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 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

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