Cameron Crosby


By: Amanda Guarragi

Cake Day is a short film that authentically highlights the journey of an addict. Cameron (Cameron Crosby) emotionally deteriorates, as he contemplates the consequences of honesty, on a day of celebration during one of his meetings. It is a poignant film that is directed with such care and honesty from everyone involved. It is important to handle this subject matter with the utmost respect, when generally retelling an experience that you may, or may not have been directly affected by. The centerpiece of this film is the meeting itself and that is why it is so special.

Director Phillip Thomas really wanted to present an emotional story that would speak to everyone. He wanted to be able to create a sense of empathy and understanding for those who have been struggling with an addiction. He managed to create a community within the film itself. It was comforting to watch this short film, knowing that the people behind the camera wanted to create this support system for its viewers,

You can’t tell an experience like this without having the authenticity and people around you to teach you what it is or else you’re going to fail. That was the whole point of the process of doing this short film, it was to make sure that I could in fact speak on behalf of people, that I haven’t experienced what they’ve experienced.”

– Phillip Thomas, Director of Cake Day

Thomas did his research and he went to different meetings with Cameron Crosby to help get a better understanding in how to tell this story. They only had three days to shoot this film and the bulk of the film takes place in one of the meeting rooms they actually attended. Thomas made sure to keep the exact same setup to make it feel authentic because normally there is no documentation of any meeting. In order to create a sense of community for his audience he needed to accurately create the atmosphere as well.

When collaborating with filmmakers, especially when discussing difficult subject matter, there is a support system that builds, when working with everyone without even realizing it. There are friendships that form when going through a creative process with others, even more so when the subject hits close to home. When getting into character, Crosby found it a bit challenging to get into the that headspace again, “To go into the headspace of the what if, what if that would happen to me and how I would react to it and like whether to move forward and try to get better.” Crosby gave an emotional, internalized performance because it came from such a personal space.

Courtesy of Superfan Pictures and Image Nation Films

Crosby wanted to be apart of a film that would send a positive message to anyone struggling, he was happy to work with Thomas because of all the care that went into the story,

“I think that’s an important message of the film just bc you take one step back doesn’t discount the 20 steps you made forward. Nothing was really uncomfortable because Phil set up such a great atmosphere, where I just felt safe and protected, which allowed me to get deeper and allowed me to get into that dark headspace.”

– Cameron Crosby, Cake Day

It’s incredibly important to have these honest conversations, where the filmmakers can go even deeper into the psyche of the character, to fully form a story that can be so personal. There is definitely a right way to tell these stories and that is what Cake Day does, it just captures this one day and expands upon the internal conflict of its lead character. Every aspect of the film, from the atmosphere to the fantastic score elevated the performances from the actors. It’s an important film that accurately depicts the struggle of being honest, not only with those around you, but with yourself.

After So Many Days: A 365 Day Journey With Musicians Jim Hanft & Samantha Yonack


By: Amanda Guarragi

After So Many Days is a documentary that will take you on tour, with a newly married singer/songwriter duo, Jim Hanft and Samantha Yonack. They decided to embark on a tour, to play one show a day, every day, for a year. It is a concept that not many people have even come close to attempting, but they wanted to see how everything would play out. Jim and Samantha’s love of music, their creativity and determination sent them on a journey that changed them forever.

The film has been an official selection at more than 30 film festivals worldwide and has just been released today, along with a companion album “Songs from After So Many Days”. It is incredibly candid, as they film each other and their experiences, travelling to different cities and performing for everyone. Samantha felt really grateful for this experience and how interacting with their audience has been affected by the pandemic, “At a time where we can’t tour and we can’t physically be there in front of people, we’re hoping that this film can do that in place of us doing that. So it’s kind of touring for us at the moment which is nice.” The film festival circuit has been incredibly rewarding for both Jim and Samantha, they truly appreciated sharing their music and their journey with the world.

Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

Jim and Samantha travelled to 14 different countries. There were so many beautiful moments and it was lovely to see the reception to their music on a global scale. One moment that popped into Jim’s head, was when they performed at a memory care facility. “We went in there and we learned a couple of songs, some old timey songs, to kind of bring some of that musical spirit in there.” It has been said that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s are able to piece some memories together through music because a memory can be tied to a song, which at some point in their lives evoked an emotion. “Seeing some people who were kind of suffering, hearing the music, light up and start to dance, that was really moving.” Something as simple as playing a song, triggers a memory, and that is what makes music so incredible.

Photo Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

The beauty of this documentary is that it is a 2-in-1 tour for the audience. Not only do you have a front row seat to their show but the behind the scenes of their day-to-day process. An entire year of travelling, performing and meeting new people, is definitely exciting but it can also be exhausting. It is such a well rounded piece. You really get to know Jim and Samantha so well. Their personalities fill the screen and their passion for their craft is truly inspiring.

After So Many Days is a wonderful documentary because it takes the viewer into a space where creativity and art is a necessity. This film speaks to creative minds and the hearts of determined individuals who want to pursue their dream. Jim and Samantha’s journey will uplift anyone who has been struggling with their process. The power of music demands to be felt in this documentary and it’s a great feeling.