By Ryan Pike
Summer is a magical time for most students. Judging by the lack of people on campus, the majority take the time to travel to exotic locales or sling coffee to locals in exchange for tuition money. Luckily for a foursome of aspiring local filmmakers, school was still in session at NUTV.
Now celebrating its fourth year of existence, NUTV’s Documentary School solicited proposals from NUTV’s membership, culled the numbers down to a manageable four and then honed the recruits into lean, mean filmmaking machines with an extensive series of workshops. The end result was four eight-minute documentaries, each crafted between April and August, when most students were far from school.
“We wanted to create a workshop program that would give people kind of the skills they needed to make a documentary,” says NUTV producer and program director Tinu Sinha. “There isn’t anything like it, in terms of workshops, available. That’s why we did it.”
Due to the intensity level, timing and length of the program, NUTV doesn’t usually receive applications from the entirety of its membership. This time around, six of NUTV’s nearly-100 members took a shot. The four successful applicants-Felicia Yap, Ed Artola, Sarah Kinnie and Ranjene Mazumdar-were chosen based on very specific criteria.
“I settled basically [based] on their personal vision for their documentary,” notes Sinha. “They had to have a very solid idea of what they wanted to make it, so strength of the proposal [played a huge part].”
Given NUTV’s mandate to provide opportunities for community members to be immersed in television production, the focus on shorter documentaries is logical. By limiting the films to an eight-minute duration, Documentary School attempts to replicate the process of television production in a more relaxed environment.
“You want to keep it real somewhat in terms of the kind of thing they’d be dealing with if it was for television in an industry setting,” says Sinha. “That was part of the exercise. That included the length of the final piece, too.”
As the documentary school ages, the program will no doubt see its successes grow. Even though it’s only a few years old, Doc School films have already drawn considerable attention-an expanded version of Colleen Sharpe’s Wake of a War Bride was shown at the 2006 Calgary International Film Festival and Arthur McComish’s Dusting Off the Fruit Machine was screened at this year’s Fairy Tales Film Festival. Two of this year’s filmmakers have already won accolades: Yap recently received a scholarship from Global Television while Mazumdar was one of the winners of the Calgary International Film Festival’s Youth by Youth Competition for her involvement in the animated short The Uprising. Mazumdar reflects positively on her summer spent at school.
“It’s pretty laid back because you’re not there constantly,” she says. “The workshops were only a few hours at a time. It’s totally just what I love to do, so it was a summer full of nice creative work.”
UNDER THE BUTTER KNIFE
A look at modern Oriental women in Canada and the lengths some will go to look beautiful without surgery.
“The key is ‘without surgery’ and that’s what makes it unique,” says Yap. “The subject is very dear to my heart, because I myself am Oriental. I grew up in Canada. My friend and I were talking about it and this is how we came up with it: I’m in broadcasting right now and when I was younger, it was really hard for me particularly to feel beautiful. There was quite a lot of racism that I had to go through as well. Even though I grew up in a very multicultural community, I didn’t feel beautiful at all. I think we noticed just recently there are more things, people are more accepting of other races and that’s how the film started off and why it’s so dear to my heart. Only just recently did I even feel beautiful. It was almost cathartic for me to do this piece because a lot of myself is within it.”
RISE AND STRUGGLE: HIP HOP IN CALGARY
Three people from different backgrounds talk about the hip-hop scene in Calgary.
“I interviewed three different people under one record label,” says Artola. “The three of them are friends. They’re all from three different ethnic backgrounds and three different cities. The story they’re telling us is how their experience has been in Calgary and seeing the hip-hop scene because they’re all rappers-not just rappers, but they’re producers, promoters and they own their own record labels. It’s basically the experience coming into Calgary, how they saw the hip-hop scene when they first came, where they feel it is right now and where they feel it’s going to be taken in the future. It’s set in threes, but we get three different perspectives. We get a fourth perspective and that’s mine. I’m from a different ethnic background than they are and a different city than they are, so I have my own story to tell.”
FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT
A personal journey through the world of drug addiction and treatment.
“It just came naturally. It wasn’t hard to finish, because it’s a story I wanted to express in this medium,” says Mazumdar. “I didn’t want to think about it too much and just get it out there. The short format was perfect in a way, to sort of explore the topic without having too much pressure on me. There’s so many factors to it, so I didn’t want to necessarily be stressed out by making some long documentary-which was my goal initially-but it gave me enough room to explore it and see where it could go if I decide to do a longer one later. It’s been seven years since I actually experienced what I’m talking about on the doc, but it was therapeutic in a way because it made me see things in a different light. I have a different perspective now and the experience no longer defines me, but it was still interesting to work with. I feel like I actually got something out there that’s actually important for my life. It’s not just a project. Hopefully it’ll actually help someone, reach some kind of demographic that could benefit from it.”
An exploration of how four teenage girls feel about beauty messages in the media.
“Basically it talks to four girls and we talk about what their definitions of beauty are and also get some insight from a woman who works with teenage girls and talks about some of the challenges of dealing with these typically negative beauty messages,” says Kinnie. “That you have to be a certain size to be beautiful and that we always have to be always working towards that ideal of beauty that’s presented on TV and magazines and in movies. Having grown up in that media-saturated culture and I have a teenage sister who’s going through that. I just thought it was very interesting. The main reason I did it is that I didn’t feel like there were any documentaries on the topic that were designed to appeal to teenage girls. Typically, things that are made on this topic are lots of counselors or parents talking about it and it’s not something that girls themselves would watch. So this is designed to be very music-driven and very fast-paced. It’s just a quick piece that kind of confirms and reaffirms that these beauty messages aren’t necessarily things you should be taking to heart.”