D Is for Daring: The Women behind the Films of Studio D.


264 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-894549-67-7
DDC 791.43082'0971





Reviewed by Laila Abdalla

Laila Abdalla is an associate professor of English at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, and former professor at McGill University.


Studio D (1974–96) was a branch of the National Film Board that came into being during the Canadian second wave of feminism in the 1970s, in response to the lack of an institutional voice for women. For over 20 years the studio made documentaries about women, their experiences, and their stories; one of the underlying principles of the studio was that the “personal is political.” While the limited existing scholarship on the institution often focuses on the films, Gail Vanstone proposes to treat the history of the studio per se as emblematic of the status of the woman’s movement in Canada and representative of the association between this movement and the Canadian government. For Vanstone, the dissolution of Studio D in 1996 was a signal of “an official retreat from a commitment to considering women’s issues and making their voices heard at many levels of government throughout Canada in the 1990s.”


Vanstone is a professor of cultural studies at York University, and she treats the history of Studio D within the context of three cultural relationships: with the NFB, with the state, and with English-speaking feminist communities. During its lifetime, the studio came under attack by both the “neo-con” government and feminist groups, criticized for addressing “non-essential” concerns by the former and for treating only middle-class, white women’s issues by the latter. Vanstone frames her discussion within this double accusation; she devotes six chapters to considering the milieu within which Studio D was formed, the studio’s relationship with the NFB, the early days of the studio, the way the studio countered criticisms against its agenda and its films, the films produced by the studio, and finally the studio’s dissolution. This book began its life as Vanstone’s doctoral dissertation, and as such it makes use of scholarly and some hyper-academic theories and language. But Vanstone’s prose is accessible to all, and the story she tells is  relevant to a wide variety of readership. This is an interesting and well-written text. It makes bold claims in a justified and supported manner, and will be of interest to student, teachers, and anybody who is interested in film history, pop culture, and/or feminist issues in Canada.


Vanstone, Gail., “D Is for Daring: The Women behind the Films of Studio D.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/26599.