NSI’s Laura Friesen attends AMPIA’s Calgary Dust-Up

I was in Calgary last weekend for the first Calgary Dust-Up, a series of workshops for emerging and established filmmakers held at the Alberta College of Art & Design (ACAD). I was lucky enough to represent NSI as a panelist for the event, invited by AMPIA’s Bill Evans, who’s a longtime friend of NSI and former staff member.

It was a fun and busy weekend.

I arrived in Calgary late Friday afternoon and took transit from the airport into the city. The CTrain is a light rail system, I know, but I love how it feels like a slow above-ground subway. I wanted to see all the fields, okay? I just don’t see enough of them at home in Manitoba, apparently.

On Saturday morning I met Bell Media’s Brandice Vivier (also a former NSI staffer) and AMPIA’s Michael Jorgensen. Michael, very helpfully, drove us to the ACAD campus because it was SNOWING. (The snow melted later in the day but neither Brandice nor I, nor our fancy footwear, were very impressed.)

My panel, which included Brandice and TELUS’s Jonas Woost, was at 10 a.m. and the theatre-style lecture hall was almost full. Thanks for showing up, everyone!

Brandice, Jonas, moderator Joe Novak and I chatted about what we look for in projects that we broadcast (Bell), fund (TELUS) or develop through training (NSI). The answer we kept coming back to was compelling story and market relevance.

You can have the most unique screenplay ever, but if organizations like Bell or TELUS don’t think there’ll be an audience for it, your project will stall at the funding or broadcast pitching stages.

After the panel I met with lots of film students and more established content creators, and it’s clear that the demand for quality and market-responsive training is huge.

NSI is constantly re-evaluating its program models and methods, and listening to what the industry wants so we can offer courses that fit what content creators are making and what audiences are craving. Serving as a kind of go-between between writers / directors / producers and broadcasting execs, NSI is in a unique position to offer training that specifically fills industry demands.

Highlights of my day included meeting Amy Darling, from production company Media Darling, whose take on the film and TV industry is positive and astute, as well as getting sneak peeks of the upcoming Guy Maddin project Seances from the NFB’s David Christensen.

A film/art installation/transmedia experience encompassing footage that was also used in his current feature The Forbidden Room, David’s translation of Guy’s singular artistic vision was thrilling to see, even in glimpses. And now I have plans to see The Forbidden Room at my beloved local Cinematheque this weekend, so the publicity factor never hurts either.

After a long day, I collapsed into bed and ordered room service for supper. There was a silver lining, though, because I caught the final episode of CBC’s Short Film Face Off and NSI grad BJ Verot winning the whole thing for his film Loss of Contact.

On a side note, my brother and I had a weird Calgary coincidence.

He’s a long-haul, semi-truck driver currently touring with Paul Brandt and Dean Brody, hauling their equipment on a cross-country tour. As I was chomping down on a jalapeño cheeseburger and sipping a beer at a pub in full view of the Saddledome on Friday evening, he texted me to say he was about to head to the Saddledome from his hotel to pack up after Paul and Dean’s show and get them back on the road to Grande Prairie. Bizarre that we both ended up in Calgary on the same day!

Huge thanks again to Bill, Colette Switzer, Lindsey McNeill and Michael from AMPIA, as well as my co-panelists Brandice, Jonas and Joe for a great Calgary getaway.

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