About Mandy

Documentary filmmaker, story & narrative editor, media educator, social media consultant, content strategist, www.OPEN CINEMA.ca founder and director, community activator, avid camper, curious cat and international woman of mystery.

Crowdfunding, Collaboration and the Blind Men and the Elephant

This week, five key media-making organizations in Victoria are joining forces for the first time to present Ian Mackenzie’s popular Crowdfunding 101 workshop, and Media Rising (yours truly) has helped to make that happen. As part of a new move towards increased collaboration across media sectors, MediaNet, CineVic, the Victoria Independent Film Professionals Association (ViFPA), Media that Matters and the Vancouver Island South Film & Media Commission are coming together to offer a workshop that is all about participatory thinking inspired by online engagement. Read more about the workshop in this Times Colonist article.

Tearing Down Old Structures

While the new 24/7 everywhere media environment is presenting a whole host of funding, production and distribution challenges, it’s also thankfully breaking down worn out silos and hierarchical ways of doing business. The distinction between amateur and professional media creators becomes blurred, and even irrelevant, when everyone is struggling to make a living in the field.

Cooperation in a fractured media landscape

This became very clear when ViFPA, Media that Matters, NFB and Media Rising offered a workshop called Making Films, Making a Living in March 2012.  We brought a wide range of local screen media professionals together with the hope of forging a new collaborative future out of the fractured media landscape. What emerged was a renewed spirit of cooperation and shared learning that transcends age, experience, job titles and sectors.

drawing of the Blind Men and the Elephant

The Blind Men and the Elephant

If you’re planning to make a living telling a story or message to an audience, the game is changing beyond recognition, no matter whether you work in film, video, TV, the Web, social media or even writing. The cult of the individual has encouraged us to try to figure out things out on our own, but the problem is too multifaceted for one person to solve. It’s like the story about the blind men and the elephant: individually they couldn’t make sense of their different experiences, but with the perspective of their collective understanding comes the possibility of greater knowledge and insight.

Collaboration is the name of the game

So, waddya say.. Let’s work together across our differences to find bold new answers to mind-bending media questions.


Thankyou, Neil Armstrong RIP. You brought media storytelling to life.

I’m so sad to hear the news of Neil Armstrong’s passing. I vividly remember the moment when those words were spoken, clear as a bell. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” 20 July 1969, a moment that was broadcast around the world to an estimated 600 million people.

Media storytelling comes to life…

photo of Neil Armstrong about to set foot on the moonThe moon landing was a most remarkable moment for a six year old to watch live. I can remember my utter disbelieve that I was watching this happening. Right now. Up there. On the moon! Wowee! The tension in the control room, the beeps, the fuzzy pictures, their weightless movements all formed a vivid impression. This moment truly brought storytelling to life for me!

A moment that changed the world

I doubt anyone would disagree that the world changed at that moment in 1969. Not only did it bring us directly in contact with a new frontier beyond our planet, but it changed our relationship to broadcast media and storytelling and perhaps most importantly of all, it radically shifted our perspective of our place in the universe. By being able to look at earth from space, we literally saw ourselves and our achingly beautiful fragile blue home for the first time, ever.

Was this the first social media moment?

I think it’s taking a while for us to come to terms with the self-awareness, mediated by technology, that this moment gave our species. In fact, I think the impact is still only now rippling down into our DNA and changing the way we think about and do things. The Earth Day movement grew directly out of this time, and continues to evolve and inform our lives on every level. And it showed us the potential of using digital media to connect – and reflect – the planet in real time. It’s interesting to think of social media being born in this moment, isn’t it?

logo of the consulting company Media RisingThis image of Earth Rise wasn’t taken by Armstrong, but he was on the back-up crew for Apollo 8, one year earlier in 1968, when these archetypal shots were taken. These shots of the earth from the moon belong to all of us, both literally and figuratively: NASA has given these photos to the world by making them public domain ie copyright free. Thanks NASA! In fact, the photo above of the earth from the moon is the inspiration behind my new logo for Media Rising. What do you think?

Journey in Peace, Neil Armstrong. We will never forget you.

Portrait of Astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 mission

Always a storyteller, sometimes a…cameraperson!

My work involves wearing many digital media storytelling hats, which gives me a variety of ‘looks’, or at least, ways of looking. By turn, I’m strategizing with and coaching clients on their media and messaging goals; writing, producing, directing and editing content for every kind of screen; teaching; networking and brainstorming with peers; managing events & programming OPEN CINEMA screenings; and more. Variety is the spice of life!

A Digital Storytelling Toolbox

Having a broad skill base is a good thing if you’re a media savvy storyteller / digital alchemist / social media strategist / content marketer / documentary filmmaker like me, because it gives me a big ol’ digital storytelling toolbox to dip into. (I suspect I’m not alone in my search for an appropriate single term to describe my digital ninja skills these days. Can you relate?)

What is a Digital Alchemist, anyway?

Recently, I’ve been whittling away at a definition of what I do. Here’s what I’ve come up with: I help people to clarify, articulate and share their story or message with the world, using the appropriate media tools to reach their target audience: DVD, TV, cinema, podcast, webathon, YouTube, Facebook, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn…you get the idea. The common denominator is storytelling, and that’s what I know (and love) the best. A good story is like a life preserver: without it, your message is just more dead weight data that will virtually drown in the Internet ocean.

Always a storyteller, sometimes a…

Karen Davies, Steve Walker Duncan and Louise Rose in the Flavours studio kitchen

Karen Davies, Steve Walker Duncan and Louise Rose in the Flavours of the West Coast kitchen

So this week, I was working as a cameraperson on a studio shoot for an awesome local TV show, Flavours of the West Coast. Now in it’s 3rd successful season, this Cedarwood Productions gem features local farmers and foodies who are creating an astonishing array of local delicacies. The series also includes a fab studio kitchen segment with affable and talented host Chef Steve Walker Duncan, who is joined by a different local celebrity Rookie Chef each week. Check it out! This series is a lot of fun ~ with some great recipes, too!

Cooking up Soul Food

Chef Steve Walker Duncan with R & B legend Dutch Robinson in the Flavours kitchen

Chef Steve Walker Duncan cooks up soul food with R & B legend Dutch Robinson

During two long studio shoot days, we shot ten kitchen segments with ten amazing local talents, including Bob McDonald (Quirks and Quarks), jazz singer Louise Rose; Assistant News Director at CHEK Dana Hutchings; and an exciting newcomer to the West Coast music scene: Dutch Robinson. This R & B legend demonstrated his five octave vocal range (!!) and he’s played with The Ohio Players (Love Rollercoaster), Kid Creole and the Coconuts and most recently DRUM. Every one of these folks is passionate about their life and their work, and it was a pleasure to help share their stories.

I love my job!


Writing is the key to everything.

I’ve been doing a lot of clearing and letting go recently, following my mom’s passing at the end of 2011. (More on this remarkable odyssey later, believe me!)

Today, while sorting through old papers, I came upon some notes from an unspecified film industry talk on Laurel Point Inn notepaper, which dates it prior to 2009 or earlier, when the Victoria Film Festival used to hold its annual film industry talks there.

Anyway, I was inspired – it spoke to something that has been much on my mind.

” Writing is the key to everything.” Arcand

Well, there you have it!

As it happens, I recently dug out my copy of Natalie Goldberg‘s Writing Down the Bones. A most inspiring read that always guides me back to my writing practice. If you are a writer of any kind in need of a kick in the butt or gentle nudge, I highly recommend reading it. It’s helped me find my way back to the page.

What helps you put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard?




Shake Hands with Homelessness: Richard Leblanc’s Journey to the Edges

It’s another bitter cold night here in Victoria, BC – below freezing again – unusual at any time of the year, especially mid-March. As I turn the heat up in my apartment, I’m thinking about Richard Leblanc spending his 22nd night living rough on the streets.

Richard Leblanc living on the streets, with sign "Journey to the Edges 2012"

Richard Leblanc "Journey to the Edges 2012"

On February 13th, Richard traded places with ‘Ed’ – an as yet unnamed homeless man – who has been living in his van for the last few years. While ‘Ed’ is tucked up warm and cosy in Richard’s farm house, the Woodwynn Farm and Creating Homefulness Society founder and Executive Director is living rough on the streets and sleeping in a beat up old van. He’s reduced his monthly salary to $1 and is living off the equivalent of welfare.  He’s committed to this path until 2012 letters of support for Woodwynn have been written to Central Saanich Mayor and Council and 2012 people have pledged to support the organization’s fundraising goals. That might be weeks, if not months away, but hopefully not years.

Challenging Perceptions of Homelessness

I’m very inspired by Richard’s courageous new undertaking: Journey to the Edges. It speaks volumes about his commitment to challenge our perceptions about the range of issues related to homelessness.

I was curious to know more about this wild adventure into the unknown that’s unfolding on our own downtown streets. So I decided to meet with Richard in person at Green Cuisine. I didn’t recognize him at first, he was bundled up in a hoodie and flack jacket, with a ball cap pulled down over his shaggy hair and unshaven face.

It was a  cold wet afternoon and I offered to buy Richard a substantial hot lunch, but to my surprise, he choose a light meal of soup and raw vegetables.  “Ed has been mentoring me on how to live life on the streets” he laughed. “Ed says, don’t ask for help but never turn down an offer of a free meal.” He was surprised by how tired he was, as if he’d just done a big workout. “When you’re cold and shivering all day and night, it’s physically exhausting.

Richard Leblanc in the van he now calls home. Photo by Lyle Stafford, Times Colonist

It was strangely unnerving sitting next to Richard, who I have worked with in the past. During our conversation about his motivation, media coverage and community engagement strategies, I found myself confused. At times it felt like I was having lunch with a different man who I did not know how to relate to. Someone who was living in a very different reality than my own, on the edges of society, without a safety net.

Suddenly there I was hanging out in the grey zone, the messy place where worlds collide, and it challenged me to confront my own perceptions of homelessness. It wasn’t easy.

The Messy Place Where Worlds Collide

And yet I was there to talk about exactly that – how can we find a bridge that crosses to the other side, so that we can start to navigate the mighty river of inequality that both joins and separates the two worlds? It crossed my mind that perhaps everyone needs to feel the discomfort of looking across the table at the reality of homelessness in order to realize how much we separate ourselves from it. And, how close to home it really is.

We tend to think in black and white, you’re either homeless or you’re not. There’s this great protective divide that society has built between the haves and have-nots, it keeps us safe in our illusion of sanitized security. But in reality, there’s no barrier, it’s not black and white; it’s actually a thin veil and a lot of shades of gray.  It was very shocking to come face to face with the flimsy curtain that blows between the home-full and the home-less. It felt  somehow taboo.

The Four Quarters of Homelessness

Richard talks about four issues that can contribute to someone becoming homeless: addiction, mental illness, economic hardship and free-thinking. Any one of these can easily spill over into one of the other three, and lead to homelessness. I suspect most of us can relate to one or other of this quartet, or at least knows someone who does. It puts it into perspective doesn’t it?

Ultimately I think that’s what Richard’s journey offers us – he’s a conduit between two worlds, providing an opportunity to ‘safely’ experience, understand and hang out in the  messy gray zone where homelessness and homefulness meet. The more people who can stand in that uncomfortable gray zone, even for a few minutes, the better.  We need to literally shake hands with the reality and proximity of homelessness, so that we can start to understand how regular, good, honest people can stumble into circumstances that lead to homelessness.

Richard has crossed over into the grey zone, he’s our guide, leading the way. By trading places with Ed, Richard has flipped the focus of the conversation from “how can we fix it?” to “how can we get to know it?”. To my mind, Richard’s journey is reminiscent of Gandhi’s brilliantly inspired act of throwing off the lawyers’ starched business suit to join his people dressed in rags and living simply off the land. From that place, Gandhi was able to turn the world’s head and non-violently change the course of history.

What Can We Do?

What can we do? Connect. Spread the word, read and comment on his daily Facebook profile or Facebook page updates, follow him on Twitter, talk to Richard if you see him, buy him coffee or lunch, write a blog post, shoot photos or video.  Write letters to the Mayor and Council of Central Saanich, and if you can spare a dime or two, please by all means, donate to Woodwynn Farms.




The shiny new Bosa Centre for Film and Animation at Capilano University

For a few years now, I’ve had the privilege to be regularly invited to offer guest lectures at Capilano University’s Documentary Program, part of the School of Motion Picture Arts. I’ve got to know a few of the fine folks over there, including longtime creative partner Michelle Mason, whose latest film A Song for Carlos took us to Spain on a development shoot in July 2011. I’ve edited all Michelle’s award-winning documentaries, including The Friendship Village (2002) and Breaking Ranks (2006).

Mandy's reflecting inside and out, Bosa Centre for Film and Animation

Reflections on the Bosa Centre for Film and Animation

I love teaching! It’s always a pleasure to share knowledge with those coming into the industry. For the last 5 years, I’ve been primarily teaching editing and story, which will always be my first love.  Then about a year ago,  I was excited to be invited to join the Advisory Board and to start teaching social media to both the faculty and the students at Capilano’s School of Motion Picture Arts Documentary Program. I find it curious that so few of this year’s documentary students appear to be interested in engaging with the online space as either a marketing or creative narrative tool. It’s my hope to plant the seed for thinking about social media as a vital, dynamic new extension to the documentary filmmaker’s toolkit.

This week I had the opportunity to teach in two of the shiny new classrooms in the shiny new Bosa Centre for Film and Animation. It’s really quite a remarkable award-winning building, complete with 8,000 square foot sound stage, sound mixing studio, cutting edge camera gear, a 200-seat 3D theatre, the largest tv screen this side of Toronto and purpose built classrooms and labs for costuming, editing, animation, cinematography and a whole lot more.

Bosa Centre for Film and Animation

The Bosa Centre for Film and Animation at Capilano Univerity School of Motion Picture Arts

At a time when the Canadian documentary industry is facing some challenges during this digital transition and economic stony ground, it’s encouraging to be part of this exciting grand vision for the future.

If you haven’t visited the Bosa Centre yet, I encourage you to find an opportunity to do so. Let me know what you think…

Wishing you a Merry Christmas

A Christmas greeting from Media RisingThis is an iPhone photograph I took on Johnson Street in Victoria, BC on a rainy evening. I then passed it through some funky filters using Instagram – I LOVE Instagram, it’s my favourite app. I post the photos to Facebook and Twitter, and I’m going to find a plug-in that allows me to post here as well…

Talking of my blog, I’ve made a new year’s resolution to blog regularly – at least once a week starting next week. I love to write, I’ve starting thinking in blog posts, but somehow, my musings rarely make it to the er, well, screen. Considering I’m always recommending regular blogging to my social media clients, I think it’s time I practice what I preach, n’est ce pas? *ahem*

Which neatly segues to a delightful meeting I had with two digital divas today, Jane Victoria King and Angela Hemming, of AHEM Productions (hence the segue). Angela and Jane both blog regularly five days a week, and our conversation inspired me. Thanks ladies, this blog post is for you…

Watch this space…a blog post a week is the challenge. I give you all leave to pester me on twitter or facebook if I fall short of my goal. Please, hold my feet to the blogging fire. (eek!)

Enjoy the festive season, and if you have any blogging inspiration to offer, I’d love to hear from you…

The Passion and Poetry of Community Leadership

Last week I was invited talk about Community Leadership at Darlene Clover’s University of Victoria class. At the end of the class, Darlene offered up a ‘found poem’ that poignantly captured the essence of my presentation. I felt so honoured, and it resonated so deeply, that I thought it was worth sharing…

Ode to Mandy Leith

by Darlene Clover

Do your part
Believe in something
Arab spring, European summer, North American fall
Our stories are powerful
Stories make us human
Raise your message above the rest
Be the change you want to see
Live your message through your life
Move forward with what inspires you
Speak to where the community is at
Plant your dreams
Challenge the didactic passive education role
Encourage conversation
Ask what people think
Create a sense of community
Change the seating, put the audience at the centre
Have food – they will come
Everyone is a community leader
Occupy everything
Use living microphones
Be loud, commit, build trust, democratize
Own your culture, be a media activist
Teach media literacy
Tear down the power structures and senseless bureaucracies
Let film speak for your community
Restore the banter of the bazaar
Breed engagement, create traffic
Follow the rules/break the rules
Let passion exist

Currently, my passion is leading me to work with the vibrant global Occupy movement. Where does your passion live?