SIFT 2009 Wrapup

I got back from Ottawa about 11:30pm on Sunday night and am still pretty exhausted, but I wanted to write up my SIFT experience while it was still fresh in my mind. I took the five-day Docology workshop with famed Canadian documentarian Peter Wintonick, and I can honestly say that I’ve come back with a headful of new knowledge and some great new friends and colleagues.

Although I was looking for more of a general overview of documentary production, we spent quite a bit of our time on exploring sources of funding in these lean economic times. I learned so much about television broadcasters that I didn’t know before, thanks in part to special guests like Bob Culbert, former VP of documentary programming for CTV, and Jane Jankovic, Commissioning Editor for TV Ontario‘s The View From Here.

We also got a great introduction to some of the ways film and the internet are cross-pollinating thanks to presentations from Neil Sieling from the Center for Social Media at American University, and Katerina Cizek, who recently served as the NFB Filmmaker-in-Residence at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Finally, we got an inspirational talk from Paul Saltzman, director of Prom Night in Mississippi. In fact, he came to our classroom the morning after we’d watched the film, so we had plenty of questions to ask him.

Another evening screening of note was Armando Iannucci’s gut-busting political satire In The Loop, which contained some of the most creative swearing I’ve heard in a film this year. Producer Adam Tandy was gracious and patient enough to conduct a Q&A via Skype chat until 3:00am his time, despite several technical glitches.

Several staff members and SIFT veterans bemoaned the fact that the program faced severe budget cuts this year, and that previous years’ evening events had been more lavish. That would go a long way toward explaining some of the small inconveniences we faced, like having to purchase our own coffee each morning and our own drinks at the evening events. This year’s workshop was the 29th annual, and I really hope that they can not only continue, but regain some of that funding for what should be a landmark 30th anniversary next summer.

I wanted to put together a few more resources for my classmates. These are things that I’ve found helpful in my ongoing education in the world of documentary filmmaking:

  1. Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary – Pepita Ferrari’s documentary is like a film school in a box. I’ve mentioned the free screenings coming up in Toronto and Montréal, but the DVD includes a second disc with three hours of extra material. Essential viewing for budding filmmakers.
  2. The D-Word – This online forum for documentary filmmakers was established more than a decade ago by filmmaker Doug Block, and has grown to more than 2,400 members from 78 countries. An invaluable source of good information and advice.
  3. DocSpace – The Documentary Organization of Canada has established its own forum for Canadian doc filmmakers. It’s a must-visit destination for specifically Canadian resources.
  4. DocAgora WebPlex – Peter Wintonick was involved in the creation of this new destination site which gathers information about funding, festivals and other tools in one place. The best part is that users can contribute and correct the content themselves.
  5. The Flaherty Seminar – an annual workshop held in upstate New York for documentary filmmakers. It’s a weeklong curated screening series with a heavy discussion component, now in its 55th year.
  6. The Documentary Filmmaker’s Handbook, by Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes – I’ve found this to be a good introduction to many of the more practical issues involved in making a film. It also features lots of interviews with people in the business.
  7. Lastly, I wanted to point out some great documentary bloggers, from whom I learn new things all the time:
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