Creators who Inspire: Meet Mara Joly
Writer, director, producer—there is nothing multi-hyphenate Mara Joly can't do. Born in Quebec to an African American mother and a white father, her life’s journey led Joly, at a young age, to France, Senegal, Gabon, and South Africa before bringing her back to Montreal.
“I needed to do something that aligned with my values, and I wanted to reflect the Montreal that I knew,” she says in a video call while on a trip to Kenya.
That “something” took the form of Still I Rise (originally titled Après le déluge in French). Broadcast on Noovo and Crave in the fall of 2023, the series follows a police officer (Penande Estime) who introduces four youth to mixed martial arts to keep them away from a life of crime.
In writing the script, Joly drew inspiration from her own life. “I come from a rough background,” she admits. “Martial arts changed both my life and my brother's.”
It was also important that the four lead roles were played by actors from underrepresented communities.
“Of course, I hope [the series] has a positive and decisive impact,” says Joly. “People who belong to sexual, cultural, and ethnic minorities have the right to exist onscreen. They can speak for themselves and not through people who tell us repeatedly that they have the knowledge and power—and who keep it for themselves.”
Joly speaks from experience, having put her foot down during preparations for Still I Rise. “Some producers wanted to 'whiten' roles so they could have A-listers play them,” she says. “They said it was a request from the broadcaster, which was not true. The CMF made it possible for me to protect the work by becoming the coproducer (Zama Productions, which she founded with Miryam Charles, produced Still I Rise with Zone3). Without their help, my protagonists might have been white, and someone else would have directed this project because I would have quit from the start.”
CMF funding also increased the allotted budget for the ambitious series, which included numerous characters, fights, and stunts—support that can be felt in all aspects of the production.
“Not everyone in front of or behind the camera was experienced. We needed to train them while they were doing their job,” she recounts. “That takes time and resources. They learned a lot during filming.”
What's next? Joly has already written the second season of Still I Rise, and eventually hopes to bring the story one step further—to the big screen.
- By Martin Gignac