I spent the last week of May at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, talking about documentary with inspiring media makers in a yurt under towering trees on a remote island. It’s going to take a few days to integrate, reflect and rest.
Since launching OPEN CINEMA Season 10 in October, we’ve been experimenting with adding virtual engagement elements to our tried and true community screenings of documentaries followed by open forum discussion in cafe style venues. The early results are extremely exciting!
Not only are we livestreaming the post-screening discussion for virtual viewers at home, but we’re also hosting a moderated Twitter chat. In November, we were extremely excited by the results, with a ‘reach’ of about 20,000 tweeters (according to www.Hashtracking.com). Not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds impressive. A more tangible measure of success? One tweeter from Toronto asked to use the tweetchat stream as a research resource for her Master’s Thesis in Nature Education. Read more about this amazing hybrid event here.
Last week I drew a Venn diagram to help our tweetchat team and guests understand the dynamic interactions it makes possible. It’s pretty complex!
Our next hybrid event is tomorrow, Wednesday December 5th, following the Victoria premiere of Occupy Love with virtual guest Velcrow Ripper as well as live guests. Find out all about the event here.
Have you organized a hybrid event? I’d love to hear what worked (and didn’t work so well) for you.
If you know me or read my blog, then it comes as no surprise that I have a lifelong passion for documentary. Way back in 1984, my first film was a 16-minute experimental documentary: Citizen Soldier. In 1989 I emigrated to Canada specifically to work at the National Film Board of Canada, the worlds oldest government film agency and the birthplace of the documentary.
I’ve worked on dozens of social justice documentaries and hosted hundreds of OPEN CINEMA screenings in café-style venues with discussion, using documentaries as a catalyst for community engagement. And I’m now in my second term serving on the Documentary Organization of Canada‘s national Board of Directors. Yep, I’m a feature-length docuphile!
Documentary is a uniquely Canadian art form
But did you know that the documentary genre was actually born and nurtured in Canada? The world’s first documentary, Nanook of the North, was made near Inukjuak, Quebec in 1922, before the term documentary was even coined. in 1939, John Grierson launched the NFB, arguing that portraying reality on film was essential to saving Democracy from the rise of fascism in Europe.
Canadians have made dozens of award-winning, popular and important documentaries. Most notably is Terre Nash’s Oscar winning If You Love This Planet (produced by Edward LeLorraine, who I worked with on the worlds first non-linear editing system EditDroid – another story!). Other well-known Canadian-made docs are Up the Yangtze, The Corporation, as well as Toronto’s Hot Docs, one of the biggest documentary film festivals in the world. You can read a comprehensive list of Canadian documentaries here.
Let’s protect our national heritage
Sadly, the documentary is facing a perfect storm that is currently threatening its very survival. The economic downturn, shrinking arts budgets, the advent of Reality TV, changing technology, YouTube and the riddle of Internet monetization are all conspiring to turn a once thriving industry into a flickering archival memory. I, for one, am not about to let that happen.
As Jazz is to America, so Documentary is to Canada.
Earlier this year, Kevin McMahon wrote an inspiring article that proposed making documentary Canada’s official art form. In response, POV Magazine has just published the first in a series of in-depth interviews with Kevin to further explore this idea. And the Documentary Organization of Canada has issued a petition to Minister James Moore.
You can help – please sign the Petition!
If you love documentaries, then we need your help, please! Read more about it, discuss with your peeps on social media and IRL and please, by all means, sign the petition.
Do you think documentary should be Canada’s official art form? I’d love to know your thoughts.
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).
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.
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…
For a couple of years now, we’ve been grappling with the very real possibility of the demise of the Canadian documentary. The industry as we’ve known it over the last 20 years has been dealt a number of life-threatening blows, a lethal concoction made up of equal parts economic turn-down, cancelled broadcast strands, government funding cuts, the emergence of low cost Reality TV, digital technology and the Internet. The number of Canadian docs being made has been steadily dropping over the last 5 years, by as much as 21% according to Getting Real 4, the Documentary Organization of Canada‘s most recent economic profile of the Canadian documentary production industry. Ironically, for audiences, the documentary has never been so popular. Download the detailed report here: Getting Real.
Getting Real About Documentary
This trend isn’t exactly news. Many doc filmmakers are struggling as the market shrinks and turning to crowdfunding sites such as IndieGogo and Kickstarter with varying success. Over the last couple years, I’ve responded by successfully rebranding as a media-savvy storyteller, educator and social media content strategist. But my heart isn’t able to let go so easily; I’m still set on finding a way forward for the beloved genre. As part of my involvement with the Documentary Organization of Canada’s National Board of Directors, I’ve helped spawn an audience development campaign to raise awareness about the plight of this endangered storytelling species.
We Love Documentary launched at HotDocs 2011 and will form part of a longterm campaign in conjunction with DOC’s advocacy efforts. Plus I’m currently developing a fun interactive cross-country roadtrip project that will engage documentary audiences, filmmakers and changemakers across the country: get ready to Get on the DOC Bus!
So while I haven’t exactly been hiding out from the changing media landscape, my experience at last week’s VIFF Film Forum was a rude shock to the documentary ego.
The Beginning of the End Game
The first indication that we’re in an end-game scenario came when Storyville Vancouver was cancelled. We can only speculate why no international broadcast commissioners came to hear BC doc filmmakers make public pitches this year.
The next clue came when I checked out the VIFF Film Forum program: for the first time this year, ‘Documentary Day’ was renamed ‘Factual Day’. What used to be a day of talks dedicated to the genre, this year, was a disorienting mashup of what I might call FactuReality.
Sessions included documentary’s Pursuit of Objectivity (which the excellent panel agreed was not the point of documentary at all); producing a punchy sizzle reel to upsell your Reality series; CBC’s new online interactive experiences; and the transmedia project Collapsus‘ experiments in cross-platform storytelling. All interesting and tangentially relevant, but I missed the usual networking with my fellow doc filmmaking colleagues, who were, for the most part, noticeably absent.
Good Luck With That
The real sting was delivered during the tail end of the day, at the Industry Networking Cocktail reception. After Minister Ida Chong officially opened the Forum, I found myself in conversation with Don Fast, Deputy Minister of BC Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development. “What do you do?”, he asked me. I began by cheerfully replying “Well, I was a documentary filmmaker, when there was an industry…” But before I was able to tell him about my creative re-branding and ask his thoughts on the future, he changed the subject. I heard all about his daughter, the actress. At the end of our conversation, he shook my hand with a friendly smile, saying “Good luck with making documentaries.”
I’m usually pretty optimistic, but I have to admit I left feeling rather discouraged. What do you think, dear reader? What does the future of documentary look like from where you sit?