By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
Last week, I joined a few dozen new and established documentary makers at the Gladstone Hotel for a screening of Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, a documentary by filmmaker Robert Greenwald. The one-hour film aims to show how Fox News, under Murdoch's control, has become little more than a mouthpiece for George W. Bush and the GOP, and how this has harmed the state of journalism and public discourse in the U.S.
Documentary maker Susan Poizner and her camera crew on location in Winnipeg for a 13-part series called Mother Tongue: A woman's history of ethnic Canada.
What interested me just as much as the possible dangers of the Fox propaganda machine, however, was the screening itself. It struck me that in Toronto, you can probably see a different documentary every week, either at functions such as this, or at the growing number of film fests that are either completely doc-oriented or include them in the lineup. The result is that documentary makers have wider audiences than ever to which to showcase their work.
5 minutes = 15 hours
Among the growing number of aspiring doc makers fuelling this trend is Craig Goodwill, a seasoned TV producer and director who decided to spend 10 days in the Ukraine last winter profiling the Orange Revolution, and the experience of his Ukranian-Canadian friend as an election monitor.
He'd been commissioned by CBC to produce a five-minute TV segment, but when he returned with 15 hours of compelling footage of the tension surrounding the election, he was able to convince the station to run 16 minutes. The piece aired on Jan. 2 on CBC Sunday, and next month a longer 22-minute version, called My Own Revolution, will make its world premier at the Worldwide Short Film Festival on June 16 at 9:30 p.m., at Innis Town Hall.
Goodwill shot everything on his own and, with a very well-defined idea of the film's focus, self-edited as he went along.
Craig Goodwill, creator of My Own Revolution, filming in the Ukraine.
"I knew what the doc would look like before I even shot it," he says. "I would shoot for 15 hours a day, and then dump all the footage into a computer and look for the best material. I had to be very efficient."
Upon returning home, he had just three days to edit the footage, do voiceovers and put the final touches on it before it went to air. He barely slept a wink from the time he landed in the Ukraine until the CBC ran it just two weeks later, but he says it was all worth it.
"The fun is in the challenge of creating a film that tells a good story in a way that's entertaining yet informative," he says.
Bringing a film to market, however, is its own specific challenge, says Felice Gorica, co-chair of the Toronto chapter of the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC). Gorica also oversees the four professional development workshops DOC holds each year on the mechanics of the business. Topics covered include developing marketable ideas, budgeting, finding financing, exporting and distribution (visit www.docorg.ca/toronto.html
for more information).
Keen business sense
She says that having a good idea and a camcorder is only half the battle -- a keen business sense is just as important, if not more so.
"Those who are business minded are the ones who are doing well," Gorica says. "It's like in any other industry -- there have to be consumers who will be interested in it, and broadcasters who want to buy it."
WHAT'S UP WITH DOCS|
The Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) offers members opportunities for professional development and industry networking throughout the year.
It also lobbies the government on behalf of its 560 members (Canada-wide) to sustain and promote the documentary filmmaking profession in Canada.
The DOC website features a comprehensive list of essential resources for doc makers, including funding sources, Canadian broadcasters, training options and industry information. Visit www.docorg.ca/toronto.html to find out more about the Toronto chapter and working in the profession in Canada.
A couple of Canadian broadcasters were very interested in the documentary idea Susan Poizner had in 2003. Her vision of a series of half-hour educational programs profiling heroines in Canada's different ethnic communities found favour with both TVO in Ontario and SCN in Saskatchewan. It also resonated with one major funder, which allowed her to travel across the country with a camera crew and shoot in different communities. The end result of two years of planning, shooting, editing, writing and marketing is a 13-part series called Mother Tongue: A woman's history of ethnic Canada (www.mothertongue.ca
Poizner is currently in the post-production stage of generating further interest among Canadian broadcasters as well as distributors of educational content.
One advantage she has, though, is the series' multicultural appeal, making it easier to pitch specific shows to broadcasters around the world.
"It helped me that it was on Canada's ethnic communities -- it automatically linked with other countries," she says. "For instance, I may contact broadcasters in Finland and pitch them the show on the Finnish community that we did. I could do that with all the shows."
Gorica adds that a series, versus a one-off film, is in the end more cost-effective in that you can get more mileage out of it with broadcasters. She sums up the essential qualities of a good filmmaker as follows: "You need street smarts, a strong entrepreneurial sense, an ability to raise funds and an ability to tell a good story."
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