NSI’s Elise Swerhone looks back at Hot Docs 2016

Amanda Kindzierski, Janine Windolph, Luther Alexander, Trudy Stewart, Brendon Sawatzky, Courtney Montour, Ursula Lawson, Roxann Whitebean, Sonya Ballantyne, Lisa Jackson and Elise Swerhone

Above from left, students with program faculty: Amanda Kindzierski, Janine Windolph, Luther Alexander, Trudy Stewart, Brendon Sawatzky, Courtney Montour, Ursula Lawson, Roxann Whitebean, Sonya Ballantyne, Lisa Jackson and Elise Swerhone

A few weeks ago, I joined the 2016 NSI Aboriginal Documentary students for a five-day trip to Toronto to attend the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (read their festival blog posts).

We started on Sunday night with a delicious group dinner at Spring Rolls on Yonge Street joined by NSI CEO John Gill and NSI Aboriginal Documentary alumna Justina Neepin who is back at Hot Docs as a participant in the Shaw Media Diverse Voices program.

It’s so great to see alumni advancing their careers. Alex Lazarowich, who was in the program last year, was also at Hot Docs as part of another documentary program sponsored by Hot Docs.

Monday morning at 9 a.m. we hit the ground running with an hour-long meeting with Michelle Van Beusekom, director of English programming at the National Film Board.

Michelle listened as each student introduced themselves and talked about the film they’re going to make through our training program. She invited proposals for their next film and told them who to contact and a bit about what the NFB was doing.

Charlotte Engel, CBC executive in charge of Firsthand, met us at Ned’s Café for lunch. She spoke about the type of documentary she’s looking for and very graciously answered all questions.

Bob Culbert and Rachel Feldbloom-Wood came by Ned’s a couple of hours later to talk about BravoFACTUAL’s process for accepting proposals and adjudicating applications for their factual strand.

Bravo is a good option for everyone’s next film so the students were very interested. There were lots of questions about both factual and scripted films.

Tuesday morning Lesley Birchard, CBC executive in charge of factual entertainment and her colleague Melanie Le Phan met us to discuss the CBC’s new digital strand for short documentaries.

Current NSI Aboriginal Documentary student Roxann Whitebean had already worked with Lesley and was, in fact, featured in their announcement for the new factual initiative. Roxann made three 15-minute documentaries following her treatment for breast cancer. Lesley was very appreciative of Roxann’s courage and the strength of her work.

Daniel Northway-Frank from imagineNATIVE met us at Ned’s (I got to know Ned’s menu better than I would like) to talk about his festival and encouraged everyone to submit their finished films and attend. He was so positive and energetic.

League of Exotique Dancers opened the Hot Docs festival this year and we were lucky enough to have its director Rama Rau talk to us about making the film and her career as a filmmaker. I think this was a highlight for everyone. She was funny and very honest.

The Hot Docs/BravoFACT pitch competition was Tuesday night. Last year one of our teams – Alex Lazarowich and Cowboy Smithx – was chosen to pitch in the competition and won for their film Cree Code Talker.

Alex Lazarowich pitched again this year. I wasn’t able to attend because I had accepted an invitation to the first get together of women documentary makers organized by Femme Fatale and the National Film Board. It was great to be among so many interesting and strong women who could share the same experiences as filmmakers.

Hopefully this event will become a regular part of Hot Docs.

Wednesday was everyone’s last full day at Hot Docs so I didn’t schedule any meetings but added a couple as I ran into people I thought would be good to introduce to the students.

One of those was former NSI Drama Prize student, Inga Diev, who now works for Ouat Media distributing their short films. Two short films represented by Ouat Media were nominated for an Academy Award this year so I thought she would have good advice on distribution. And I was right.


Above clockwise from left: Amanda Kindzierski, Courtney Montour and Roxann Whitebean chat with Inga Diev

Listening to Inga describe the strategies she uses to get films to festivals and in front of as many eyeballs as possible was fascinating. She is a talented and generous person who was willing to pass on as much information as the students could absorb. Her invitation to watch their films was genuine.

I actually got to see a film on Wednesday. Angry Inuk is a very powerful film about the effect of the seal-hunting ban on Indigenous people. I was glad I was able to see it.

Then there were the cocktail parties at the end of each day, a chance to meet old friends and make new ones and to lose my voice screaming over the din. It was all a lot of fun. I love documentary filmmakers!

Above from left in the networking tent: Justina Neepin, Roxann Whitebean, Luther Alexander, fest delegate Josephine Anderson and Amanda Kindzierski
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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.

NSI Aboriginal Documentary 2016 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; NSI Aboriginal Training Programs Partner Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries; Bootcamp Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One; Super Channel; Corus Entertainment; Breakthrough EntertainmentimagineNATIVE Film + Media Festival and Hots Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival; Tuition Sponsor NBCUniversal; Industry Partners National Film Board of CanadaAcademy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) and Directors Guild of Canada; and Service Sponsor Line 21 Media.

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