“It feels surreal,” says actress Ellen Dubin on set as she proudly wears the air force uniform of Jacqueline Cochran, a female pioneer in aviation during the Second World War for the movie Boundless.
The one-of-a-kind film is shot in Guelph and tells the unheard story of Canadian and American female pilots of that time through a historical fictional narrative that features Canadian radio host Dini Petty, who is also the first female Canadian traffic reporter to ever fly her own helicopter at the age of 22.
Ontario-based filmmaker Kate Campbell’s inspiration for the project came from her grandmother, who was a pilot and a member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for the advancement of female pilots.
“She was also my best friend growing up. We were very close and when she passed away, I wanted to honour her. So I did some more research into women pilots because I wanted to tell the story,” says Campbell.
She says after a decade of researching and interviewing female pilots across North America, particularly being interested in the Women Air Force Service Pilots — a civilian women’s pilot organization consisting of approximately 1,000 women that flew every type of aircraft between 1942 and 1944 — she learned that the pilots had been disbanded.
“You know, like, abruptly. They were never given military status which is what this film is about. You're fighting for military status,” says Campbell adding that the women had to pay their own way home, weren't allowed to fly military or commercial aircraft or even be recognized by society that they ever flew a plane.
Scenes of people protesting against female pilots by holding signs telling them to go home and that they belong in the kitchen will be seen in the movie.
And although the reason for the absence of recognition for their work is unclear, Campbell says she thinks there is a societal fear of a strong collective group of women.
“And it's still prevalent today,” she says.
Campbell says as far as society has come, there is so much further to go.
“My grandma was a pilot so I knew that was possible. But for young girls and women, it's not in the media. You don't get to see that, and so it's for people and young girls to see themselves in these stories,” says Campbell.
And decades after the Second World War, Campbell says it's high time that this story is told.
“I just think because it's been buried for so long. The records of everything they did were locked away for 33 years and they weren't recognized until the 70s and then again in 2009 when they were given the Congressional Gold Medal,” says Campbell.
"And I just think we just have to keep bursting through this glass ceiling. I see women at high levels and there still is that glass ceiling,” says Campbell adding that we would live in a very different society had the women been recognized and honoured for their work.
Through the project, Campbell hopes to inspire young women to enter the world of aviation as the current figure of female pilots in the world is only 6 per cent.
The 12-minute short film is a step towards getting exposure to create a miniseries on this topic.
Actress Lou Jurgens who plays a young Dini Petty says she hopes the audience connects to the film by remembering a point in their life that they had to fight for which felt impossible to achieve but they did it anyway because they knew it was worth it.
“So to persevere through something that feels impossible even if you don't achieve what you want in the end knowing that you fought for it is what's so important,” says Jurgens.
She added that the energetic commitment from every crew and cast member was apparent in this film and will also reflect in the end product of the film.
“Nobody is insignificant in this. You feel it energetically and I think everybody's here because they just want to be. And it's so inspiring,” says Jurgens.
The film is scheduled to wrap up on Sept. 29. The trailer for the film and contact information to donate to the project can be found here.