The City of Nanaimo’s former chief administrative officer is getting into the movie-making business.
Tracy Samra is directing and producing a film called Diversion, which is about a group of millennial councillors who are “taking bold steps” to launch their progressive agenda while their new employee must “navigate” the current establishment’s “swampy ways” according to audition notes posted on the Vancouver Actor’s Guide website.
The Langara College production stars Sharmaine Yeoh, who has appeared in episodes of Corner Gas and Lucifer, and Vivian Davidson, who has appeared in a number of short films and commercials, along with Andrew Lissett and Jason Johnson.
Filming took place in late fall in Vancouver.
According to Vancouver Actor’s Guide, the working title was The City Manager Episode 1: Diversion. Vancouver Film Guide and ExploreTalent.com note that the film’s main characters are Sarah, councillors Jennifer, Kayla and Robert and Mayor John. Other characters include prosecutor David and officer Mark.
Sarah, played by Yeoh, is the city manager and is described as an “educated career woman” who has proven herself as a “management change agent” while councillor Jennifer, played by Davidson, is described as a former “top 30 under 30” businesswoman who is “leading the wave” of change. Mayor John is described as a “blue collar union man” who is used to being in charge and doing things his way.
Speaking to the News Bulletin, Yeoh said the film is basically about her character having to fight for her rights in a “male-dominated” society. She said she decided to audition for the role of city manager because she felt she could relate to Sarah on a personal level, especially because her character has to fight for herself throughout the film.
“Sarah is a very strong-willed woman,” Yeoh said. “She has to fight against all odds to achieve what she is supposed to do among all the male colleagues and I actually can relate to what Sarah is feeling in my own life.”
Filming was done over three days, said Yeoh, adding that she had a lot of fun on set and really enjoyed working with Samra, whom she described as “versatile” and very smart.
“She also worked with the actors to bring out the very best in us,” Yeoh said. “She knows what she wants and she gave the actors freedom to play around with the characters and she’s very patient. She’s an excellent director and producer.”
Yeoh said Diversion’s script is “really well-balanced” and that there are subtle themes of racism throughout the film. She also said that because the film isn’t a big-budget production, the set was more “dynamic” because the cast and crew had to work harder.
“Every student film and independent production I’ve been on, the directors and producers wow me because they put in more effort than crew on a bigger production because they have less crew members to work with and a smaller budget,” Yeoh said. “They put a lot more effort and it’s fun to be a part of it.”
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Davidson told the News Bulletin that Samra’s film resonated with her because of its political nature.
“I have always been very active and political from a young age,” she said. “Acting is another one of my passions so being able to combine both those passions of mine was an absolute no-brainer.”
In the film, councillor Jennifer helps Sarah land her job as city manager in an effort to break down the established “status quo” or “old boys’ club” in municipal politics and politics in general, according to Davidson, who said she was attracted to the role of Jennifer.
“I very much identify with that sort of personality,” Davidson said. “I set myself very high goals. I’m sort of an A-type personality and I see myself in politics and as a young person I’ve already been involved with many organizations that [work for] social change for the better.”
Davidson said during filming, Samra didn’t really discuss her previous work life. The actress said, however, that it was easy to see Samra’s passion for the film.
“[She] has a very very clear vision of what she wanted, which I loved. She gave excellent direction and I absolutely loved that she had a broader vision for this project and it is something that speaks very dear to her and I can definitely see her passion in her work…” Davidson said. “She knew how to lead and direct us actors to make sure we delivered what she wanted. It was both a very fun and challenging script, because you have to be on cue with what the vision is of the director, but she was definitely very pleasant personally and professionally.”
Both actresses said they hope Samra continues to film further episodes. A screening of Diversion is expected to take place later this month, Yeoh said.
Samra became the City of Nanaimo’s first female and aboriginal chief administrative officer when she was hired by councillors on an interim basis in November 2015. She was later named as permanent CAO, after she was chosen from more than 50 applicants amid concerns around her initial hiring process.
Samra, who had complained about her treatment at the city, was fired with cause in May 2018, about four months after she was arrested for allegedly making threats against multiple individuals during an incident at city hall.
The B.C. Prosecution Service had pursued a peace bond against Samra as a result of the alleged incident, but dropped its case against her a year later, just before a scheduled three-day hearing.
Samra has since filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against the City of Nanaimo and former mayor Bill McKay. The complaint is still active and a hearing date is scheduled for May or June of this year, according to McKay.
Following her time at the City of Nanaimo, Samra briefly served as the Musqueam Indian Band’s chief administrative officer, but resigned last June.
Samra did not respond to a request for comment from the Nanaimo News Bulletin.
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