Chrris Lowe is a Toronto-based director, editor and photographer, with a focus on branded documentaries that are both visually driven and injected with deep authenticity. Her stories are curiosity-led and explore humanity in a way that leans into a distinct documentary style of storytelling that can be adapted to any project - commercial, music video, or anything in between.
Using her varied experience in photography, filmmaking and interviewing, Chrris also crafts striking worlds that intentionally explore the human experience in a way that feels raw, engaging and honest. She leaves viewers feeling empowered to ask more questions and do further exploration of their own.
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Chrris and chatted about her story, the value of finding safe spaces in the industry, and why listening is the most valuable tool when approaching a sensitive story.
LBB> What kind of kid were you, and when did you get your first inkling that a career in film was for you?
Chrris> For the most part, I remember being a shy and quiet kid, but I was also always lively and full of jokes around my friends. I was constantly in my mind, and I’ve always had a rich internal world. I remember contemplating life, adult relationship dynamics and our emotions. As far as passions and hobbies went, I enjoyed art and I loved psychology and anthropology before I even knew or really understood what either of those things were. Anything to do with the human experience, culture and society hooked me.
As for my first inkling, that actually came much later in life. I have always loved movies and television, but I never thought I could seriously work as a director or in a creative field until university.
LBB> How did you get into film, and how did your background influence the journey?
Chrris> I went to university for social work, and while I was in my program, I realised I needed a creative outlet to balance the academic work. That’s when I picked up photography. I started taking photos for fun and shooting BTS on film sets, which is where I became intrigued with the process of filmmaking - something I’ve been exploring ever since. In that time, it’s looked different over the years. Like I said, I began with BTS, but then started PA-ing and second AC-ing once I realised I wanted to be more involved, until finally, I began directing.
My background had a really big influence in my journey. As a young girl coming from a Caribbean household, there was a lot of emphasis put on traditional education and homemaking. While I deeply appreciate both of these things, and think they are important, it also meant that there weren’t many examples of women artists around me pursuing their craft. Art wasn’t necessarily ‘real work’ - it was something you did on the side. I often wonder if I would have begun directing earlier if I was encouraged to do so, or if I had seen more examples. Either way though, I’m happy I started!
LBB> Chrris, you’re a Black, queer woman in film. Tell us about your cultural background! How have your lived experiences played a role in the way you direct?
Chrris> All three of these experiences have intersected in a way that has really enriched the way I direct, as well as the stories I’m interested in telling as a director. When I enter a space, be that a set, an office, or even a Zoom meeting, I enter wanting to ensure that everyone in that space feels seen and that their voice and perspectives are heard and valued. I understand what it is like to feel unheard and undervalued simply because of the identities you occupy, and how that can slowly chip away at you.
I also know how incredible it is to have your identities celebrated and how empowering that feels, so I do my best to lean into that. This applies to crew and talent and everyone in between. I’m mindful of saying hello to everyone I interact with, and taking the time to get to know them on a personal level, regardless of the length of the job. I like to learn names and pronouns. All these things go a long way in ensuring that my sets feel empowering and welcoming. This sensitive awareness is something I think I’ve developed so deeply because of my experiences as a Black, queer woman.
LBB> What can you tell us about your experience in the industry? Have you been forced to overcome additional obstacles, and if so, how did you do so?
Chrris> My experience in the industry has been mostly positive thus far, and I’m very thankful for that. I’ve experienced my fair share of microaggressions, and moments in which I felt folks have been quite insensitive, but I’m always quick to catch it and make a mental note. I’m mindful of going where I feel valued, celebrated and safe, rather than where I am tolerated, and that has helped me to navigate this industry with as much grace as possible. I think, generally, being outspoken and well-equipped to handle discomfort in communication has really helped. Coming from a background of social work - a field where communication is prioritised - the benefits of developing this skill have been returned to me tenfold.
LBB> As a representative of the Black and queer communities, do you feel as if you have to set an example? And if so, what are you aiming to demonstrate?
Chrris> I do feel this way at times, but honestly, I’m careful not to think about it too much. I, myself, am still learning myself in many ways, and I think it’s important that my focus be on self-discovery and learning, rather than on being an example to those outside of myself. It’s very easy to lose sight of what I want for myself and my work because I’m focused on being an example. That said, it doesn’t mean that I’m not. Folks still serve as examples even when they aren't trying to be, and I hope that what I demonstrate for Black, queer folk is that it’s OK to find yourself personally and creatively. Take the time, experience life and learn and grow and mess up and learn and grow again! Try things out, talk about your experiences, and expand. It sounds like such a simple thing, but I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me or occupied the same identities as me doing that when I was growing up. That's what I’m aiming to demonstrate.
LBB> As a whole, what are you hoping to achieve with your work?
Chrris> To put it simply. I want my work to make people feel heard, understood and seen. It is incredible what that can do for someone's heart, mind and spirit, and how these things can empower folks - impacting the ways in which we show up within ourselves and our communities. Feeling heard, understood and seen is powerful, and reminds us that in our smallness, there is bigness. When we feel powerful, we do incredible things.
LBB> When addressing things such as race, sexuality or gender within the film space, the need for sensitive storytelling is more important than ever. How do you approach this within your own work?
Chrris> Listening. That’s the biggest thing for me. Listening to my crew, the talent, the artists, my team. Listening to my communities and understanding what it is they are asking for, not just from the art, but from the world. Through listening I am able to understand the approach needed for the story. I think being sensitive begins with understanding the things I’m being sensitive towards, which requires me to listen.
LBB> What are some of your most significant pieces of work, and what do they mean to you?
Chrris> When I think of my most significant pieces, there are two that stand out. The first is a four-part series I directed for Rethink Breast Cancer
titled ‘Portrait of Illumination’. It was such a beautiful opportunity to lean into art, interviewing and community. I had the privilege of interviewing four BIPOC women about their experiences with breast cancer. I spoke to them about how it affected their relationships with their bodies, their families and their communities, all while celebrating their bodies visually. It was such a touching project to be a part of, and it felt so aligned with what I want to achieve. Most recently, it was showcased at the World Cancer Congress in Geneva, Switzerland this past October, and I am so proud of the impact it has made - sparking important conversations on how to better the medical care BIPOC women receive within the breast cancer community.
The second project is ‘Protest’ by Haviah Mighty, a music video I directed with a frequent collaborator and talented friend of mine, Kit Weyman. The video was largely inspired by the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and was a powerful piece visually expressing the Black Canadian experience and the frustration that many of us feel. We were able to make something so potent and high-energy that discusses such a heavy political topic in a way that did not leave our viewers feeling heavy or re-traumatised. It’s such a sensitive thing balancing the two.
LBB> Often, the arts in general can face flack for tokenising diverse individuals, as well as asking them to solve industry-wide issues for everyone. What can advertising and film do to better avoid these incidents, and promote genuine change?
Chrris> I think that making space for more of us to exist and thrive within the industry is extremely important. In a variety of roles too! I’d like to see more Black, queer women, and Black, queer folk in general - in all roles, both in front of and behind the lens. It’s also important that this doesn’t come in the form of just one or two public-facing positions to give the appearance that things are changing, but also in positions behind the scenes where a lot of really important decisions are being made. Welcome us into these spaces, invite us to work in a variety of roles, and support us in succeeding in them!
LBB> Beyond this, is there anything specific you’d like to see the industry doing better? And specifically, is there anything Canada ought to do better?
Chrris> Take the time to tap into the talented Black, queer folks who are creating wonderful and meaningful work right now. There are many. Do the research, find the artists and support their work however you can. There are so many of us who would really benefit from recognition and tangible resources.
LBB> Building on this, what have been some of the most useful lessons you’ve learned? What advice would you give to ethnic or non-cisgender people looking to make it in the space?
Chrris> Invest in your relationships and invest in your community; especially the ones that already exist. Like Isse Rae [American actress] said: network horizontally. So many of my opportunities have come from the friends and peers standing right beside me. People who were just as hungry as I am, and who deeply understood my perspective and what I was and am trying to do creatively because they are trying to do similar things. Lean into that, invest in it. I cannot express enough how important, valuable and enriching a community and relationships are, and how big a part they have played in my journey and will continue to play in my success.
LBB> Do you have any exciting upcoming projects for 2023 you can tell us about?
Chrris> There are definitely some exciting projects brewing, but none I can speak on in detail (haha). I will say though, there’s one in particular that is a celebration of Black joy, girlhood and movement. I’m very excited about it.
LBB> If there’s one thing you’d want readers to take away from your experience, what would that be?
Chrris> While there’s still a lot of change needed within the advertising and film industry, there is space for us - for our stories, our perspectives and experiences. I encourage anyone who’s interested in this industry to find that space and expand within it. Trust in yourself and your vision, regardless of what the landscape looks like.