Hot Docs 2023: Qs à la mode with… Citizen Minutes filmmakers

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The Citizen Minutes shorts collection consists of films commissioned by the festival, and showcases everyday Canadians striving to make a difference in their communities. We posed our Qs à la mode to several of the Citizen Minutes filmmakers, and here’s what they shared!

If I had to describe my film using only three adjectives, they would be:

Ian Keteku (Mind Check, 1-2 1-2): Fun, inspiring, musical.

Cass Gardiner (CG) and Kelly Zemnickis (KZ) (Janelle Niles: Inconvenient):
CG: Funny, tenacious, SKODEN.
KZ: Funny, inspirational, bold.

Cat Mills (Do You Hear What I Hear?): Noise, health, mufflers.

Sean Stiller (Ancestral Threads): Empowerment, community, culture.

I decided to make this film because:

Keteku: I find it inspiring to tell stories from underrepresented communities.

CG: It’s important that we show nuanced stories of Indigenous peoples in Canada so we can foster connection and community that is truly inclusive. Being First Nations, being Indigenous, is a complex, deeply personal experience that is different for everyone.

Mills: I had no idea how bad noise pollution is for our health, and certain aspects of curbing noise pollution seemed really easy to tackle. It’s a subject about which we can make a difference for everyone’s well-being.

Stiller: Joleen [the main subject] is a dear friend of mine, and I felt inspired to celebrate her ongoing impact in Vancouver’s Indigenous community and her legacy as the founder of Indigenous Fashion Week. Given how familiar I am with her work, I knew that her journey of marrying community service with the fashion would be surprising for many — it’s an unexpected subversion for a fashion-week show to transform into a vehicle for cultural revitalization and healing.

The thing that surprised me most about my film’s subject/topic was:

Keteku: The amount of reach and influence Akintoye has.

CG: How vulnerable comedy can be!
KZ: Janelle has a lot of layers, there’s a lot to her story and she deserves a feature documentary or a TV series!

Mills: That noise pollution can lead to heart problems and diabetes.

Stiller: How unsexy and unforgiving the work of true community engagement is for Joleen — it’s nonstop meetings, fighting for grants to keep programs alive, constant emotional labour, health problems, etc. She sacrifices so much to be in service to her people. I also didn’t realize how important Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week is for so many people in the community. For some — especially older people — it’s the first time they’ve seen their culture celebrated in such a prominent and public way.

My favorite moment/scene/sequence in my film is:

Keteku: Speaking to his parents.

CG: Janelle’s tap-water joke in her stand-up.
KZ: There’s a moment where Janelle is standing in front of the projection and next to a black & white photo of an Indigenous woman from days gone by. It’s a beautiful visual of past and present.

Mills: When the Meow Mix cat eats prisoners.

Stiller: The moment where Madelaine facilitated a somatic body exercise in the rehearsal room. Although this wasn’t planned in advance, Joleen and Madelaine observed how stressed-out and chaotic things were getting behind the scenes several days into the show. In a normal fashion week, people would be encouraged to push through and drive themselves to exhaustion. For me this was a great demonstration of how a different cultural point of view informs [the event] — they asked everyone to stop what they were doing in order to engage in a ceremony practice and participate in a wellness activity.

The most challenging part of making my film was:

Keteku: Learning about licencing.

CG: Having to explain our humor to non-Indigenous people. Sometimes. A lot.
KZ: What to leave on the editing-room floor.

Mills: Finding an ending that involves municipal government — changing laws and bylaws can take a long time and the schedule often changes.

Stiller: To know when to film intimately, and when to stay back and allow people to engage in new experiences with minimal intervention. Also, because many people in the community have experienced so much trauma, it required a lot of tact and sensitivity to understand when it’s appropriate to engage in personal conversations and when to take a step back.

My most invaluable piece of doc-making gear was/is:

Keteku: Coffee.

CG: The light kit.
KZ: My therapist’s phone number?! I’m kidding. It’s not a piece of gear, but you need to allot time in your schedule for your DOP to download the footage after the shoot day is done. Don’t skimp on that!

Mills: Coffee. You need to stay sharp and focused on set… and warm — we shot in February!

Stiller: EasyRig! It can be grueling filming all day at events with a rigged-out cinema camera. Without my EasyRig, I’d destroy my body.

One piece of documentary-filmmaking advice I’d like to share with aspiring documentarians is:

Keteku: Trust your gut, plan for the flow.

CG: Experiment and make as many films as you can, so you can develop your voice as a filmmaker. The more familiar you are with your creative practice and voice, the more confident you will be as a director, and the more accurately you will know which battles are worth fighting when making your films.
KZ: If you’re going into documentaries looking to be rich and famous — please choose another career path! [Documentary filmmaking] is about listening and patience. You’re there to tell your subject’s story and tell it well. It’s not about financial gains.

Mills: Find interesting people doing interesting things. If you do that, then you’re halfway there.

Stiller: Patience and relationship building. The temptation is so strong to not miss a moment, but so much is gained by building trust and demonstrating that you don’t have extractive intentions. Indigenous communities are used to having outsiders come in on a regular basis to capture footage for their own purposes, so there’s understandably a lot of skepticism and distrust that you’ll likely have to work through.

Want to check out the Citizen Minutes shorts , or just learn more about them?
Get the scoop, and your tickets, here!


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