THE ALIENS premiere in Toronto at Coal Mine Theatre

We opened our fourth season with Pullitzer-Prize winning playwright, Annie Baker. THE ALIENS held it's Toronto premiere at the best theatre in town, Coal Mine

JASPER | Noah Reid (Schitt's Creek

KJ | William Greenblatt (Even Steven's

EVAN | Maxwell Haynes (Toronto debut)



Having read the reviews before watching the production on stage, I realized I was preparing myself for all those moments the critics reported: silences, the feelings of loss, frustrating unrealized potential, the perfect play for millennial misfits, etc.

What I didn't expect was the tears. I was barely able to clap and woot at the end, so much was I chocking on emotions that Annie Baker brought out through sparse dialogue.

I hand it to Mitchell Cushman. The direction was unbelievable. You (audience) are in the back of this cafe for the whole two hours and the world feels so much larger than it really is. We were seeing this "space space" the way Kevin Janos (KJ) and Jasper saw it. 

Here are my thoughts as to why Annie Baker is pure genius - the kind Jasper and Kevin talk about.


We find out in one conversation early on that "The Aliens" was a proposed band title for KJ and Jasper. Jasper said he thought it was lame. Near the end, though, KJ lists off the band names once more, stopping at "The Aliens." We then understand the relevance of the name and how it resonated with KJ. He never says this, but we get it. This is the name he holds dear to his heart.


This is a big theme running throughout the entire show. Jasper never goes off to college but is an aspiring author; Nor does he know KJ in high school. They meet after KJ drops out of college first year and have been together ever since. There blossoming friendship seems to be founded on silences, hearty "bro" statements, and an inability to express any sort of emotion outside of anger and excitement. They are two passionate people. 



Would I read Jasper's novel? YES. What was so interesting is how Jasper chose to reveal parts of his own personal past through his fictional main character (a character without a name). For example, when Jasper found out his ex was dating a new person named Sprocket, he transforms his rage and feelings into hard work, producing "20 pages." The end result is that his once placid and content character decides to become nomadic and move away. We can only imagine that had Jasper remained alive, he and KJ would have planned the same road trip and been thoroughly disappointed with what they saw in America. 

Evan's poignantly shy and awkward comments also factor into Jasper's work. After admitting he doesn't celebrate the Fourth of July because it's weird to "sit in a football field and watch things explode in the sky," Evan blurts out that he hates America. Jasper looks at Evan - maybe even for the first time - seeing something more than a loner teen working at a coffee shop. 

Perhaps this is the bitterness evoked in Jasper's main character after arriving in California and realizing it all looks "the same" as the rest of America. "Was Miller lying? Is he curled up underneath some billboard writing this shit with the drive in movie theatre offering a dim light?"


What really struck me a few days after thinking about the production is how Annie Baker sets up Evan to take over Jasper's place. There were three important moments in which this became apparent: 

  1. At the beginning during an early conversation in which KJ talks about what their friends are doing, he mentions one guy - Jasper's weed dealer - who now lives on a wind farm. Jasper asks, "how does he live on a wind farm?" Later in the production, two weeks after Jasper's funeral, KJ brings up the wind farm as a potential destination for him. And Evan replies, "how do you live on a wind farm?" 
  2. After KJ storms off to the other side of the cafe, Jasper continues to belittle him - playfully - and talks about KJ's mental breakdown. We at this point begin to see KJ's character unfolding and get a glimpse into how he has coped with a mental illness. Jasper said KJ would walk towards people on the street and go "zip" to their face while touching their forehead gently. Like a baptism of sorts, KJ also does this to Evan after Jasper passes. He asks Evan to kneel. Evan respects the process and allows KJ the dignity of committing this act. 
  3. Jasper sees Evan as a potential protegee - asking him if he smokes and if he writes poetry. Evan says occasionally - and coughs after inhaling. And he says he writes occasionally but comes full circle and says no, he doesn't write. In the final scene, KJ notices Evan smoking and asks him if he is addicted. Evan's response is, "yes. Well hopefully." 

Further to these, we see Evan beginning a potential relationship with a CIT he met at "band camp" - Nicole - and we can only assume Evan's timid and shy behavior will lead him to be a good and loyal boyfriend. We also hope Nicole is a good person too. 

The end offers us a glimmer of hope. KJ tells Evan he "loves him." Evan allows KJ to cry and to express emotions outside of anger - something KJ was not able to do with Jasper. KJ even tells Evan, "it's okay if you don't know how to cry." Evan later apologizes for running away from KJ after finding out about Jasper's overdose. These two moments of human affection give us hope that their blossoming friendship might allow for greater emotional connections - the type KJ needs and Evan is able to offer.


There are three mothers that factor a lot in this work:



  • Jasper's mom who died when he was 15 years old - this we find out when he is reading a part of his novel and the main character loses his mom at age 15
  • KJ's mom - the eccentric new age woman that Jasper is keen to mention whenever he can,
  • Evan's loving mother that contradicts him over the phone about what to eat for dinner

We don't know much other than Jasper lost his mother. KJ at first says that that part in the novel seems too fabricate or obvious; at which point Jasper opens up and admits, "my mom died when I was fifteen." 

I think the most heartfelt scene is at the end, when KJ tells Evan the story about "ladder." When KJ is unable to stop saying ladder his mom holds his hand and says, "you can say it as much as you like. I'm going to sit here and hold your hand with you." We feel for KJ. He clearly has a bright mind - having gone to school for math and philosophy. But there are so many other underlying issues that he may never have received proper support for. The sadness he feels at the moment is described in relation to his thesis: the logic charts,  if p then q. This becomes his way of explaining this issue to Evan.

Moments before, Evan's mother had called to ask when he would be home for dinner and if he would prefer "carrots or asparagus." Evan seems annoyed by this question, but all of this is trivial in comparison to KJ's recent remark, "I want to kill myself." Evan doesn't leave him and stays to talk and listen. They bond over stories about their mothers.


There is so much more you can say about this production. I'll leave that to the other critics. All I can say is that it just really affects you. It's tough to verbalize in a way, so strong do you feel near the end. My heart goes out to KJ and Jasper and Evan. And my heart goes out to Noah, William and Maxwell for giving each of their characters respect and dignity.

Stay connected to the Coal Mine Theater for the rest of the fourth season: subscribe here.

Thank you Coal Mine for continuing to challenge your audiences with relevant and insightful subject matter.

- Jennifer

Script Reading with Friends - Round One!

After five years of research and keeping the idea to myself, I finally got up the courage to share my drama scripted series with my group of friends.



KYLE reading descriptions | PHOTO BY RYAN COULDREY

KYLE reading descriptions | PHOTO BY RYAN COULDREY

I am so fortunate enough to have these people in my life who, even if shy or semi unwilling, brought my words to life!





I got to hear voices associated to what had been, up until this point, figments of my imagination that remained firmly in my head.



It was shocking, gratifying, and extremely rewarding! I couldn't have asked for a better group!



Thank you.

- Jenn

Coal Mine Theatre - Working with the Best

It's been two years since my journey with Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto's hottest rising east-end theatre company (in my humble opinion).

... Actually STAGE DOOR, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, and NOW MAGAZINE (NNNN) agree with my opinion too!

Chief Engineers Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra have been SO open, patient, and kind and I feel very blessed to be a part of such an inspiring team.



You know how they (who is they?) say to place yourself around successful people who are doing innovative things? Well that is how I feel each and every day I get to work alongside the entire creative and artistic team.



After completing the website, Diana and I bonded over SM discussions and coffee! We began working on Twitter and Facebook, and saw a 73% increase over a year and a half!



We even ventured into producing video content this year and it was a pleasure to put together short vignettes about the BREATHING CORPSES cast.

We tried our very first holiday themed show and it was a blast. Louise Pitre and Kenneth Welsh on stage. Sweet melodious music mixed with a live reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales."







We are half way through Season Three, and I couldn't be more excited to be a part of the team that is putting on the Canadian premiere of SUPERIOR DONUTS. Tracy Letts, the wondrously talented writer (August: Osage County, and KILLER JOE)



We close this season with what Diana likes to call, "our dark horse." - ORPHANS. We were at Evergreen Brickworks this past weekend shooting out on the train tracks. Actually let me rephrase. I was safely on firm ground while the cast and photographer, Shaun, were out on the train tracks.





Tickets are selling fast for the final two shows! If you like innovative, challenging, modern, and enticing art, Coal Mine is for you. If you like sheer entertainment - you have come to the right place!

Nominated for DORA awards three years running, I very much look forward to moving up and beyond in our next season of work!

- Jenn

A Morning with Brett Story - Hot Docs Filmmakers Series

What a way to end the Hot Docs Filmmakers Series with Brett Story. Linda Barnard, as majestic as always, led the discussion on our final week together. Director of LAND OF DESTINY and A PRISON IN 12 LANDSCAPES.

Brett Story. Where do I begin? Brett proves that hard work, determination, and willpower are enough to produce the awe-inspiring and lyrical documentaries that she has been able to create in such a short period of time.

"I started in public radio," she said, admitting that film school was always in the back of her mind but never became a reality. And what might surprise you is that she admitted that there was never a gender distinction at the radio. Everyone was encouraged to learn the technology and master each skill. She honed in on her recording, editing, and interviewing skills here.

She later pursued a PhD in Geography, which she said really contributed to her ability to research and fund her projects!

"My greatest asset (or at least I think so) is that I am a listener." Brett insists on letting the interview flow organically, making sure the subject is comfortable and the people around him or her are okay with her filming. 

What she learned early in the career is that cinema is a language that is more than just interview.

And Brett Story not only talks the talk, but walks it too! In a short clip from A PRISON IN 12 LANDSCAPES that was played during the session, this was beautiful evident. A man who was released from prison plays chess in Washington Park for money. The scene opens with a wide establishing shot of the older man playing a younger boy. The next shot is a medium close-up, focusing on the quick action on the chess board. Then a cut to what could have been a jarring shot of the subjects face up-close, talking about his life. Then two quick cuts of the subjects face and the boys face as they concentrate and continue to play the game.

Why is this so brilliant and lyrical? Shot choice, patience, and pacing. These three things that take people years to learn and master are evident in this young woman's early films (#BossLady). What this scene does is set the mood, concentrates on the action, and then asks WHY. So what? We see that the game of chess is a fast paced mental game - which is why the final shots rest on the faces and not the chess board itself. The extreme close-up would not work for many other filmmakers. It is quite jarring. But makes sense in this vignette. We get to see into the soul of this man and it feels so intimate that for a split second we are there in Washington Park. That is the so what - connecting with someone that has been labelled in society as a "criminal". We look past the label and see!

Linda Barnard said that "Brett Story is socially engaged, but visually driven."

Brett truly captures what I think people tend to forget: documentary is an art! There is a poetic non-linear aspect to her work that allows her to see the big ideas and focus on minute details. She isn't afraid to offer sequences that are associative. It just means that the audience is invited to make connections themselves.

And her role is to allow people to enter into a space at different angles. 

"That is the beauty for me. The afterlife of a documentary." - Brett Story.

She said,

"it isn't enough to have two ideas, you need a third. For something to become a piece of cinema it needs part three."

Brett Story sought out a female cinematographer for 12 LANDSCAPES because she needed someone who was patient, quiet, and a good listener. While many cinematographers who are male possess those qualities, she said she had a few bad experiences and had her authority as director challenged too much.

The take away, especially in documentary, is that you have to surround yourself with people who believe in what you are doing. 

A truly inspiring lady that made me want to get up and push and work even harder! Thank you Hot Docs, Linda Barnard, and Brett for a wonderful morning together!

- Jenn

A Morning with Rama Rau - Hot Docs Filmmaker Series

Hot Docs, you are spoiling me WAY too much. Patricia Rozema - Alethea Arnaquq-Baril - Christina Jennings - and now Rama Rau!


Hearing her talk was electrifying. She was honest, decisive, and human like the rest of us struggling filmmakers.

"You get as much as you put into a film" - she said.

I'd never thought of it that way, but it makes total sense. As a filmmaker you have to find a balance between keeping distance from your story and also being passionate about it.

My favourite thing Rama said is that their is "no manual." And THAT'S something they don't teach you in film school. Each story demands a different kind of treatment.

What's her secret? Rama admitted that they way she is able to get so close with her subjects and foster a trusting relationship is by giving half herself. This is the part where she mixes her passion and distance together. She said, "it isn't about money. It's just what I am genuinely interested in doing."

Then she laughed and said to all us filmmakers in the audience, "honestly if you can do something else, do it..."

How does she connect with a story? This part was my favourite. She said, "the story puts a hook in me and pulls me. I want to do this for the audience."

She really emphasizes this back and forth energy that is transferring between her and the subjects and then her and the audience. It was never about "me". It was always WE.

Part of making a successful film is making the themes universal. You have to first ask yourself, is there one specific thing in my story that I can make speak to people?

Finally, the honesty came out. She talked about being a women, being brown, and being a director. Her first look into the film industry was being on Bollywood sets in Mumbai. She said you really have to act like a man to be respected (unfortunately). Coming to Canada, though, afforded her the opportunity to tell the kind of stories she was longing for: those with female protagonists.

"You learn failure."

That is one lesson I will carry with me moving forward in my own career. Thank you again Hot Docs for bringing this inspiring bad ass woman to the theatre for a talk.

If I had known about Patricia, Alethea, Christina, or Rama growing up, I think I would have jumped at being a filmmaker much quicker. Four amazing role models, successful in their own way.

Looking forward to all of their amazing next projects!

- Jenn

A Morning with Patricia Rozema - Hot Docs Filmmakers Series

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction to a new and amazing filmmakers series at Hot Docs. She was most excited to see Patricia Rozema, and I instantly signed up - feeling her excitement and mine grow! The series is moderated by Linda Barnard, a journalist / writer who previously championed another series focusing on gender. 

Meeting and hearing Patricia Rozema was like eating a perfectly cooked Creme Brulee. Everything she said was liquid gold. She was eloquent, spicy, and just a bit fantastic.

Patricia shared her philosophies as a director and I was so inspired by her wisdom:


"art defines the human condition. So far, we have only defined the male condition" 
"there has to be intent behind the images"
 "I want to make people feel less alone. That's what drives me"

In discussing I'VE HEARD THE MERMAIDS SINGING, Linda asked Patricia how she came to write about the main character as she was so real and relatable. Was this person real and drawn from her own experiences?

Patricia answered that "character is story. If you know them, you know what they will do." This is how she wrote about Polly. "I knew she was out of fashion, and took the street car and liked film." BUT Patricia didn't want the film to be too self-reflexive (a film about a filmmaker making film) - so Polly became a photographer, and had Walter-Mitty-esque experiences through developing the negatives of the each photo.


One of the most compelling aspects of a Rozema film is the music. The dynamism in INTO THE FOREST coupled with the growing anxiety and Eva's dance practice to a metronome creates a sensual and gripping experience for the audience.

"people underestimate how powerful music is"
"it is important to find the right level of vibration with your composer"
"music is the art at which all other arts aspire"


Patricia shared insightful tips about story and arc. She said, "fiction is always examining morality." There is a tension and release - which she believes is the key principle of beauty. The tightness and expansiveness of breath. Finally, the choices the characters make are always moral

To find the heart of the story, you have to understand the push and pull in the universe. There is art even in the things that are not seen.

Patricia concluded with a wonderful thought, that the best images are the ones that are written. Coming from such a talented scriptwriter and director, I was truly inspired by this amazing Canadian filmmaker! Until the next series...

- Jenn

At Shutter Speed - So Far This Year

As TIFF is coming around the corner, I had a moment to reflect this morning about my year. I looked back on all the wonderful people I have had a chance to work with and some truly outstanding projects. These I shall relate to you in a JAMES JOYCE rambling sort of way. Apologies:

My year started off with a bang, and I was able to work with a dedicated team to produce a local award show that honoured ingenuity and entrepreneurialism in Canada.


Working with a truly creative team at SPIN MASTER and maintaining a connection with my favourite creative director of all time, MIKE ARNOTT, and all my friends (cough cough Rachel, Dave and Sylvia).


Next came a GINUWINE concert at The Danforth Music Hall. I met two ambitious and hard working producers from IMPOSSIBLE Productions and we nailed it. Literally!






I have also been working closely with two talented producers / directors to help them create documentary promos that aid with outreach and funding initiatives.


OH, and of course working with the best team ever at Hot Docs 2016 this past year was a journey I shall never forget! I got to see 15 docs and met a wealth of talented people. If you can, go see: HOLY HELL, LEAGUE OF EXOTIQUE DANCERS, UNDER THE SUN, and MR GAGA.

ME | HOT DOCS 2016

ME | HOT DOCS 2016




Working with an amazing group to produce a short film! We filmed at a local shop called Tatyana's Boutique and braved the five degree Canadian weather (it was a piece of cake, eh?). Looking forward to seeing the final results!





I am currently partnering with an outstanding team who will be producing videos for The Toronto Symphony Orchestra. All 24 concerts, and here we come!




Just a week ago I got to spend an entire evening with the most inspiring and wonderful group of women. SHELLEY SAYWELL (Emmy nominated director), Deborah Parks (outstanding producer), Mary-Ann Bedard (City of Toronto, and the most heartfelt person), Jackie Garrow (Impact Producer, and mother of two), and Jean Stevenson (Maddison House, and the life of the party). 

We talked about everything under the sun, unrestrained. I felt as if I were in some secret society and club in which we wile away our time drinking wine and talking philosophical jargon. 


I was invited back to work with the team at The Coal Mine this season and AHHHH it has already be crazy and fun and amazing. Looking forward to some rock'n'roll theatre on The Danforth!



AND, if that isn't enough, I have been so honoured and involved with The MUFF Society for 2 years and now will be spearheading out Documentary Series called HER-STORY and oh my, I cannot wait to tell you the line up of amazing female documentarians we have in store for you Toronto!

I haven't even begun to process just how blessed I feel.

I must close with a final note. My mind is overwhelmed in the best way possible and my heart is ready to burst. Thank you thank you thank you to all the people who have made my life amazing this past year.

- Jenn

A Night with Ann Shin and Gerry Flahive - DOC Masters Series Class

As a DOC member now for the second year running, I am continually thrilled at the level of professional programming that they offer. From hands on courses to talks with local talent, it is always a pleasure to get together with people in the documentary community and hear success stories.


This time, I had the pleasure to hear from Ann Shin, a Torontonian and extremely talented filmmaker, and moderator Gerry Flahive, a top producer involved with NFB projects.

Gerry led the conversation for the evening discussing all the available platforms that are available to filmmakers today. Ann Shin says the best way to determine how to tell the story starts with understanding the story itself: the "WHY" factor. Determining the heart of the story and then working outwards.

"I want to move people" - Ann Shin says to the crowd.

Ann Shin has a background in literature and has published poetry of her own. Poetry helps her distill emotion, she says, which perhaps offers her a unique lens to see story through.

Once you have determined the heart of the story, you can decide on the medium: a documentary is a cinematic story / interpretation of an event. An interactive project (VR) asks one question, usually one part of a story, and forces the viewer to feel in that moment what the subjects feel. Then it asks them to make a choice. The interactive should solve the question. A game or website can be a companion to the feature length doc or it can stand on its own today. HIGH RISE is a great example of a web documentary that stands on its own, offering the viewer a different experience and non-linear story line. 

Ann described this process of deciding on a medium in scientific terms: "pretend a story is like a liquid. You can pour the liquid into an mould (medium) and the shape will always be different." 

Ann much prefers a cinematic approach to her storytelling versus relying solely on verite (a journalistic approach). Verite will not always capture emotion and it is impossible to always be where the action is. At that point you have to question: okay how do I tell the story now?

In regards to her short film, My Enemy, My Brother, the story about how this film came together is very interesting. It wasn't always planned as a short. In fact, Ann pitched it as a feature length doc but no one budged with funding. Then her producer asked her to apply to BRAVO fact, which had a 15 minute limit. This forced her to pick what was truly important in her story. It was introduced at a few festivals and simply went viral. It screened at Tribeca, SWSX, and many others. Ann realized how potent a short form was on its own. It was shortlisted to win an Oscar!

The story doesn't end here, Ann has continued to find ways of telling the story through a documentary web series. She has also re-written her feature length documentary, realizing how the story has changed and even strengthened over time. 

Ann and Gerry talk about some of the current dilemmas with new technology, the "need to producer across all platforms" for every project. 

Again they both suggest that you have to consider four main areas when converting an idea into  a project:

  1. what's at the heart?
  2. who is the audience?
    1. bridges personal motivation with the world
  3. who will support and fund the project?
    1. support: broadcaster
    2. fund: financial, helps realize the project
  4. how will it be marketed?
    1. what is relevant?
    2. be active
    3. using SM to build audience

Gerry also points out that it is imperative to dig deep into research,

"find your storytelling prism."

Part of the creative process is understanding how to measure success. With interactive, it is about understanding that people will spend no more than 5 minutes at a time online. That is why it is important in the creation process to understand how to tell the story that encourages people to continue coming back. With a web series, each episode has to be written and edited with a cliffhanger, encouraging people to stay tuned and watch next week's episode. Part of creating that success is having a good community manager (online / social media). A documentary film has to elicit empathy in the viewer, and can be enjoyed / viewed all at once.

The night was wonderful, both Gerry and Ann were wonderful speakers and excellent creators in their own right.

Until the next master series class

- Jenn

National Canadian Film Day & Hot Docs

What a crazy four months it has been for me and At Shutter Speed. It is officially the new year for my blog, but I am already a third of the way through the year. So happy 1/3 third of the new year!!

I think it is the perfect day to blog because tomorrow is National Canadian Film Day and next week Hot Docs International Film Festival begins.


If you are an avid movie goer, a film bluff, or a patriotic Canadian, then this day is meant for you!

What is this day you ask? All across Canada, theatres in select cities are screening only Canadian Film. Most screenings are free too!


Here are some in my hometown, Toronto, that I am most excited for:

  1. The Grand Seduction | CBC Atrium | April 20th | 7PM
  2. Ginger Snaps | Fox Theatre | April 20th | 7PM
  3. Corner Gas: The Movie | Brentwood Library | April 20th | 2PM
  4. Dr. Cabbie | York Memorial CI | April 20th | 9AM



North America's largest international documentary film festival is just around the corner and I could not be more excited.

Last year, I was able to watch 22 films (on top of working and attending all the parties and networking events). PHEW.

This year, I've been fortune enough to take advantage of film screeners, and will be telling you some of my festival favourites.

  1. How to Build a Time Machine | dir. Jay Cheel
  2. Holy Hell | dir. Will Allen
  3. Girls Don't Fly | dir. Monika Grassl
  4. Under the Sun | dir. Vitaly Mansky

Jay Cheel takes us on an extraordinary adventure between two characters obsessed with "time travel". One drawing inspiration from H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine, while the other, a professor of mathematics, wanting to find an equation that solves time travel.

Holy Hell is exactly as it sounds. Filmmaker Will Allen joins The Budhist Society in California with a hundred other members. What starts as an ideal retreat and community focused group turns into a nightmare. Watch as the leader of the group destroys each persons life in his own masochistic pursuits of an ideal society.

Girls Don't Fly drew my attention initially because of the title. I said to myself, what do you mean girls don't fly... of course we do. In a small Ghanaian town, a group of determined and strong willed young women attend a local flying academy. Their dreams of a better future for themselves and their families seem distant and far away, and they endure verbal abuse from the director of the academy. He is a British imperialist with archaic views of Ghanaian culture. At the heart of this sad story is white colonialism taking place today. Will the women prevail over the male white power? Watch and see!

Under the Sun is one of the most clever documentaries I have ever seen. Fighting strict filming limitations, the North Korean government and its control over the image, director Vitaly Mansky tells us a story and asks us to read in between the lines. In this case, I mean that he shows us footage in between each take - before the government official yells "ACTION". "WAIT," you say, "action?" "Is this not reality, is this not a documentary showing truth?" Truth for us is recognizing the lie in each scripted and practiced dramatizations. The government attempts to show us an ideal family through the perspective of an eight year old girl. However, there is nothing ideal about the situation or family or work environments. The horror unfolds and the pressure reaches its peak at the end, when the little girl is unable to contain her tears. We are left hearing the final words of the government official regulating the shoot, "tell her to stop crying. Think of something happy."

What am I most excited for? 

  1. Ovarian Psychos
  2. Mr. Gaga
  3. Ants on a Shrimp
  4. Sour Grapes
  5. Apology
  6. League of Exotique Dancers

The list really does go on but I had to hold back for the sake of making this a relatively short blog.


There is so much film action going on in Toronto this month. I hope you have the chance to go out and share in the success of all our great Canadian filmmakers!

- Jenn

A Day with Ricardo Acosta

Two weekends ago I had the privilege to spend the day with a small group of editors and Ricardo Acosta.

Ricardo Acosta was born in Cuba and moved to Canada to pursue his passions for storytelling and art.

"I was born into an ideology and punished by an ideology" - Ricardo

He is one of the few who are born with the gift of storytelling. He shared detailed philosophies with us and screened his feature length documentary, Marmato.


"Every story at the beginning is a beautiful Pandora's Box" - Ricardo

The biggest lesson he said all editors need to understand is the power of an event. Looking at the macro details, and figuring out how to deal with that event in context. Further, then understanding how the events affect the bigger picture.

Marmato is a great example of a team that is both creatively and technically strong. Mark Grieco, the DOP, is passionate, patient, and dedicated to immersing himself in the culture of the people he is capturing in order to do justice to the story. Mark took time to understand the rituals of the people before he turned the camera on.

In one instance, Ricardo stated that Mark stood for 10 hours straight capturing a meeting with the miners and corporate company taking over the mountain. This made Ricardo's life as an editor much easier because the footage contained a certain richness.


Editing is invisible. The audience does not understand how a movie is affecting them, but they feel something emotionally. The emotion conveyed from the edit moves them through the story. The technique behind creating this effect comes with patience. Ricardo recalled one time when his friend visited and took a look at the timeline: "This is neurotic, where are the shots?" Ricardo laughed and did a sweeping motion with his hand: "here!"

After consulting with the director on story, it is time to determine characters and imagery to support transitions. When you are creating character profiles in documentary editing, it is important to treat each person with respect. 

"I am not a judge, I am a facilitator" - Ricardo

This type of editing creates a full story, untampered with strong opinion and empowers the viewer to make choices about the situation. 

Editing is about finding poetry. Ricardo used a lot of imagery as transitions in Marmato to convey mood and prepare the viewer for the next chain of events. The figure of Jesus in the clouds stands in stark contrast to the vultures on a tin roof spraying out their wings. This, he calls, is the power of identifying metaphor. Assign images a role and keep this consistent throughout. Remember the goal is to keep the seems invisible.

Have fun with the footage, enhance it if it supports the story: "I'm not against anything if it feels right!" - Ricardo. The power of impressionistic montage to deliver emotion is one technique Ricardo uses.

"create embroidery in between scene" - Ricardo

Some story issues can only be embraced by text. Others, music. Sound mixing is the last ritual of editing. 

"Sound is what is happening outside the frame. That is its three dimensional quality. I have to feel how a story sounds." - Ricardo

The class finished with some final powerful words. Ricardo insisted that everything is drama, everything is life! You have to build something from the inside out. Never dilute the power of your tools!

A truly wonderful and gifted individual. Ricardo is a philosopher, a mover of emotions and words, a storyteller, and a editor to look to. Thank you CCE for allowing us to take this seminar.

- Jenn

Female Film Crush | Angela Barnhardt Thomas

One of the many people I got to spend time with at TIFF 2015 this year was a woman named Angela Barnhardt Thomas.

Angela Barnhardt Thomas and Me at TIFF 2015

She is the producer of Waiting for Mamu (2013), a doc that travelled world wide to raise money for Mamu's school.

Social issues docs have the power to educate, demystify, and bring awareness to an otherwise ignorant viewer. This doc has since successfully raised over 1 million dollars.


This is the power of cinema! And it is achievable when hard working / passionate people like Angela are a part of the team. 

Being fairly new to the industry and using TIFF as a platform to meet with established film professionals, I was blown away at how approachable and knowledgable Angela was. Not only did she patiently answer all my questions, but she even made script suggestions and helped me understand the industry better.

It was a true pleasure attending TIFF programming with her and we were able to discuss a variety of topics on break. Angela and I also talked about her current project, a doc about Charles James, and I am so thrilled to see that subject bloom into a feature length video.

Click HERE for more info from the MET exhibit from 2014.

Sometimes it is about these chance meetings in life that really provide us the support and inspiration we need to be successful. And it is the people we surround ourselves with that help us define who we are and where we are headed.

I am happy to call Angela a friend and look forward to future meetings together. NYC here I come!

- Jenn

Leslie Headland on Directing: Female Directors ARE Cool

Today I was looking through my subscriptions online, TIFF / MUFF / DOC / WIFT / CCE / Criterion Collection. I love getting e-newsletters.

In the MUFF letter, particularly, I came across an article in The Times, about Women Directors

The article was laid out beautifully, with portrait photography on a clean white backdrop of many Hollywood directors who are indeed women. The writing is clear, concise, and positive. It is not about condemning society or men for that matter, it is about recognizing the gap and bridging it through discussion, recognition, and change. We have to be the change to see the change!

Here is my favourite part:

"Leslye Headland is a 34-year-old writer and director who was in the same 2012 Sundance class as Trevorrow, with the movie version of her scorching Off Broadway play, ‘‘Bachelorette.’’ She bristles with ambition to do everything he is doing. Sitting in a red leather banquette at the Monkey Bar in New York, Headland told me she wants to be a Martin Scorsese, and ‘‘not just the female Martin Scorsese.’’ She wants to direct a James Bond movie, ‘‘even if I have to marry someone to get British citizenship.’’ She wants to make films in which women behave badly and are not held to a higher moral standard or seen as ‘‘less than.’’ She wants to look cool in magazine pictures so that ‘‘little girls will put female filmmakers on their Pinterest boards.’’ (Maureen Dowd, Nov. 20th, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

Can you imagine a society where a women in a power position is COOL. Man, I am on cloud 9 right now just thinking about it.

I shall end this with shock value, here re the blaring stats:

"In both 2013 and 2014, women were only 1.9 percent of the directors for the 100 top-grossing films. Excluding their art-house divisions, the six major studios released only three movies last year with a female director." (Maureen Dowd, Nov. 20th, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

Let's start championing directors equally. Not because they are men and not because they are women. But equally. By talent. Then we are levelling the playing field and creating a society that values success over gender. Film for thought!

- Jenn

Women in Post Panel | CCE & DGC & CFC at The Gladstone Hotel

This past Thursday I attended a panel discussion at The Gladstone Hotel. Hosted by the CCE, with the DGC and CFC as friendly supporters, this event invited five talented women on stage for a discussion about women in post-production roles. Here is the panel

Sandy Pereira (assistant editor, editor, Toronto)

  • Works with David Cronenberg

Gillian Truster (editor, Toronto)

  • Degrassi | The Next Generation (TV), Orphan Black (TV)

Michele Hozer (editor, producer, director, Toronto)

  • edited over 50 docs, Hot Docs premiere of Sugar Coated (2015)

Susan Shipton (editor, Toronto)

Jane Tattersall (sound designer, Toronto)

  • won over 60 awards for sound design
  • works with Deepa Mehta
  • Vikings (TV)

The moderator for the evening, Marla, has 20 years experience in the industry. She is a passionate woman who lead an interesting and evoking conversation about success in the post-production world.

"If you want to get something different, you have to do something different" - Marla

Each women in the panel came from a different background, but agreed on several topics of interest. The first was that early on in your career, there is a large amount of luck that plays into knowing people and having the confidence to put yourself forward for work.

"Getting a job is a campaign" - laughed Gillian.

She waited two months to hear back from Temple Street Productions before she was asked to be an editor on Orphan Black.

Sandy discussed the merits of starting at the bottom. Most of the women in the panel created short films in school and PA'd on set before they settled into their role. All agreed how important mentorship is and how difficult it is sometimes as a women to find someone who "hires" women. Gillian finds this very backwards as she believes the greater the diversity in the editing room, therefore the better the work. 

"I hate wasted potential" - Gillian

No one should be judged for their gender, age, sexual orientation, or culture.

"I hate wasted potential" - Gillian.

Susan was adamant that people should be judged based on their skill and to refrain from marketing yourself as a good "female" editor. You are an editor. As soon as we point out our gender, it is easier for the world to point it out too.

"Work hard, be creative, smart, and you will overcome obstacles" - Susan.

Marla brought up some alarming stats in Canada, wherein 17% of the film industry are female editors, 4% cinematographers, and 25% producers. Yet women make up 50% of the population.

Another point of discussion was surround assistant editing vs. editing. Everyone was quick to agree that assistant editors play an ENORMOUS role in the editing room. Michele particularly said she always has an assistant editor helping her edit the docs. You can't do it by yourself. You need a team to bounce ideas off of to create a fluid and organic storyline. Question each other and the storyline to strengthen it.

"a documentary editor is the filmmaker in the editing room" - Michele.

Editors in the DOC industry have greater creative input.

The conversation ended by talking about possible ways to get more women involved in post. Jane mentioned that when the industry switched over to digital, more young males who were computer savvy jumped on board, leaving women far behind and not trained for the new landscape. Jane regrets that she knows so few women sound designers and mixers. 

Women in Post | CCE | The Gladstone Hotel | Toronto | 2015

Women in Post | CCE | The Gladstone Hotel | Toronto | 2015

Michele and Gillian both suggested that you make obstacles work for you. If you are interested in having a family, but are worried about the hours and time commitments post-production requires, you confidently set your hours with the producer. Explain why you need to be home between 5-8 every night and that you are willing to return to the editing room after you have settled with your family. This creates a standard system that others can understand and makes your life, career, and family happy by eliminating stress of always missing out on the personal side of life.

"What people really want from an editor is a point of view" - Sandy.
"No one will take your career as seriously as you will. [Prove your] tenacity and staying power" - Gillian.

If there are more women in higher positions, then more women feel confident applying to positions underneath and more women are inevitably hired. It is a cycle that needs to be standardized without making it obvious that it is a gender thing. All people deserve equal opportunity.

Michele ended the discussion powerfully by saying, "talk loudly. Take our space" as creators and post production experts in the film industry.

Truly a passionate and inspiring discussion! 

Back to the cutting room for me,

- Jenn

Coal Mine Theatre | The River in review

The theatre is a unique space. It plays out in real time, without editing or cutting to improve the narrative flow. Stuff can happen (Murphy's law), and you have to role with the punches.

The world can feel so large and yet so small at times. Here's what I mean. One of my favourite English professors from undergrad met up with a fellow classmate in Ottawa for a seminar talk. They conversed and he mentioned his daughter's and her partner's theatre company, Coal Mine Theatre, and their need to build a website before the new 2015 / 2016 season. And presto, through fate and good fortune, my name got thrown into the mix and I got to go on an amazing journey with Diana Bentley and Ted Dykstra this past summer.

Working with two graphic designers, Catherine Erkinger and Kostis Pedritis, the three of us constructed and fashioned a website that is simple, easy to navigate, and rich in colour.

What is Coal Mine Theatre? It is a company that produces off-off broadway plays. Very indie, with large name actors occupying intimate spaces and creating an experience like no other for the audience.

"If you sit in the front row of the Coal Mine’s tiny theatre, a storefront venue on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue, you’ll get a close-up view of Ferry as he nimbly beheads and eviscerates a glistening silver trout while an instrumental version of Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin plays wryly in the background." - The Globe and Mail

The 2015 / 2016 theatre season is comprised of four plays: The River, The Winter's Tale, Killer Joe, and Instructions (to any future socialist government proposing to abolish Christmas).

The 2015 / 2016 season at Coal Mine Theatre

I watched "The River" (Jez Butterworth) this past weekend and I was mesmerized. My partner and I were struck with the mystique, the open ended plot, the brilliant stage direction (ahem Ted Dykstra) and the intense emotion evoked by each actor on stage.

"Butterworth’s style easily moves between mundane exchanges and a heightened poetic prose." - Stage Door

Post City captures "the man" (David Ferry) in the narrative hauntingly beautiful, showcasing the intricate and detailed set design and the uncomfortable and open ended story.

Truly a work that will haunt me moving forward. I canno wait for the rest of the season.


This is an experience like no other!

- Jenn, an enthusiastic theatre goer!

COAL MINE facebook

COAL MINE twitter

An Hour with Jia Jhang-Ke | TIFF Festival 2015

One of my favourite directors coming out of undergrad was Jia Jhang-Ke. Having watched and written about The World (2000), I was fascinated by his ability to capture human emotion by isolating characters in digitally and architecturally distinct spaces. 

When I looked at the programming this year for the TIFF 2015, I was flabbergasted when I saw his name appear. I wooped for joy. Loudly.

Jia Jhang-Ke and Cameron Bailey at TIFF 2015, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto.

Jia was mesmerizing. Cameron Bailey was present to stir the conversation forward. Jia was calm, collected, and intelligent. He started by talking about his time in film school. China was changing socially, and people where struggling to understand themselves in this unsure environment. What really caught his attention is that people were NOT making films that reflected this movement.

Inspired by Hou Hao Hien (Chungking Express) and Vittorio Di Sica (Bicycle Thieves), Jia set out to capture a sense of beauty in realism. He described The Bicycle Thieves as

"[a film whose] visual moments are moving. [Moments we find] in every day life. [They are] both real and poetic." - Jia Jhang-Ke

They then discussed one of the major themes that runs through most of his films: alienation. Jia says that "loneliness is a big part of human nature." The Chinese culture before the social movement was group based. The shift to the individual is a strange moment. The struggle of the individual to create one's own self. The search for the self is often a lonely process.

This theme is captured in a very auteuristic style, if you will, one that we can see building over time in Jia's canon of films. Using mostly long takes, a certain sense of romanticism, and adding in fantasy / sci-fi elements to the story. With the advance of technology, devices are introduced into the narrative as a way to break up the plot. There is something futuristic about his films, poignantly heightened in The World. Not only do devices play a role in the internal plot, but also with the external world of the director. The advance of digital technology, Jia mentioned, is that he is able to achieve the look he wants with new equipment. The long take becomes economically viable.

The World (2004)

The World (2004)

Both the cinematographer, Nelson Lik-wai Yu, and Jia share the same desire to find beauty in everyday life. Having made every film together since 1998 and carrying this aesthetic forward.

Jia ended the conversation by saying that he and others have "responsibility as film artists." His focus is portraying change in people over time.

This is one experience that shall stay with me throughout life. Having heard him speak and being a long standing fan of his work, Jia's eye and directing sensibility stand top notch for me.

- Jenn

A Night with Jacob Tierney | Deanne Foley | Vic Sarin

After the 2015 DGC Awards Film Festival, TIFF hosted "Meet the Directors." This event featured three Canadian film directors: Jacob Tierney (Preggoland, 2014), Deanne Foley (Relative Happiness, 2014) and Vic Sarin (The Boy From Geita, 2014).

What delights me thoroughly at events such as this, is that they highlight Canadian talent, proving that we are indeed creative, strong, and innovative in the film industry.

Furthermore, when events ring FREE, industry people should flock to them... even if the Jays are in a playoff game.

What blows me away (still) with the three keynote speakers, is the diversity of talent on stage, and proving how creativity can play a major role in filming when the budget is small. Deane Foley admitted that they had 16 days to shoot the entire film.

I really felt attracted to each director in a different way. Jacob was at once personable, funny, and witty. Deanne was a major advocate for showing strong female characters in lead roles, and characters we don't normally see on screen. Vic Sarin was a WISE WISE man, offering philosophical advise that still resonates with me weeks later.

These are just a few of some of the words I heard:

"Gathering moments" in the editing room - Deanne Foley
"documentaries show, not tell" - Vic Sarin
"telling stories with unconventional female leads" - Deanne Foley
"documentary has to be as pure as possible. No narration. As is" - Vic Sarin
"I enjoy the journey of discovery. The idea has to grab me." - Vic Sarin
"each film takes me to a new place." - Vic Sarin

From dramedy, to strong female leads (who are flawed - yes, women ARE flawed too), to a powerful story, Canada sure seems to have it all.

Thank you DGC for organizing this event. I look forward to many more to come.

- Jenn


Angry Indian Goddesses: A Film for the Ages

Looking through the schedule before TIFF 2015, is daunting, to say the least. I found this pattern though when I read the descriptions and potentially checked out the trailer. If I felt some sort of connection to the story - like an energy coming off the page asking me to go to this screening - then it made my comprehensive agenda and I endeavoured to see it.

The greatest energy I received is from Pan Nalim's Angry Indian Goddesses (2015). A tale about a group of modern women in India all faced with issues of femininity. From gay marriage, to divorce, to being respected in the work place, being a mother, and finding happiness in life, this movie is truly packed to the brim.

"this is not a film, it is a platform of truths for various women" - Su (Sandhya Mridul), TIFF 2015

Within the first ten minutes, the whole theatre was shouting "YEAA" at the screen, as the girls fought back against gender stigmas and stood up for themselves in their daily lives. Onto my analysis:

1. This film took me to many places. A city, a rural and beautiful country side, a home, and an exciting night life. What struck me so much about this film is how modern it was. It did away with stereotypes and actually addressed real issues that are facing women today in India - not 50 years ago. There is a lack of male presence in this film, making the women strong protagonists on screen. Therefore this film took me through a truly unique and female perspective.

2. How did this film make me feel? WOW. I think the easier question is what emotion did I NOT feel. This was a rollercoaster ride. I was shouting for them, then I was feeling anxious for them, I was with them in the club dancing, and then I was vengeful and frankly sobbing by the end. These women, only bonded by their individual friendship with Frieda (Sarah Jane Dias), navigate their way through one wild week together on the coast of Goa. It is their friend's mysterious bachelorette party, of which, non of the women have seen her "fiance." The film is riddled with a powerful undercurrent, and it is electric. When the story takes a dark turn - and I mean stomach clenching, white knuckle, breathless turn - how do these women rectify the situation? How does the community stand together against bureaucracy, and how do we as audience members resolve the horrible events on screen? 

3. How did this film educated me? Well I learned a lot about women on the other side of the world who face very similar issues that women here in Canada face. There is pressure to marry and pressure to have a family. I also learned that women in India face completely different issues: issue of rape and how frequently it happens (one every minute of the day), pressures on women to stay home and be a mother versus having a career of their own too, arranged marriage, what it means to be successful / a failure, and finally that India has not made it legal for homosexuals to marry. All these issues, complex matters, were addressed cinematically and truthfully in the film. The actors on stage after said that most of the acting was in fact improvised and real emotions all the women felt during each scene. Sometimes the director would give each women individual different instructions and put them all together in the scene and film the one take. That take showed real emotions as the women and their characters navigate through a complex and cruel world. The end, however, showed me something truly powerful and emotional: when the whole community stood up together, collectively as one, they were standing up for a cause greater than their village. It is something the world as a whole needs to do to protect its people and offer everyone equal opportunity.

4. Was the film fun? OF COURSE! It was not always focused on serious social issues. There were exciting friendship moments and heart warming moments as the characters began to change and accept themselves, their surroundings, their situations, and the need for change. When Su discovers her daughters loneliness and talent for drawing, when Frieda rescues Lakshmi and hires her back, when Jo inspires Mad to continue her work and creates a viral video of her singing. Indeed, Jo's character transcends the entire film, living on after her cruel death. Her beauty, charm, and wisdom becomes something of an ideology. Something worth fighting for. Something worth killing for. It is here that the film is so brilliant and delivers such an intense and engaging life TRUTH.

5. The transformative experience is prevalent throughout the narrative. And again I return to Jo's character as the catalyst: she convinces Lakshmi to end her bitter vengeance against the killer of her brother and to live life to the fullest everyday without hate; the group of traditional friends accept Frieda's love and marriage to Nargis, a socialist and protester; Jo films Mad singing one night and posts the video on youtube. This turns out to be the biggest break ever for Mad and propels her once meagre singing career into the spotlight and what we can only assume as success: Jo shows Nu a different side to her daughter, bringing mother and daughter closer together and tightening their familial bond: Jo talks to Pammy about fulfilling her entrepreneurial dreams as a business owner, against her husband's wishes and family desires. What Jo proves is that one moment of positive enforcement, one conversation that is meaningful is enough to enact change. And this change is strengthened through community. Coming together as one to fight for a just cause.

"I hope society grows up, and society will be equal in all possible ways" - Lakshmi (Rajshri Deshpande)

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go see this film. You will not be left unfulfilled. It is truly a turn of the century film. A female centred cast, a cast riddled with improvisations and real emotions captured eloquently on camera, a film that discusses REAL social issues that need to be addressed now. There is no turning back after seeing Angry Indian Goddesses.

"it was just us laid bare" - Mad (Anushka Manchanda)



The Strand: TIFF review

FACEBOOK: Angry Indian Goddesses

OFFICIAL TIFF FESTIVAL: Angry Indian Goddesses

- Jenn

Beeba Boys, A Contemporary Toronto Gangster Film

Set and filmed in contemporary Toronto, Deepa Mehta's newest feature film Beeba Boys is a smash hit. It had its World Premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Some of her earlier films, Water, Earth, Fire, and Bollywood Hollywood, have placed her securely in Canada's canon of filmmakers. This feature however, is a bit different.

In an interview, Deepa was asked why she wanted to suddenly create a gangster themed film. Her reply: "I just want to create something that is bad ass."

Let's take a look at in greater detail:

1. Where does this film take us? Well it is actually a very familiar landscape. Toronto. Today. But there is something unique and cinematic about its approach. The contemporary film uses floating steadicam movements to tell the story. Its ideologies are presented using clashing images: vibrant suits of the gang members set against simple shaded backdrops, violent dialogue and beautiful scenery, city life (penthouse) and suburbia, gang loyalty and family love. 

2. How did the film make me feel? I was completed glued to my seat. I bought into the filmic world instantly and was taken on a whirlwind journey. Emotionally, there was some sympathy and admiration for the gang members, almost sadness when they died. Deepa's attention to detail, while drawing on a contemporary and clean aesthetic, was a pleasure to behold. 

3. How did this help me understand the world a little better? It was another window into a world very different from my own yet only next door and within reach. Deepa's subject matter always touches on her culture (Indian). Therefore, the film was a breath of fresh air because it features few male or female white leads. Further, it presents strong and intelligent men and women of colour. More films of this nature should be main stream to prove how diversity on screen can be equally successful at telling a compelling story. The main figures who are white were presented as empty caricatures. It's about time someone fought back against the prejudice on screen. Thank you Deepa for showcasing different perspectives and cultures.

4. Did it deliver fun and surprises? SURE. It was a gangster film. Maybe we all secretly wish we could evade the law like those characters on screen and live a high-risk life. Reckless behaviour, clubbing, romancing, brotherhood and sisterhood. Wealth, riches, and respect!

5. Was there a transformative experience? I think the film did a great job at delivering on the gangster genre. It set up a network of brotherhood. It contrasted this with several emotion scenes: several romances and family drama. Then, the main hero/villain has a moment of clarity and strays from his path of gangster-hood to do the right thing and dies for it. Therefore it met my fullest expectations.

A must see movie that is hitting theatres very shortly. And of course I got to see the whole cast at the Women in Film and Television gala night. Quite a handsome group!

- Jenn

The Toronto International Film Festival 2015

The city was alive last week with the International Toronto Film Festival.

King street was a buzzin' from University to John street. The Hyatt was full of industry delegates and filmmakers from all over the world.

Here I found a home amongst other cinephiles - dare I say cinefilles

From entertainment, to networking, dining out, and watching a selection of 300 hundred, it's no wonder why Cameron Bailey loves his job so much:

"I invite everybody to 300 birthday parties and show movies" - Cameron Bailey, Twitter.

As an industry member, I was fortunate enough to witness keynote speakers from across the creative spectrum: 

  1. Justin Benson (Director, Producer, & Filmmaker) and Aaron Moorhead (Writer, Producer, & Filmmaker), the creators of SPRING (2014)
  2. Stephen Frears, director of THE PROGRAM (2015)
  3. Jia Zhang-ke, director of Mountains May Depart (2015)
  4. Bianca Goodloe, legal concierge - state of financing and co-production
  5. Nicolas Chartier, producer of A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (2015)
  6. Michael Moore, director of WHERE TO INVADE NEXT (2015)
  7. Barbara Twist (Art House Convergence), Mark Fishkin (California Film Institute), and John Vanco (IFC, NY)
  8. UPFRONT: Uncovering Unconscious Bias - Gender Issues
  9. David Garrett
  10. Phil Hunt (Producer), *thinks that MUFF is "brilliant"
  11. Asif Kapadia, director of AMY (2015)
  12. Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, directors of THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (2015)

Stay tuned the next few weeks where I will be highlighting the major speakers and my most memorable moments.

The movies were spectacular. At least the select few I was able to see (12). ANGRY INDIAN GODDESS shook the ground and wrenched out my heart. A movie everyone needs to see. LEGEND, a gritty tale based on the true story of the gangster Kray twins, East Enders in 1960s London. One close to home, BEEBA BOYS by the brilliant Deepa Mehta, also had be rivetted to my seat!

An unforgettable time with the best people!

- Jenn

A Night with Noah Bingham, The Secret Trial 5

In my final week Bootcamp Producer course with the DOC Institute, Toronto, I had the privilege to hear the story of Noah Bingham's extraordinary journey.

Noah Bingham is the producer of The Secret Trial 5, a documentary that had its festival premiere at Hot Docs 2014 and a theatre premiere the following year.

A quick snippet of the synopsis from the website:

"Imagine spending years in prison without being charged with a crime or knowing exactly what you're accused of. A film about the human impact of the “War on Terror,” The Secret Trial 5 is a sobering examination of the Canadian government’s use of security certificates, a Kafkaesque tool that allows for indefinite detention without charges, based on evidence not revealed to the accused or their lawyers ... Through the experience of the detainees and their families, the film raises poignant questions about the balance between security and liberty."

The journey started in 2009. Noah's school friend Amar Wala, director & producer, had just finished creating a short film about one of the families described above. The film was called The Good Son

Both were so excited by the intense story and were interested in developing the idea into a feature length doc. The project began with a "lean production" and an "out-of-their-pocket funding" model.

Both wanted to pitch to a broadcaster to source traditional funding for their feature. They were rejected and never back. Not willing to give up, they sourced other methods to raise money. This propelled them to create a kickstarter / crowdfunding campaign. The first campaign, largely supported by friends and family, raised enough for them to continue production and pay for the website and promo video. Noah Bingham showed us the video on their first crowd funding campaign and I was immediately pulled into the story and awed by the creativity and way the story was told. 

Production continued. Two years later, Noah and Amar launched another crowdfunding campaign. After building a community of followers and interested activists, this campaign grew to be very successful and they were able to pitch their idea at Hot Docs with the Cuban Hat. While not winning the final votes, they won over the industry and created enthusiasm.

This led to contacts which led to money being invested into their film. They got an office space, editing suite and continue the film into post.

Still no broadcaster and no solid investor that would have otherwise made their lives a lot easier. However, Noah did remark how grateful he was to have been allowed to see the full process from start to finish due to budget constraints, because everyone was wearing multiple hats.  

Three years into production, Arts Council Toronto came in and offered funding. Noah and the team headed to DOC Ignite (2013) and reached their goal, receiving more funding and reaching new audiences.

With a film in post and needing monetary support, Noah approached Telefilm Micro Budget. They were able to apply because

  1. Amar had only been out of school for three years, and
  2. they planned on carrying out a hybrid distribution strategy:
  • both in theatres and digitally online.

With the film done, The Secret Trial 5 became a Hot Docs 2014 Festival Selection and sold out all three nights. They successfully completed a deal with Blue Ice Docs, a distributor. The film was a greater hit in the festival than it was in theatres at the Bloor Cinema. There are no monetary assets given to the filmmakers at the Bloor.

Noah wanted to create an even greater buz and expand their thriving online community further. They launched a third successful crowdfunding campaign. This gave Noah and Amar enough to travel around the country touring their movie.

You can check out their movie online here, for one small payment of $9.00.

This story proved to me that through hard work, commitment, and dedication, you really can bring your ideas to life with support and creativity. 

Congratulations Noah, Amar, and the rest of the team! This is one story I will never forget and look forward to diving head first into your film.

Click HERE to purchase the film online.

- Jenn