Al­go­nquin Col­lege’s Docfest is good enough for Cannes,

Fes­ti­val shows off multi-skilled Al­go­nquin film­mak­ers

Ottawa Citizen - - MOVIES - 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.”


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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