In their own words: NSI Aboriginal Documentary students on their boot camp training
Students recently began the fourth year of NSI Aboriginal Documentary, a training course for producer/director teams looking to produce a short documentary.
The course starts with a two-week boot camp in Winnipeg. Students work on their projects for 10 months following the intensive boot camp and deliver a 10-minute documentary in about a year’s time. Completed short documentaries from the course air nationally on APTN as a one-hour special and stream on aptn.ca, and then nfb.ca.
As part of all our training courses, we ask students to write about their boot camp experience for you.
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Trudy Stewart | Director, Statement Gatherer’s Reflections
I had been developing a dramatic narrative story in my head about a statement gatherer with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada based on my experience recording residential school survivors’ statements.
Although I had my eye on the call for submissions for the NSI’s Aboriginal Documentary program, I was also writing other grants for our festival and multimedia project.
As the deadline loomed closer, the nagging feeling that I should apply got stronger and stronger.
The call for documentary projects was focused on the TRC recommendations. I could see how the story I was developing could easily become a documentary and my producer, Janine Windolph, had worked with me at the TRC. I knew she was the perfect person to be my teammate because we had not only worked at the TRC together, but co-wrote, directed and produced a 47-minute documentary on the Regina Indian Industrial School legacy and unmarked cemetery.
If you not only work well with someone, but trust and respect each other and their abilities, then you keep working with them if you can. Luckily for me, Janine agreed to be the producer on this project and I’m really excited to have a nurturing, supportive partner.
Two weeks is a long time to be away from home but we knew the mentoring during boot camp would help get our project on the right track. We asked our friend Tasha Hubbard about it, who was a trainee in the program last year. She told us that our project would develop quickly with all the help from the NSI team and mentors.
She also told us that our story would be ripped apart but that it was necessary to put it back together stronger. “Less is more. Keep it simple,” she said. “People want to make 60-minute documentaries in 10 minutes. They will help you get to the essence of the story.” We appreciated her preparing us for the intense two weeks ahead.
In a whirlwind two weeks we had sound editors, online editors, cinematographers, broadcasters, Oscar-nominated documentary directors and a number of other professionals generously offer their time, feedback, advice and experience with us.
This helped make us aware of how we had to be thinking about the finished piece from the very beginning: from pre-production to post before we start planning.
They also helped us practice pitching because we will be going to Hot Docs and all teams want to pitch in the BravoFactual short pitch competition.
I’m both excited and daunted by the work ahead but I feel very positive having such a great mentoring team from NSI will make all the difference.
Thank you to the National Screen Institute, Elise [Swerhone, program manager], Ursula [Lawson, program manager], Brendan [Sawatzky, producer advisor] and Lisa Jackson [director advisor] for being there for the whole two weeks and to our fellow trainees for making our time in Winnipeg so enjoyable and productive.
Janine Windolph | Producer, Statement Gatherer’s Reflections
The NSI Aboriginal Documentary boot camp is exactly what I needed as a producer and it helped me as a director too.
One Day, formally Statement Gatherer’s Reflections, is the passion project of Trudy Stewart who will be directing this 10-minute documentary.
She came to me with this idea and to apply for this workshop on the day of the deadline. I agreed, not knowing what I’d signed on to. I mean that in a good way and not in way of the program requirements. I mean personally, and how the process changed the way I approach this project and other projects.
It’s refreshing in its timing as I reflect on why I became a storyteller and reflect on the successes and obstacles I face in this field.
I knew I would walk away wiser and be here to help Trudy make the best project she can make with the support of this program.
The project we presented began as a journey to share the methodology of the statement gathering process and empowered the voice of the director, Trudy – it’s her voice that shares a personal story about one day that changed her life at a TRC national event; the story that became the film.
The NSI boot camp process helped to tap into the essence of the story with the director’s message that the absence of stories is the truth for her and many intergenerational school survivors.
The boot camp process reminded us all that the producer/director relationship is a personal process that is bonded by trust, respect, truth and understanding. Without this, it’s a difficult process.
To enhance the journey, I appreciate the support of everyone who shared knowledge and stories. I feel wiser with more foresight about the road that lies ahead.
Most of all, I wasn’t expecting the impact it would have on me as a person to have met a group of amazing artists full of talent and strength. The people have been very inspiring!
Sonya Ballantyne | Director, Nosisim
Before NSI Aboriginal Documentary, a co-worker gave me a magazine article on Alanis Obomsawin. I really regretted not bringing it with me when I met her. I often find surrogate kookums (grandmothers) wherever I go and really enjoyed the few days where she was NSI’s.
On her last day in Winnipeg, I said goodbye to her and got a kiss on the cheek from her. Like my own kookum!
My project [Nosisim] focuses on my grandmother, a Daphne Odjig drawing that she posed for and the effect both had on my life.
People don’t leave your life when they pass away. My grandma has been gone for 12 years and I still think about her most days. She was one of the four adults that raised me and started my love of fantasy stories.
Talking about the project for days on end became difficult by the end of the first week of boot camp. I broke down in tears and wondered if the story needed to go forward if it was going to be so hard to talk about.
My mum even said I shouldn’t go through with the movie if it was making me so sad.
Luckily, my producer Sage [Daniels], my parents and a new friend, Jennifer Dysart (fellow filmmaker and awesome lady), helped me deal with my emotions. Sometimes the most emotional stories are the best ones to tell.
Though the two weeks of boot camp have made me miss my day job (my day job doesn’t make me cry), I’ve really liked how the project has evolved over the last few days. I hope there’s fewer tears in the future, though, but I’m really excited to see how things turn out.
Sage Daniels | Producer, Nosisim
I recently graduated from the University of Manitoba with my bachelor of arts in film studies on February 3 and started NSI’s Aboriginal Documentary on February 7. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.
I am really appreciative of all the knowledge and expertise I had access to during the boot camp provided by NSI.
Sonya [Ballantyne] and I took our idea [Nosisim] into this program and, through the guidance of our mentors, took our documentary to the next level.
What I was most excited about was the fact that our documentaries get shown on APTN in the future as part of their programming.
This course really catapulted us onto the world stage and I am really excited to see where the rest of the program leads us going into the next phase.
Courtney Montour | Director, The Underground
It’s been a whirlwind two weeks and the NSI boot camp flew by in a blur!
We were fortunate to sit down with filmmakers Lisa Jackson, Alanis Obomsawin, Shane Belcourt and Sturla Gunnarsson. Each shared their work and personal challenges, tips and methods to filmmaking, as well as feedback on our film projects.
We also had the opportunity to practice pitching and receive feedback from APTN, the NFB, MTS and CBC, without the stakes of an actual pitch competition.
I’d like to thank NSI staff, particularly Elise and Ursula, for orchestrating the whole event and ensuring we never went hungry throughout the day.
I’d also like to acknowledge local participant Sonya [Ballantyne] for meeting the out-of-town teams at the hotel and showing us how to navigate the underground tunnels so we didn’t freeze during Winnipeg’s cold spell.
It was impressive to see each team’s project idea evolve and strengthen through the assistance and feedback from the mentors and one another.
Looking forward to the opportunity to attend Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, reunite with the other teams and see how their stories have developed.
Roxann Whitebean | Producer, The Underground
My experience participating in the NSI Aboriginal Documentary course was pleasant and rewarding because I was exposed to established professionals who shared their techniques and creativity with the participants.
You couldn’t pay for an education of this scale because they prepared us with sound critique and guidance to complete our projects that will be broadcast on APTN next year.
The staff at the National Screen Institute provided a welcoming environment that is culturally sensitive to our needs as Aboriginal peoples.
I would like to thank the staff, mentors and sponsors for this opportunity of a lifetime.
Amanda Kindzierski | Director, Indian in the Child
NSI Aboriginal Documentary is a very unique program. It was a crazy two weeks, packed with many events and seminars.
I enjoyed the opportunity to see behind-the-scenes of making documentary films for television.
It was great to meet so many accomplished filmmakers and strong Aboriginal artists and hear their advice on our careers, projects and personal growth.
I’m very happy to begin work on our project and look forward to seeing where it takes us.
Luther Alexander | Producer, Indian in the Child
Have you ever been pulled through a clothes wringer? How about being stretched out like a baker’s pizza dough or even having your sharp edges grinded to a fine curve? These metaphors are true to [describe] the nature of National Screen Institute’s Aboriginal Documentary program.
As one of four producer/director teams this year, we walked into boot camp proud of our ideas. The thought of this program being a cakewalk was quickly subdued.
Everyone had their stories listened to, analyzed, critiqued, ripped apart and then put back together again all in the span of two solid weeks of hard work and challenging discussions.
NSI’s training room become a war room of sorts. We were armed with coffee and a renewed vision of story, every morning, day to day, right until the final hour of the 11th day.
It was this intensive call to order that made all the teams take [their] best strides in developing and shaping their stories and, to some degree, do a complete 180-degree turn.
Of course, all this work could not have been accomplished without the direction, experience and leadership of our hosts at NSI and the guest presenters that came to share their knowledge of telling captivating stories in the world of documentary filmmaking.
The NSI’s Aboriginal Documentary program is an invaluable resource and I’m looking forward to working on our next phase.
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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; Boot Camp Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One, Super Channel, Corus Entertainment, Telefilm Canada, imagineNATIVE Film + Media Festival, Hots Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival and Breakthrough Entertainment; Tuition Sponsor NBCUniversal; Provincial Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Industry Partners National Film Board of Canada, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) and Directors Guild of Canada; and Service Sponsor Line 21 Media.