Canadian film critic Katherine Monk makes her directorial debut with a National Film Board of Canada funded short about another Vancouver native trying to make it in a male-dominated industry. Approached with the idea by an NFB producer, Monk tackles the world of heavy beats, flashing lights and a severe lack of female DJs with Rock the Box.
A series of opening infographics illustrate the booming industry of electronic dance, but each set of facts brings us closer to the alarming final revelation that of the top 100 DJs, only two are women. By the time the short has run its ten-minute course, it’s clear numbers can’t contain the real tragedy of the industry.
Shadowing Vancouver’s DJ Rhiannon, the self-titled world’s hottest DJ, Monk sets out to expose the glass ceiling that keeps women from advancing in the industry. There’s a poignant bottle-episode approach to the story Monk spins out—with the exception of a handful of expected dance floor shots—that deliberately drives home the bigger argument that Monk and Rhiannon are trying to make.
Rhiannon opens her monologue with a passionate speech about why she loves the music, the scene and being the one to run the show. But she also describes the bigger theme the pair are intent on conveying—that we are born into boxes not of our choosing. It’s the justification used to explain Rhiannon’s decision to do a Playboy photo shoot when her career started to stagnate, taking a cue from other female DJs who were suddenly rising to the top after doing the same. By all accounts, it’s a move that’s worked for the artist, turning her passion profitable for the first time.
Rhiannon describes the move as part of her professional persona, whilw applying layers of make up and false eyelashes in the hotel room that is the film’s primary set, as Monk cleverly pairs the visual with the DJ’s talk of wearing a mask while on stage. And it’s clear Rhiannon delights in playing with the virgin/whore dichotomy—clashing her award-winning time in academia and a hefty list of professional accomplishments with stage presence and lyrics that deliberately push the boundaries of titillation.
But bigger questions than the ones Monk set out to ask linger as Rhiannon wipes off her mask at the end of the night. Because while the women acknowledge the box and the rules they feel forced to play by, the short doesn’t necessarily convince me that playing that role to the extreme is the right choice—even if the means do get Rhiannon the end she wanted. Monk may successfully show the effect of the industry’s limited space for women, but neither she nor her subject offer any suggestions beyond complying. I can’t help but think that if we really want to fix that Top 100 ratio, women will need more options than that—and those are the trailblazers we need to see.
Rock the Box had its world premiere as part of TIFF’s Short Cuts Programme 7 which screens again on Saturday, September 19th at 3:45pm at Soctiabank 11.
For more TIFF coverage from the Cinefilles, please click here.