Ottawa Citizen

Algonquin College’s Docfest is good enough for Cannes,

Festival shows off multi-skilled Algonquin filmmakers

- BY LYNN SAXBERG

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.”

 ?? COURTESY OF ALGONQUIN DOCFEST 2010 ?? Algonquin College student filmmaker Kristen McNaule’s documentar­y about a program that helps young people in Sierra Leone will be shown at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and at Sunday’s Algonquin DocFest.
COURTESY OF ALGONQUIN DOCFEST 2010 Algonquin College student filmmaker Kristen McNaule’s documentar­y about a program that helps young people in Sierra Leone will be shown at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and at Sunday’s Algonquin DocFest.

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