Our newest NSI IndigiDocs students were in Winnipeg for their two-week training boot camp back in February. Read their thoughts on the experience below.
During boot camp, students honed their writing, producing and directing skills, and are now developing a script for their documentary film idea. At the end of phase 1 all students will have a market-ready film proposal.
A jury will choose up to four students to go into production (phase 2). Each will receive a cash award of up to $16K and approximately $10K of in-kind services. Students are paired with an industry mentor to help with development and production. Students will work in their own community for the majority of the time.
The program’s director advisor is Shane Belcourt (Red Rover, Indictment: The Crimes of Shelly Chartier), producer advisor (and program alumna) is Michelle St. John (Merchants of the Wild, Colonization Road), program manager is Elise Swerhone and associate program manager is Kaya Wheeler. Lisa Meeches is NSI’s Indigenous training programs advisor.
As I stepped off the plane, the cold, dry air hit my nostrils and eyelashes with a pinch that made me acutely aware I was back in my Yellowknife home. The temperature was -37 degrees celsius as I headed home to the frozen cabin I hadn’t inhabited for the past few months. I was painfully cognizant of how spoiled I’d been the last two weeks while attending NSI IndigiDocs training in Winnipeg.
My cabin is now cozy and warm as I sit at my computer and write this. I’m feeling more thankful to be home, reunited with my dogs, attending to the daily routine of life in ‘Knife. It’s taken some time to process the plethora of experiences and information presented and integrate the new ideas into my creative process. I liken it to the process of building a Quinzee snow shelter. I needed to dig up all my snowy ideas and put them into a new pile where they could sinter down to form a new and more useful structure.
I came to the NSI IndigiDocs program with an idea for a short documentary which encompassed my northern life and, specifically, that of my Canadian Inuit sled dogs. I came with my ‘can-do’ independent attitude and the enthusiasm of a five-year-old at a birthday party!
I was met with distinguished filmmakers experienced in directing, producing and writing – and that was just my fellow participants! The Indigenous mentors and guest speakers to whom I asked so many questions were the likes of Shane Belcourt, Rosanna Deerchild and Michelle St. John. Even Wab Kinew came to celebrate our successes at the end of boot camp.
After meeting everyone on the first day it became immediately apparent I had some catching up to do. My initial strategy was to learn EVERYTHING I could about filmmaking during the next two weeks. Living in the north has led me to value self-reliance and my ability to get things done when there aren’t a lot of people or resources around to help. In many ways, it’s my default tendency. I wanted to learn everything and have a base of knowledge in all areas so I could do it all myself. (It’s okay, you can laugh at me.)
Yet, from the beginning, it was clear this notion of independence wasn’t going to fly in the film industry. In fact, throughout the course, consistent evidence was given to the contrary. “Involve the broadcaster from the beginning,” “get your DP on board as soon as possible,” “meeting the production manager in the development process is a good idea,” and “the director/producer/editor relationship is probably the most important” were some of the messaging I continued to hear from speakers. I’d never heard many of these title positions, nevermind understanding their unique role in making a film the best it could be. But as the course progressed that began to change.
Coming from a music background, I know collaboration is important – bringing in the right people to help your music sound great can take it to the next level. Throughout the course, I came to realize, that’s exactly the opportunity NSI was offering me: the chance to learn from, be connected with and possibly hire professionals that could help bring my short doc idea to the next level. The opportunity to create a film in collaboration with other professionals with specialized skills in a particular area, be it editing, colour correction or sound design, is now within my reach.
I’m grateful that NSI created a safe space for me to challenge those notions; to argue with Shane about the actual logline of my story, to challenge my thinking about truth telling in documentary filmmaking with Cecil Rosner, and practice asking the right questions while interviewing a subject – well that’s for a different project because I probably won’t interview the dogs.
I think it’s safe to say the structural integrity of my metaphorical snow shelter has benefited from all the new ideas piled on top, and all the new people that helped me pack down the snow. It has sintered down into a creative cave where I can more successfully incubate new projects. I am sincerely grateful to be part of NSI IndigiDocs. I have gratitude for the people I met and the knowledge I gained.
Through NSI IndigiDocs training I learned to hone in on the story I wanted to tell and, in the end, created a clearer and stronger through-line for my documentary.
I was nervous at first about changing the idea but as the week went on with input from our instructor and fellow classmates, I learned how beneficial it is to come in with an open mind and allow the critiques to help firm up your idea.
Now, I’m very confident with the trajectory of my documentary and feel that, moving forward, I’ll direct an impactful and solid documentary.
Our instructors, Shane and Michelle, were very knowledgeable and always willing to offer advice and give feedback on our ideas.
The second week was extremely beneficial as it allowed me to thoroughly think through the producing side of documentary filmmaking. As someone who didn’t go to film school, I always felt like there was a gap in my terminology and foundational understanding. I feel that gap has been filled by this program. The skills I’ve learned will only help me create a solid documentary.
If you’re an Indigenous filmmaker, aspiring or established, I would highly recommend this program as it teaches invaluable lessons for each stage of the production of your project. The boot camp training empowers you as an Indigenous filmmaker and creator to push your ideas forward and learn how to market your work so there is life for it afterwards. NSI IndigiDocs allows you to be part of a great community of creators who are all moving the needle forward on what Indigenous cinema is.
What a wonderful two weeks! I was selected along with seven others from across Canada to participate in NSI IndigiDocs. I was able to develop my story and understand why this story needs to be told in a specific light.
My documentary is about my cousin, a meth survivor, and it’s crucial to tell her story in a triumphant way. Learning to present my story with Shane has built up my confidence as a storyteller. Also, learning from Tasha Hubbard how to protect my story has given me ownership of being lucky to tell my cousin’s story.
For my project, Bad Reputation, I didn’t have too many deviations from the story because I’ve been close with the subject, my cousin Britta Roulette, since we were children. Our connection was strong and has since become stronger. I was given the opportunity to tell her story, and I want to give her the respect she deserves and, through NSI, I’ll be able to do that after these fun two weeks of training.
I struggled with presenting the documentary idea because, as a First Nations person, I don’t usually gloat about myself, and that was also reflected in not being able to gloat about someone else’s story. But I see now it’s about displaying the clearest possible idea for anyone to be able to understand your project from reading one line.
Hearing information from people in the industry and the gatekeepers brings forward many new project ideas and ease of access that you would need years of networking to get.
I would like to thank Shane for helping me understand how to get my ideas out more clearly and to Michelle for sharing her first-hand experience as a producer.
For any Indigenous creators out there interested in taking the next boot camp, you will learn all you need to get your documentary done with full support in a safe, knowledgeable environment. You don’t only gain knowledge, you gain colleagues forever.
Firstly, with great respect, I would like to acknowledge and thank the Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininiwak, Dakota and Dene peoples, and the Métis Nation, upon whose original lands (Treaty No. 1 Territory) this important program took place.
NSI IndigiDocs boot camp was super rigorous. It was two weeks really well spent and I’ll remember it for a long, long time. I raise my hands in gratitude to the entire NSI team and other participants.
Initially my documentary idea and project was too elaborate and complicated for 10 minutes of screen time. Working with Shane and Michelle was really helpful in allowing me to work through and narrow my vision, themes and story.
During boot camp I was also able to develop a look book that will help me communicate my ideas with my team and hopefully attract further support. Although it was very difficult to turn off at times, I really appreciated the pace and balance of discussion and learning by doing.
Shane and Michelle were so generous with their knowledge and experience and shared a number of their own films and, as a result, there were many rich discussions. Important topics included story and visual structure, poetic elements, internal and external worlds, story containers, structuring scenes, cost reports, insurance, entertainment law and taxes.
In addition to the mentorship and support offered by the NSI team, I feel so lucky to have met a bunch of industry professionals in Winnipeg including production assistants, production managers, sound designers, distributors, reporters and broadcasters.
NSI IndigiDocs boot camp allowed me to brush up on current industry skills and market knowledge while accelerating my abilities to design and communicate the compelling visual components of stories for screen and developing budgets for broadcast productions.
Huy ch q’u.
I am very honoured to have had the opportunity to be a participant in the NSI IndigiDocs program 2020. I was able to learn from many inspiring filmmakers and fellow students from across Canada.
When I first started the boot camp I came with an initial film idea but, by the third day while we were learning about story from Shane Belcourt, I realized that initial idea wasn’t the best fit for this particular pitch. I had another project currently in development – a project close to my heart that I discussed with Shane and he encouraged me to go with the project that means more to me. The film I’m working on is the story of a close friend currently waiting to undergo transplant surgery to offer one of her kidneys to her ailing father. The story will focus on their relationship as well as the struggles they’ve faced in the healthcare system. After surgery and three years relocating to the city to receive hemodialysis, her father will finally have the opportunity to go back to their home community of South Indian Lake.
I learned so much about story structure and realized that story has to carry various elements for it to be successful for your audience. This experience was definitely an exciting but exhausting roller coaster. One moment you’re super confident about your idea but then learn it might be missing this or that and start to doubt your idea. It was challenging but also beneficial to learn the process of story development.
I also really enjoyed the feedback we got from classmates and how we collaborated on ideas to help one another. We were all kind of going through the same thing at the same time and it was very good to know that we have the support from all the staff and mentors that came in.
This biggest impact was definitely learning more in depth about story structure and story development and the elements you have to have to make your story relatable or attracting and learning why your audience would want to watch your documentary. Shane really was amazing at describing the different ways of telling stories and the different styles of documentary filmmaking and I was really honoured to learn from him.
Both Shane, Michelle and all the guest speakers were completely amazing at guiding us through the process of storytelling, producing, etc. They were able to answer so many questions I had. I learned so much information that [would have] taken me years to learn, within this two week program. NSI IndigiDocs is such a beneficial program for all Indigenous content creators because it gives participants the opportunity to sit with industry professionals, learn from them directly, and it opens many doors by introducing you to people who are willing to help and guide you in your career. That is huge, and I encourage all Indigenous filmmakers and storytellers to apply to this program because they will learn so much valuable information within a short time but also have a huge network and family standing behind them as they go on into their filmmaking career.
Chi-Miigwetch to the National Screen Institute, all the staff, mentors and guest speakers for everything you generously shared with us!
Getting accepted into NSI IndigiDocs was a great honour for me. I was excited to get started. My idea going into the program needed help, and I got it. Learning how to form a story and the elements needed to make it successful was my goal. Ultimately my story is much more solid and focused and when my thinking takes it somewhere different I realize it now. This program helped my confidence in my ability to tell a sensible story.
The presenters were all great and brought so much knowledge and experience to us. I am grateful for the time they took out of their busy schedules to spend time with us.
Shane Belcourt helped me a great deal to see what my story was truly about. He is the reason I applied in the first place. After seeing the webinar, I was convinced I needed to apply. I truly felt supported by him, and his humour helped us all get through our blocks.
Michelle St. John opened my eyes to budgets and the unbelievable value a producer can bring to a project. She is very supportive as well and sharing her experiences with us made me feel positive for my future.
Elise Swerhone and Kaya Wheeler (program managers) are incredible people and always willing to help.
Even though this boot camp is technically a competition between the participants, it never felt that way. We all participated and gave our feedback to each other. Meeting these people has changed me for the good and I hope I get to see them all again and I hope all our films get made. This whole experience was fantastic, from meeting all my fellow participants, and getting to explore Winnipeg. I recommend this course to anyone Indigenous and interested in film or if you’ve been [working] in film for a while. Resources and contacts that are now available to all participants is invaluable.
When I arrived everyone was so welcoming and thoughtful. It was my first time travelling alone on a plane, and the NSI team really helped me figure out what I needed to know. They were there all week being helpful and guiding me, I really liked that.
As an experienced filmmaker, there were some things I already knew about, but the NSI people taught us a new way to do things. There was something new to learn every day. Some days were tougher than others because some things were brand new. Every day was packed, and I learned a lot.
I never knew about things like how to get funding for films; that was a lot of new information. I learned about the words people use in the film industry so I sound more professional and maybe more ready for investment.
The most inspiring thing was meeting the filmmakers, like Tasha Hubbard (also a graduate of the program) and the other participants and mentors. Seeing their work, and getting to talk about it with them really made me feel passionate about telling stories more.
It was great to make all the professional connections too. Meeting people from NFB and APTN was really interesting, and I think it’ll help my storytelling too.
Meeting people from other Indigenous communities across the land made me want to learn more about their stories too. I left with so much new knowledge, and with curiosity and passion for what I could learn next.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the other filmmakers come up with, and to show them my work because I think sharing our stories is really powerful. Since I got back [home] I’ve been sharing what I’ve learned with the youth I work with, and I hope it’ll inspire them to apply to NSI some day too.
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NSI IndigiDocs is funded by Program Partners APTN, Manitoba Sport, Culture & Heritage and RBC Emerging Artists Project; Indigenous Training Programs Partner Directors Guild of Canada (DGC); Boot Camp Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Strategic Sponsor documentary Channel; Supporting Sponsors Telefilm Canada, Super Channel, CBC Gem and Corus Entertainment, A&E Television Networks; Provincial Sponsors Manitoba Film & Music and Creative BC through the Daryl Duke and William Vince Scholarship Fund; Industry Partner the National Film Board of Canada; Industry Supporters imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival, 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. More sponsors to be added as confirmed.
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