1984: the organisation gets its start

In 1984, filmmakers from coast to coast converged in Edmonton, and at the first Local Heroes Film Festival they showcased independent Canadian short films and features from around the world.

Those Canadian filmmakers wanted to strengthen the distinct regional voices across the country, and they discussed training strategies for filmmakers to tell their stories without having to move to Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal.

The result of this first meeting was DramaLab, a hands-on professional development program for writers, directors and producers.

For the next two years, emerging professional filmmakers honed their creative, technical and business skills under direct guidance from industry experts, with the goal of producing 15-minute, 30-minute and feature length films.

1986: NSI is formed

On April 7, 1986, The Canadian Screen Institute was formed to meet an increased demand for comprehensive film and television training outside Canada’s larger urban centres. It was the first of its kind in the country.

The Institute adopted DramaLab and Local Heroes as its two flagship programs. The organization’s name was changed to National Screen Institute – Canada later that year.

1990: evolving with the industry

In 1990, after an in-depth evaluation, the National Screen Institute’s Board of Directors introduced a new flagship course, NSI Drama Prize, to adapt to the industry’s ever-changing needs.


NSI Features First was introduced for writers, directors and producers working on their first or second feature film.


The National Screen Institute opened a second office in Winnipeg and, the following year, introduced a second Local Heroes program to Winnipeg that screened exclusively Canadian film and video.


In spring 2001, the National Screen Institute consolidated its operations in Winnipeg, transferred the Edmonton Local Heroes program to the Edmonton International Film Festival Society and renamed the Winnipeg festival the NSI FilmExchange Canadian Film Festival.

NSI Global Marketing was introduced in 2001 and NSI Totally Television in 2002, completing the circle of early plans the organization had to develop stories for big and small screens, ensuring Canadian film and television stories reach Canadian audiences.

The NSI Aboriginal Cultural Trade Initiative launched in 2003, and became NSI Storytellers. The course was designed to help Indigenous film and television producers advance their projects as international co-productions through guidance and access to new markets. The first trade mission was to Australia and New Zealand.


After extensive consultation with the Indigenous community, the NSI Aboriginal Youth Pilot Project was launched. It eventually became CBC New Indigenous Voices (formerly NSI New Voices), a culturally-sensitive training course that exposes young Indigenous people to a variety of creative and challenging employment opportunities in film, TV and digital media.


The Telefilm Canada Spark Plug Program was offered in 2005 and 2006. It was a diversity initiative geared towards mid- to advanced-level visible minority and Indigenous producers with an interest in developing dramatic television programming.


DiverseTV was launched in collaboration with VisionTV and trained diverse writers to create dramatic television series for national broadcast.


In collaboration with APTN, a new NSI Storytellers program launched in 2007 with the goal developing above-the-line Indigenous talent. The course was an early part of the creation of Cashing In, which ran for four seasons on APTN.

NSI FilmExchange was retired in 2007.

In 2008, after in-depth research, and alumni and industry consultation, NSI’s website was redeveloped to offer more professional development and industry resources, and the NSI Online Short Film Festival was introduced.

Featuring Aboriginal Storytellers Program was introduced in 2008 in partnership with Telefilm Canada and APTN. Offered for three years, the program encouraged established audiovisual professionals to move into feature film.


NSI Aboriginal Journalism was introduced, giving students the skills needed to advance their careers in news and journalism.


NSI Script to Screen was introduced in partnership with Corus’ western-Canada pay TV service Movie Central to provide established and emerging Canadian screenwriters with robust funding, creative support and industry guidance to fully develop feature film concepts for film and television.

NSI IndigiDocs (formerly NSI Aboriginal Documentary) began in 2012 as a development launch pad for producer/director teams looking to produce a short documentary.


NSI began its digital initiatives with TELUS STORYHIVE in late 2014 for content creators in British Columbia and Alberta. Content creators submit pitch ideas for a chance to win a production grant and distribution opportunities.


NSI Diverse TV Director was launched in spring 2015 for directors ready to make the leap to TV series direction with development training and job shadowing.


NSI Business for Producers was introduced in partnership with On Screen Manitoba. The course was aimed at film, television and digital media content producers and trained them in best practices for running their company.


NSI collaborated with the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute Inc. (ILDII) on a documentary film and training project associated with ILDII’s Strengthening and Revitalization of Indigenous Languages & Cultures initiative. The Indigenous Languages and Culture Documentary Project provided training and mentorship to four NSI alumni who directed segments of the documentary and provided their own perspective on the cultural and filmmaking journey of the initiative.

NSI was contracted by First People’s Development Inc. (FPDI) through funding from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to deliver screen-based media skills training to 20 Indigenous youth from First Nations communities in the province. Teams were provided with basic camera packages and received mentorship support to develop and shoot video pitches to support their project proposals for infrastructures in their home communities.


NSI New Northern Voices was launched in 2019 and was the direct result of an NSI feasibility study and framework for northern training, supported by Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage, The Winnipeg Foundation and Manitoba Film & Music.

The program takes place in The Pas, Manitoba, providing an introduction to media-based storytelling. Students have the opportunity to create a short film based on stories developed in the course.

2020: COVID-19 global pandemic

The National Screen Institute redesigned its programs and leveraged digital platforms in the early months of the pandemic, a major switch from NSI’s long history of in-person instruction. We started small and progressed to delivering all new and flagship programs online. No NSI programs were cancelled because of COVID-19.

In partnership with Film Training Manitoba, NSI presented the Manitoba Content Creators Development Accelerator – a series of distance education sessions created to provide up to eight Manitoba-based members and permits of IATSE 856; DGC Manitoba; ICG 669; ACTRA Manitoba, Winnipeg Indigenous Filmmakers Collective and NSI alumni with an opportunity to develop their story ideas while in isolation due to COVID-19. Students were led by award-winning international consultant and NSI co-founder Jan Miller.

The National Screen Institute partnered with On Screen Manitoba and The Winnipeg Foundation to present a series of five online business management workshops for local producers: Conflict, Cooperation & HR Principles. Resources were also available for Francophone producers.

CBC New Indigenous Voices was the first longstanding program affected by COVID. The start date was postponed from spring to fall allowing time to redesign the curriculum for online delivery. It maintained the traditional spiritual components led by Elder Colin Mousseau. For the 2020 edition, the focus shifted to audio storytelling and each student produced a short podcast. NSI elevated what was historically a 14-week full-time classroom-based learning model to a dynamic, customized online program. The entire curriculum was delivered through a learning portal so students from across Canada could attend from the safety of their homes.

A new, online version of NSI Business for Producers was introduced. This distance learning and mentorship program was designed to help up to 20 emerging producers nurture creative ideas (of all genres) while navigating the logistics and legalities of screen-based storytelling in a COVID environment and beyond.


With founding and presenting sponsor, the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO), the National Screen Institute launched NSI Art of Business Management – Indigenous Edition. Participants learned business management, negotiation and leadership skills and received customized mentorship to develop their projects.

In collaboration with Film PEI and Creative PEI NSI Market-Ready Producers – PEI Edition was introduced. Producers from Prince Edward Island were selected to participate in this five-week, part-time online training program to develop essential producing skills and prepare a pitch package for a project they are currently developing and in preparation for the Pitch for Your Life competition at the 2021 PEI Screenwriters Bootcamp where one pitch will win $15K towards a proof of concept.

NSI continues to deliver training and mentorship through TELUS STORYHIVE, with podcast, Indigenous and Black creators editions in 2021.