Our 2015 NSI Aboriginal Documentary students recently attended the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto. As part of training, we asked them to write about it.
Students also wrote blog posts following their two-week classroom session earlier this year.
NSI Aboriginal Documentary is a development launch pad for producer/director teams looking to produce a short documentary. Teams are paired with an industry mentor to help with the final development and production of a 10-minute documentary.
The course starts with a two-week bootcamp in Winnipeg. Travel and accommodation is paid for by NSI. Teams receive a cash award of up to $16,000 to put towards production of their documentary and attend the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto.
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Hot Docs was a whirlwind and surreal experience for me. [Alex and her NSI Aboriginal Documentary partner Cowboy Smithx won first place at Hot Docs BravoFACTUAL short pitch competition.]
It was a wonderful opportunity to network and meet other people in this industry who are also trying to tell their story.
The week went by so quickly and in between meetings set up by NSI with commissioning editors from across Canada (decision makers), daily happy hours, film screenings and working on our pitch for the BravoFACTUAL competition, and no sleep, it was intense.
It was great to have the NSI group support our pitch by coming to watch the event. There was so much love in the room and we were honoured to represent the Tomkins family and Indigenous film up on the stage.
Above: Cowboy and Alexandra during their pitch
I want to thank Elise [Swerhone, program co-manager] and NSI for giving us this amazing opportunity and thank you to Hot Docs, Hot Docs Industry and BravoFACTUAL who support up-and-coming Canadian filmmakers.
These kinds of opportunities don’t come around everyday but in Canada we really foster our talent and create communities for them to grow and show their work. Hiy hiy.
My experience with the National Screen Institute has been excellent thus far. For years I’ve recommended NSI programming to people who had an interest in the film industry.
Our journey to Toronto to participate in all of the top-level activities at Hot Docs was exactly what the doctor ordered.
As you may already know, tragedy struck back in February when four of my closest colleagues were killed in a car accident in Saskatchewan.
My time in Winnipeg with the NSI Aboriginal Documentary program was cut short as I was summoned home to lay my friends to rest. Since that time it’s been a sad and arduous two months adapting to a world forever changed on that cold, harsh February morning.
Returning to the work with NSI and our project Cree Code Talker was a breath of fresh air, and what better place than Hot Docs to commence that work.
Director Alexandra Lazarowich and I entered our project into the inaugural Hot Docs BravoFACTUAL short pitch competition, so the majority of our time in Toronto was dedicated to preparing and rehearsing our big ‘pitch.’
Over several days leading up to the competition, Alex and I worked rigorously to nail down our five minute pitch, all the while taking meetings with fellow filmmakers, broadcasters and some of the industry’s most influential people.
It was great to see our fellow NSI Aboriginal Documentary filmmakers, along with the amazing Lisa Jackson [director advisor], NSI alum Michelle St. John plus the guiding force of Elise Swerhone. I was happy to be among my peers once again, and even more grateful to have had the opportunity to pitch our project.
Alex and I received a great deal of feedback and advice from all the wonderful people we met. On the day of the big pitch, I had no sense of nervous energy nor was I worried we were going to fail.
I must admit the feedback we got, as we practiced our pitch for those who took the time to listen, was pivotal in our eventual first-place win.
I had a great time in Toronto and as I returned to the prairies I was finally hit with waves of exhaustion, only to be immersed in loads of work in another project; but this is why we do this work, because we love it.
Thanks NSI and thank you Hot Docs!
On Thursday, April 23, the 2Ro Media team – Jackson Twobears and I – arrived at the Hamilton John C. Munro International Airport where we picked up a car to drive directly to the Six Nations Reserve (about a 20 minute drive). I should say, the National Screen Institute was very supportive and accommodating once again by providing our team with a flight arriving into Ontario three days prior to our stay in Toronto to attend the Hot Docs Festival.
We took this time to book meetings, conduct interviews and do a variety of activities to support a pre-production schedule for NDNs on the Airwaves.
The schedule unfolded like this:
Met with DJ Al Sault at the CKRZ-FM – I joined Al on the air – we interviewed Al.
Al has a long history with CKRZ and his commitment to the station is evident. He had me record a show stinger for the station introducing my show Native Waves Radio which they have syndicated since December 2014.
Above: Jackson Twobears action shoot at CKRZ-FM with DJ Al Sault
Met with Chief Ava Hill at Six Nations Band Council Office – we made introductions and chatted. After which she directed us to the Six Nations Ethics Committee, which would be the equivalent of attaining city permits for our July shoot dates.
Realizing my status card needed to be renewed, I popped over to the membership office and got a new status card which is good for the next seven years.
Lunch meeting with Two Row Times newspaper editor Jonathan Garlow and rising music star Logan Staats at Erlands Restaurant where patrons are allowed to smoke indoors. When commenting on this to Jonathan, he replied, “Welcome to Six Nations Territory. You have now left Canada.” We beamed.
Interview shoot with Jonathan and Logan at Thru the RedDoor studios. We were given a tour of the studio and met Shane Powless, the sound man we booked for our July shoot.
Shane helped with our interview shoot by providing a studio light. The interviews were great and Logan played a song which we filmed. We also managed to get some production stills.
Above: Jackson and Janet at Thru the RedDoor studio during an interview with Logan Staats
At this time, we had no more bookings and decided to look in the local arts/crafts shop Iroqrafts on Tuscarora Road. Jackson [Twobears, Janet’s NSI Aboriginal Documentary partner] found an awesome ribbon shirt and gifts for his family, and I picked up small items representative of Six Nations to bring back west.
Friday evening I had plans to meet with my half brother, Dodge Rogers, one of three half siblings from my father’s side.
We planned to see a lacrosse game together at the Gaylord Powless Lacrosse Arena. It was great to spend time with my half brother. We really enjoyed each other’s company and the lacrosse game was great! I’ll be seeing him again when I return in July. I’m thrilled to have a brother in my life.
There was a public ceremony taking place in Hamilton ON (a 40-minute drive from Six Nations) on Saturday morning which the chief and many other community leaders were attending.
We wanted to make this trip to meet with Heather George, the new director of Chiefswood National Historic Site on Six Nations and a community arts curator.
The event featured our wampum belts, showcasing the peace and friendship belt in particular, awarded to the Six Nations post-War of 1812 to thank us for the part we played in winning those battles against the Americans.
Above: Wampum Belt Community ceremony at Dundurn Park
This event provided another opportunity for us to integrate with community and reinsert ourselves into our cultural events and activities where much was learned.
We took many photographs, and only amateur video of the speakers and singers.
When we returned to Six Nations that afternoon, I attended a fundraiser for a singer, Lacey Hill, where many other musicians from the community were performing including Jonathan Garlow and Logan Staats.
While driving to the event, I had the car radio tuned to CKRZ-FM and heard my show stinger come on. This was a very proud moment hearing my show broadcast on my home rez station. Quite the moment.
We had a meeting booked with Charlene Bomberry, a Grand River Pow Wow Committee member, later in the afternoon at Chiefswood Park where the annual pow wow is held.
We had introductions and got down to explaining our intention to shoot very short interviews with community members about their history with CKRZ during pow wow. We explained we were going through the Six Nations Ethics Committee for clearance and wanted to ask her permission to shoot a bit of the pow wow to be used in the doc.
Charlene is taking our request back to her committee and will get back to us. The meeting went well. We then helped her load some flats into the back of her truck.
I then headed back into Hamilton to attend the first annual Hamilton Blues Society Awards which featured one of Six Nations’ best blues musicians, Joel Johnson. I met with my cousin and two other friends from Six Nations, brother and sister Phil and Fran Davis. It was a great night of music. A real hidden gem of talent. I’m sure there will be a second annual awards show.
We had a 9 a.m. breakfast meeting with Sabrina Saunders, CKRZ-FM station director. She provided a wealth of information and background on the station and their operations. She offered to have community members do some filming for us while we’re away.
We then went to the station and shot an interview with Sabrina. She hauled out framed pictures which were taken down during their recent painting. The pictures consisted of newspaper articles and photographs of performers – great archival images.
Then Lacey Hill, Six Nations singer/songwriter, showed up and offered to sing a song for us on camera. She sat down outside the station and played a beautiful song on her ukulele, which we filmed.
We then had a meeting with Heather George, cultural co-ordinator at Six Nations Economic Development, to discuss other projects Jackson and I will do at the Chiefswood site.
At this time, we had to say goodbye (Onen) to Six Nations and get on the road to meet up with the NSI bootcamp crew in Toronto. We made great time driving into the city, dropped the rental car off, registered for Hot Docs and met for dinner with everyone.
I was exhausted from our time on Six Nations and, as the evening wore on, I was so tired I was feeling dizzy. It was time to get some rest and get ready for another intense phase of this trip.
No more driving the long stretches of empty road on the rez. This is where we hoof it. From hotel to Hot Docs.
The noisy, smelly streets of a bustling city evoked a deep instinct in me to move faster and readjust my posture to walk with purpose. I remember this from living here 21 years ago. I got this.
I looked forward to the meeting with imagineNATIVE’s Jason Ryle and Daniel Northway-Frank. The room at the Roger’s Industry Centre was just as loud and bustling as Yonge Street which created a challenge to hear and be heard. They were very excited to hear about our docs and kept asking if any of them would be ready for this year’s imagineNATIVE festival.
Jason said he wanted to meet with me separately so we could discuss a couple of other programs so we arranged to meet, along with Jackson, at the imagineNATIVE office at 401 Richmond Street later that afternoon. I’ll keep the details of what was discussed confidential for now, but I can say that we’ll be showing a work-in-progress segment of NDNs on the Airwaves at imagineNATIVE this year.
That afternoon I attended the Breaking a Monster screening. It’s about three young black boys from Brooklyn who play heavy metal music. I am a fan of music docs and was really interested to see the culture clash of race and music genre. I give it a four out of five. The director said he spent 11 months filming this doc. I can’t even imagine.
At 11 a.m. we had a meeting with BravoFACTUAL reps. They did not seem to share in our enthusiasm for a native radio story and that’s fair. However it was interesting to see the reps grow excited about our colleagues’ story set as a native legend/myth. We’re all learning together and improving the story landscape across these traditional territories.
I then attended an afternoon screening of Listen to Me Marlon, a doc about Marlon Brando.
Had a meeting with Elise from NSI which was very helpful. According to our present schedule we now owe NSI a letter from our doc mentor Loretta Todd signing onto our project and a letter from her signing off on the completion of our first phase of production.
We also have yet to complete our insurance forms and submit them before the first draw down of funds can be issued as we head into the full production phase of NDNs on the Airwaves.
That afternoon I attended a doc writing workshop which was extremely helpful in organizing our story in a step-by-step or three-act method. I learned which doc and interview techniques were frowned upon currently and which were popular.
Later I attended a radio doc workshop which is a subject very close to my passions as a radio doc producer. After, I exchanged business cards with two of the four presenters.
In the evening, I witnessed a very proud moment for two of our own, Alex and Cowboy – the Cree Code Talker team – when they won first prize in the BravoFACTUAL pitch competition. Well deserved!
I then attended the Nina Simone doc What Happened, Miss Simone?
I met with Ryan Rice – chair of Indigenous Visual Culture at Ontario College of Art and Design. Ryan made very good suggestions as to Toronto venues for future performance programming.
I then attended an afternoon screening of Fractured Land.
Jackson and I left Toronto that evening and arrived back on Lekwungen territory by 11:30 p.m.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to be part of the NSI Aboriginal Documentary course and have come away from this trip, in particular, feeling quite enriched both on a personal and professional level.
We have booked more meetings and interviews in Vancouver mid-May including a meeting with our doc mentor Loretta Todd. Next steps include opening our business bank account and going into full production in July 2015.
It’s been quite an adventure climbing this learning curve. I’m enjoying the ride so far.
Walking through the campus grounds of the University of Toronto on my way to register for Hot Docs is nostalgic. I arrive in time to catch the screening of Circus Dynasty. The atmosphere is charged and people are literally buzzing.
After connecting with the teams for a meal, I headed to the Royal Ontario Museum to watch Last of the Elephant Men.
We had full-on meetings with imagineNATIVE in the morning and BravoFACTUAL consultants in the afternoon.
I managed to catch the lecture on hybrid documentary after lunch. I’m now mulling over a new direction for our film. I am thinking about a slightly different approach to our story taking in the new account of what really happened with Jane Reuben [Jane is the grandmother of Nadine’s NSI Aboriginal Documentary partner Rachel Garrick, and the main character of their story.]
Midday, Rachel and I discuss the possibility of refocusing the direction of Jane & the Wolf [the documentary they’re making through the course] with more emphasis on family story and the creation of a myth, and less about the community itself. We tried the new pitch on BravoFACTUAL’s Bob Culbert and Rachel Feldbloom-Wood and they seemed receptive to the idea.
Screened Finders Keepers and The Nightmare this evening. Frankly The Nightmare with was a hybrid doc about sleep paralyses which I found to be completely terrifying. It’s still haunting me somewhat.
A positive start with NFB and TVO reps this morning and Murray Battle of Knowledge Network was very enthusiastic.
Managed to screen Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World and Fractured Land. Caleb Behn, the primary character of Fractured Land is an absolute force of nature. Having met him with Janet [Rogers] in the lobby of the hotel it was clear then that he has some incredible energy that is undeniable.
My first outside run of the year at Queen’s Park with a 15-minute free massage from the team at Screening Room was a good start to the day.
Rachel and I hatched out our new story structure with Elise. It’s a complete change of direction and a return, somewhat, to the original idea visually. A complete rewrite of the treatment is now required.
The elements of the story have now become somewhat unpredictable. It’s good to take us out of the comfort zone of complete control to uncertainty.
We return home tomorrow. Now the real work begins.
Getting ready for my trek to the ‘Big Smoke’ to attend the Hot Docs Film Festival. Should be a blast. Running around packing and making sure I know what I am doing when I get there. Still so much to do.
I am on my way! Leaving behind the snow, ice-covered lakes and the cold for the warmth of southern Ontario nights and big city lights of Toronto. I haven’t been to a major city since the NSI Aboriginal Documentary bootcamp in Winnipeg. I hope I don’t get lost.
Travelling was great. Nadine and I had the opportunity to further discuss incorporation and the story. We are both excited about what is in store for us for this week. I’m hoping to watch the documentary Survivors Rowe.
Wandering around Toronto looking lost. I managed to find out where I had to go and ended up watching a virtual-reality movie using the whole headgear. Of course, I was hot and my glasses started fogging up while watching the movie.
When they were removing the headgear, my glasses got stuck in them. At least they got some helpful feedback based on some of my challenges. Watched three documentaries today. Busy day. It’s so warm here.
It’s been a long but productive day. Finished the evening off with great company (NSI dinner with staff, Lisa Jackson and other program participants) and awesome Japanese food. Gotta love the big city.
Had Popeyes chicken for the first time in my life. Told my boyfriend that now I can scratch that off the bucket list, excuse the pun.
Met with reps from imagineNATIVE, BravoFACTUAL and the National Film Board today. Watched a few movies including Survivors Rowe and The Wolverine: Fight of the James Bay Cree.
Missing my family back home today but am looking forward to another productive day tomorrow. Gitchi-Meegwetch Creator for this opportunity and for today.
Lots of meetings with various people including CBC, Knowledge Network and TVO during the week.
We had an awesome meeting with Elise who helped us with our story. It’s still a work in progress but I’m confident it will come together.
I enjoyed the documentary writing master class. There are so many awesome documentaries that I had the opportunity to watch and those that I want to watch.
I’ve learned so much this week. I really enjoyed this trip. Sad that it’s coming to an end but I’m missing my family. The boreal forest and bedrock, the lakes and the birds call to me too.
I got back last night from the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, thanks to the National Screen Institute.
It was quite the learning journey. I’m still trying to digest everything that I learned. I am grateful that I had another opportunity to spend time with the extremely talented and inspiring filmmakers who are sharing this learning journey with me.
We watched two of our fellow NSI Aboriginal Documentary program participants, Alex and Cowboy, triumph in the pitching competition and win $30,000 for their film, Cree Code Talker. It has been quite the whirlwind week.
I got to watch Survivors Rowe and highly recommend it. Gonna enjoy the outdoors today. I think I will endeavour to listen to the songs of the crickets and frogs tonight.
What an incredible and awesome experience to go to Hot Docs as an NSI student and obtain the networking skills, the insight on the industry, the chance to pitch to a few greats and to see our docs progress as a group.
The week was fantastic. From meeting with broadcasters to accessing films to engaging with experts via the panels and information sessions.
As a newcomer to this industry, getting to know [how the processes of] TVO and Knowledge Network work, how pitches for BravoFACTUAL work and what CBC is into on the doc front was hugely informative.
We watched people think out loud about the industry, about storytelling then and now and about how we connect through documentary.
We pitched our docs over and over until we were smooth and confident, and the cherry? We watched our colleagues Alex and Cowboy hit their doc pitch out of the park and take first prize at the BravoFACTUAL pitch.
I saw good docs, bad docs and great docs. Thank you to Elise who really took care of us and to NSI for a great program.
I am truly appreciative of NSI’s support for me to attend Hot Docs. The meetings were very helpful and not just for our current project; I felt as though I was able to create or strengthen connections with broadcasters that will hopefully span my career.
The sessions at Hot Docs were also very useful and occasionally inspiring. I especially liked the cinematography session – even the moderator was pulled into the conversation yet she wasn’t trying to make it about her own work. I appreciate when filmmakers just want to share their knowledge about films and their process in a humble and sincere way.
I also appreciated that we attended as a group. Someone suggested to our group that we challenge ourselves to meet two new people at every function, and most of us seemed to stick to that. We would venture out and stick out our hands and say hello, and often would bring the new people into our circle, so we all benefitted.
The highlight was the BravoFACTUAL pitch competition and seeing Alex and Cowboy’s hard work pay off. Their win felt like our win too.
Although there was not much time left over to watch films, I managed to see five. All were visually stunning, one was disconcerting, and all were examples of the best of the craft and I will take away some great lessons.
I came back to a huge stack of marking, overdue chapters and a child who needed mom time, but I am still feeling the pull of filmmaking and I can’t wait to get started on our project.
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NSI Aboriginal Documentary 2015 is supported by Presenting Sponsor NBCUniversal; Program Partners Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN); Manitoba Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport & Consumer Protection and RBC Emerging Artists Project; Aboriginal Training Programs Partner Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries; Bootcamp Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One; Super Channel; Corus Entertainment; Telefilm Canada; imagineNATIVE Film + Media Festival and Hots Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival; Tuition Sponsor NBCUniversal; Industry Partners National Film Board of Canada, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) and Directors Guild of Canada; and Service Sponsor Line 21 Media.