Found Film

Back in what truly feels like another lifetime, I made a bunch of short movies, most at summer camp, CEGEP or university.

After spending most of my youth determined to pursue an acting career, discovering filmmaking felt like a revelation. Now I could tell my own stories! No one judged me on my appearance! Good riddance to all the discouraging casting calls!

So I produced a slew of short films and videos on Super 8, Hi8, SVHS, 16mm, and other now-obsolete or prohibitively expensive formats. I graduated with a Communication Studies degree, and had a career in the industry. I felt a particular passion for documentaries. While I had no problem getting work as an associate producer, production coordinator, assistant director, and script supervisor, it turns out I never loved working in film and TV. In fact, at times, I hated it. The interpersonal politics were sometimes stifling and the work could vary wildly between stressful and exhausting, to mind-numbingly boring. Government tax-credit applications, anyone?

Eventually, the World Wide Web (yes, we called it that in the 90s) became a thing, and I taught myself HTML and started building websites on my own. The rest, as they say, is history.

During my recent sabbatical, I decided to get my old film and video productions digitized before the tapes deteriorate even more. Rewatching them now makes me cringe for many reasons – Why did I put myself in so many of them? Why is the editing so awkward? Why did I often pick such cheesy music? – but some are also fun to watch.

Here’s one I made about the then-obscure Drawn & Quarterly comic publisher, produced as a demo for a CBC show I was trying to get onto – an English version of Course destination monde, if anyone remembers that from the 90s in Québec. I made it to the final round, but ultimately wasn’t chosen as one of their globetrotting videographer-journalists. (I cannot for the life of me remember the English title of the show, so evidently it didn’t become a hit.) Instead I spent the next two years working as assistant director on Iris, The Happy Professor for TLC, alongside a wacky local crew and a cast of raunchy puppeteers. But that’s a story for another time.


Summer Doc Roundup

I’m a longtime documentary lover. I used to gorge on them, attending the early years of the now well established Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto and volunteering on its pre-selection jury. In my film production days, I worked on making documentaries too; one of my most memorable experiences was travelling to Prince Edward Island to film a biography of Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Over the last decade my doc-watching has waned, in favour of absorbing dramatic series like The Sopranos and Dexter, or more recently, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Simply put, I’ve let documentaries slide.

Subscribing to Netflix has brought new documentary inspiration, despite its rather limited collection. (My guess is that the lack of doc selection is related to the smaller selection of titles in Canada overall, but I don’t know for sure.)

Here are a week’s worth of docs you might like to check out:

  1. Tig – comedian Tig Notaro shares her compelling journey, making us laugh even while she takes us through a series of personal tragedies.
  2. Pink Ribbons, Inc. – thought-provoking look at the breast-cancer fundraising industry, and all the contradictions and complexity that lie within. A National Film Board of Canada classic.
  3. Erasing Hate – follows a former white supremacist as he goes through a long process to remove the hate-filled tattoos that cover his body. Touching, despite the “voice of God”-style narration that I’m not a fan of.
  4. An Honest Liar – layered biography of James “The Amazing” Randi, who I never realized was born and grew up in Canada. Moving and nuanced portrayal of a man who’s devoted his life to debunking “paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.”
  5. The English Surgeon – a British neurosurgeon helps a colleague in Ukraine handle difficult cases, many of whose brain tumours could have been cured had they been diagnosed and treated sooner. Made me appreciate working in a field where the decisions are never life-or-death.
  6. Miss Representation – compelling analysis of women’s portrayal in pop culture and media, and how it affects, reflects, and shapes political and societal reality.

Do you have a favourite documentary, whether classic or recent?