2019 NSI IndigiDocs students discuss training boot camp

NSI IndigiDocs


Published by communications

Our 2019 NSI IndigiDocs students recently completed their two-week boot camp training in Winnipeg.

Beginning with boot camp, students develop their short documentary projects with training sessions and mentorship from Canada’s most respected documentarians.

Here’s what they had to say about their first NSI training experience.

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Theola Ross (director), Trying to Conceive

Theola Ross

When I met filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin on the first day of boot camp I was super excited, especially because it was in an environment where we had one-on-one time to sit with her.

The stories Alanis told about advocating for the Indigenous community early in her career resonated with me. I was mesmerized by her strength and passion for making social change for Indigenous people through film. In essence, she paved the way for women like me to get out there and take the plunge and not to be scared of the consequences.

In reality, she was quite frank in telling us there will always be consequences to filmmaking. Her motto is something I will adopt throughout my career, especially when telling stories about our histories not only as Indigenous people but also as women. She mentioned that “some people have died without knowing their history.” This is a fundamental, inherent human right: knowing your history, where you come from and where you’re going.

Throughout my short time as a filmmaker, I’ve already felt backlash from my community. I thought this was something I should ignore and just chalk up as part of the journey. I was surprised to know that Alanis herself felt lateral violence, jealousy and criticism from her community and that it’s a problem in our world. The key thing that helped me as she was telling us her experiences is that, as filmmakers, we must learn to self-care and “evoke a lot of respect and dignity.” Sitting with Alanis felt healing and for that I’ll be forever thankful.

I enjoyed that Alanis, Shane Belcourt (director advisor) and Jordan Wheeler (screenwriting instructor) all had similar styles and approaches to their filmmaking. What stood out for me is that they all use Indigenous ways of knowing in their art. They all mentioned getting the history of the territory you’ll be working with; we all have a connection to the environment and that Indigenous filmmaking and stories, in theory, have a structure but should be balanced and viewed holistically.

I enjoyed the mock interview/interviewee sessions with the full camera set up, and I appreciated the playback after we recorded our interviews. Not only did I learn a lot about camera angles, lighting and best practices for delivering an interview but it was also nice to learn about what the other directors were doing for their projects. I especially enjoyed interviewing them. I felt as if I got to know the directors on a personal level which strengthened our relationship and will [hopefully] lead to lifetime friendships.

Alex Fisher-Bailey (producer), Trying to Conceive

Alex Fisher-Bailey

What an incredible two weeks! It’s hard to put into words the impact of the time I spent in Winnipeg attending NSI IndigiDocs boot camp.

NSI has created an inspiring and unique program designed to lift up each participant and remind them the stories they want to tell are important. The unique, caring, supportive and inspiring atmosphere that runs through the program is undeniable and fosters an environment that has left me with new lifelong friends, knowledge and mentors.

From Alanis Obomsawin’s generous knowledge-sharing to Shane Belcourt’s breakdown of how to master story structure, there wasn’t a topic left untouched.

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (director advisor) shared her thoughtful, dedicated filmmaking process which showed us how to foster healthy relationships with documentary subjects while maintaining neutrality.

Jordan Wheeler’s story sessions reminded us how vital it is to know your characters and to understand them within a bigger picture.

Countless industry leaders extended their support, thoughtfully critiqued our projects and encouraged us to push boundaries in the ways that we tell them.

I will remember the NSI IndigiDocs program as a critical step in expanding my knowledge of the broadcast and film industry thanks to the generosity of the presenters and dedication of NSI staff, such as Elise Swerhone, Ursula Lawson, Kaya Wheeler, Liz Hover and John Gill, who made us feel instantly at home.

The words ‘thank you’ do not feel large enough to express how grateful I am for the NSI IndigiDocs boot camp.

Sharon Heigl (director), The Long Road Home

Sharon Heigl

As an aspiring artist and filmmaker I have been gifted a chance to work with great people and create my short documentary. Attending the NSI IndigiDocs boot camp has been one of those privileges. Fresh out of a two-week boot camp and having written a script that was chosen for funding has been a great learning experience.

It was a pleasure to learn from great leaders in the industry such as Shane Belcourt who helped me understand the concepts of writing for television and the big screen and imparting my vision through a lookbook. I also learned about distribution with Monica Lowe and got insight from Liz Hover, NSI’s director of communications, about how to maintain a clean and clear website. All the staff at the National Screen Institute were very helpful and caring and I could not have asked for a better experience.

I am honoured to be part of the [NSI family] and to have met such amazing people who are open and willing to help new up-and-comers like myself.

There was a great amount of information shared in the two weeks which will propel me into the next few months of research and putting together my binder for my own production. These are exciting times and I am grateful there are people to continue to support me through this process.

I am especially grateful for the support and mentorship from Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and John Gurdebeke (editor) who were a big part of helping me put together my very first sizzle reel. I could not have done it without them. A big Kuxchtemc to both. I am also humbled by and grateful for my producer Jennifer Ille for all her effort and support.

Jennifer Ille (producer), The Long Road Home

Jennifer Ille

Last Friday was the end of a two-week course at NSI in Winnipeg. Not only did we work with and get to know the amazing team behind NSI IndigiDocs, but I also left with a ton of helpful information for present and future film projects.

The journey to NSI began with a documentary idea that would end up becoming a story about finding your way home. During the two weeks of intense instruction, and after discussing different aspects of our idea with our brilliant instructors/advisors,  it changed from Who Are We? to The Long Road Home.

So, why the change? As with any journey, you may realize you need to overcome certain obstacles to find the right path. In our case we believe, with the new information received, we needed to take a different approach and make changes to tell Sharon Heigl’s story in a more suitable/appropriate way. With the support, guidance and constructive feedback from instructors, the story of how a journey changed Sharon’s life and reconnected her with her family after many years became the story we want to tell and produce.

We learned there are various ways of telling and visualizing a story. By watching previous documentaries, we saw how story structure can take many different angles and directions. There are many aspects to be aware of to support the vision of your director. I was able to get a better perspective on how we’ll produce our documentary and I feel more confident after learning so much during training.

I’m looking forward to working on our project armed with our newly-acquired knowledge and an energetic style that, I believe, will tell a beautiful story.

Kelly Roulette (director), My Oka: 30 Years Later

Kelly Roulette

NSI IndigiDocs boot camp was such a great opportunity because, as a participant, I got to meet industry professionals who shared valuable trade secrets which could never be picked up from a film school course.

From research techniques to defining our documentary story focus, we strengthened our abilities to take us to the next stage of development in our emerging film careers.

Everyone has weaknesses, and NSI supports and works with participants to help them push through their shortcomings to become better directors and producers. Whether it’s assistance with an undefined story idea or instruction on how to be better organized production-wise, participants are guided to become more focused and efficient.

The hands-on work that comes toward the end of the two weeks allows directors to sharpen their interviewing skills and work independently by producing a sizzle reel for their mini-documentaries. It was a fun opportunity but also a confidence-building one because it helped us envision the potential framework for our future docs.

I feel better prepared to create my documentary because I have the support and backing of NSI staff and the industry professionals who lectured during our stay in Winnipeg. It’s clear this sharing of knowledge goes beyond the doors of NSI and well into the production phase which, as a newcomer to documentary filmmaking, gives me great comfort because I know I can reach out for support during the different stages of production.

My producer Sean Parenteau and I are excited to begin the next step of organizing our team of camera and sound personnel, editor, production assistants, etc. Thanks to the staff of the National Screen Institute, Indigenous filmmakers have an opportunity to have their stories told on their terms and in their way. Thank you NSI!

Sean Parenteau (producer), My Oka: 30 Years Later

Sean Parenteau

The NSI IndigiDocs program came at the perfect time in terms of my professional development. The course itself is jam-packed and intensive, and a front row seat to learning how to become a proficient producer/director.

Having the opportunity to learn from some of the best Indigenous talent and non-Indigenous industry professionals in Canada was highly motivating. This course lived up to my expectations, affirmed where I’m at in my career and allowed me to understand which areas of my development to focus on.

What makes this course unique is that you team up with another Indigenous director and are provided with a budget to produce a 10-minute short. The short will air on both APTN and CBC, and we’ll get the opportunity to submit it to film festivals.

The course was an exciting way for me to learn how best to apply the knowledge gained in my career. It feels like a stepping stone in my evolution as a storyteller. Being armed with this knowledge will go a long way to putting it to good use and in a good way.

I found the presentations very informative and engaging. We were allowed to ask questions and I took advantage of those opportunities to fill my knowledge bank with things I strategically wanted to learn about. This training also allowed me to fill up my tool box with templates and frameworks, and helped me better understand the current programs and dollars available for future projects/stories.

I met and established relationships with industry people which will be invaluable in building my business Red Roots Productions and establishing myself as an Indigenous producer/director.

In closing, NSI IndigiDocs has provided me with a renewed sense of energy and optimism. I feel confident in my ability to tell the stories that matter to me and my community, and the medicine wheel I am gifted to be part of. Thank you to the NSI family. The work you’re undertaking will be impactful and felt for generations to come.

Chantell Shaw (director), May the Bannock Force Be With You

Chantell Shaw

From the first day to the last, NSI IndigiDocs boot camp was beyond a learning experience and proved to be a life-changing meeting of the minds.

When I first arrived, I didn’t know what I was getting into but when I left I had a new sense of direction and vision, not just for my documentary but for life itself.

Some of the presentations had my mind spinning and left me wondering if I was going at this all wrong but, by the end of the day, it was nothing short of inspiring.

Thanks to all the industry leaders at the National Screen Institute and everyone involved who shared their valuable time. I am so excited for this year and can’t wait to see my documentary come to the screen.

Troy Watts (producer), May the Bannock Force Be With You

Troy Watts

When I found out I’d been accepted to NSI IndigiDocs, my friends and I were standing on a rainy street corner in downtown Vancouver. We had passed the morning in trepidation and with frayed nerves. We had submitted our application some weeks ago and knew we were on the shortlist. At noon the word came in. We whooped and hollered and jumped up and down to the curiosity of passers-by, distracting them momentarily from their overpriced lattes.

That was in November, and now it’s March. I looked forward to my trip to Winnipeg with growing excitement. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but the lineup of instructors and the local weather forecast were formidable, so I was a little nervous when I boarded that plane on a wet Vancouver morning, and headed to the frozen city in the prairies.

In the end, it turns out my nerves were misplaced. The instructors were amazing, friendly and very helpful. They spoke with a drive and passion one can only see from true artists and dedicated instructors. They were truly inspiring. The wealth of knowledge and skill that were placed at our disposal was astounding. With their help my team was able to distill our ambitious and expansive idea into a tight narrative without losing its essence. I cannot name names because I thank every one of them.

My fellow students were also very inspiring. What a bright, diverse and talented group! We came from various cities and backgrounds, but I feel like we coalesced in our enthusiasm and desire to get as much as possible out of this course. I know everyone’s documentary will be amazing. I feel I left Winnipeg with new friends and colleagues.

I’m excited for the coming year and to see everyone again. 

• • •

NSI IndigiDocs provides training, mentorship and up to $16K in cash towards film production. Training includes attendance at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, and post-production services and mentorship at the National Film Board in Montreal.

Films developed and made through the program include Cedar Tree of Life, by director Odessa Shuquaya and producer April Johnson (2016-17), which screened at festivals in San Francisco, Edmonton, New York, Paris, Santa Fe, Cincinnati and more, winning best direction at Buddha International Film Festival in India.

From Up North, by director Trudy Stewart and producer Janine Windolph (2016-17), won the International Indigenous Award at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival in New Zealand in 2017.

Cree Code Talker, by director Alexandra Lazarowich and producer Cowboy Smithx (2015-16), won the Gil Cardinal Documentary Award at the 2017 Dreamspeaker Film Festival in Edmonton.

NSI IndigiDocs is funded by Program Partners APTN, Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and RBC Emerging Artists Project; Boot Camp Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Strategic Sponsors the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) and documentary Channel; Supporting Sponsors Telefilm Canada, Saskatchewan Media Production Industry Association (SMPIA), Corus Entertainment, Breakthrough Entertainment and the Jim Murphy Filmmakers Bursary; Provincial Sponsors Manitoba Film & Music and Creative BC through the Daryl Duke and William Vince Scholarship Fund; Industry Partners the National Film Board of Canada and the Directors Guild of Canada; Industry Supporters imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival and Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival; and Service Sponsor Line 21 Media. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.

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