Is Documentary Canada’s National Art Form?

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.

poster for documentary If You Love This PlanetCanadians 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.

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…