Algonquin College’s Docfest is good enough for Cannes,
Festival shows off multi-skilled Algonquin filmmakers
Kristen McNaule and Reagan Sutherland landed in Sierra Leone at 3 a.m. in early February, determined to complete a term assignment for the documentary-film production program at Algonquin College.
The student filmmakers’ adventure was the brainchild of director McNaule, a 29year-old with a passion for international development. Her “crew” consisted of her classmate Sutherland, 32, an experienced traveller who had visited Africa twice before.
Arriving in an African country in the middle of the night might be intimidating for most young women, but McNaule had things well organized, says Sutherland. A driver was there to meet them.
The pair spent almost three weeks in Freetown, and although a couple of McNaule’s proposed documentary topics fell through, they got lucky on the third. A young man named Luxsonjay and his organization, Artists United 4 Children and Youth Development (AUCAYD), became the focus of the duo’s film shoot.
“From the first moment we had such an amazing relationship with AUCAYD and Lux. Everyone welcomed us in and it just bloomed into this story about them,” Sutherland says.
McNaule’s 27-minute film, The Capital of Peace, is an inspiring firsthand look at the power of the arts to engage disenfranchised young people. In Sierra Leone, AUCAYD is transforming the lives of former child soldiers and once-illiterate girls.
The documentary has already been recognized by the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. It was accepted as part of the festival’s Short Film Corner, a showcase of more than 1,000 short films from around the world.
McNaule flew to France this week to spend two weeks promoting her doc and hobnobbing with international film professionals.
Back in Ottawa, Sutherland will represent McNaule at Sunday’s Algonquin DocFest, an afternoon of screenings of the work of students in the documentary-film program, at Centrepointe Theatre. More than a dozen films will be shown, ranging from a light-hearted look at Toronto’s Pillow Fight League to the deeply personal meditations of Vinko Totic during a visit to the bombed-out shell of his uncle’s home in Bosnia.
Other selections in the end-of-year finale include Lisa Abel’s spiritual portrayal of the Ottawa River; Erin Pollard’s exploration of the health-care challenges faced by two women; Rob Salter’s profile of Danielle K.L. Gregoire, Canada’s godmother of slam poetry; and a pair of shorts by Declan Edwards that take viewers into the tour vans of two popular Canadian bands, the Balconies and Arkells.
The 25 students are the second batch of graduates from Algonquin’s new documentary-production program. Launched in the 2008-09 school year, it’s a two-semester, post-diploma program aimed at mature students who already have a degree, diploma or equivalent work experience. Courses are in evenings and on weekends to allow students to keep their jobs.
The hands-on program includes instruction in videography, sound recording, story development, video editing, field production, research, business management and more.
“They’re flexible and multiskilled, and it’s because of that that they’re going to be able to be successful in the industry,” says Brenda Rooney, one of the program instructors and managing director of the Wakefield International Film Festival.
“They’re going to be able to support each other. They’re the kind of people you want to be out on a shoot with. You want somebody who can pick up the sound and do it, if you need it.”
A documentary filmmaker herself, Rooney believes the documentary is one of the most important forms of communication in modern society. She was hugely impressed by the commitment of the class of 2010.
“I have been so humbled by them,” Rooney says. “I have been so impressed by their subjects. They come in and pitch their ideas and they’re making films about everything, from pillow fighting to tainted blood.
“They’re addressing issues, investigating the environment, exploring native issues. It’s really heartening.”
Program co-ordinator Peter Biesterfeld is no less enthusiastic.
“You have to give credit to this group,” he says. “They’re really driving this. The program in general is geared toward people going into the world as independent producers, so there’s lots of latitude in terms of how students want to approach their stories and how they want to run certain aspects of the program.
“This festival is an example of how they’ve taken charge of that.”