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Smita Acharyya and Tinu Sinha
the Gauntlet

NUTV goes back to school

Documentary school holds much potential for amateur filmmakers

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While some students spent their summers working minimum wage jobs or visiting relatives in Vulcan, four local filmmakers spent it honing their craft in NUTV's Documentary School. The program was spearheaded three years ago by NUTV producer and program director Tinu Sinha, and run this year by local filmmaker Smita Acharyya.

"It teaches you how to make a documentary in four months," says Acharyya. "I've equated it to a boot camp for documentary filmmakers."

The intensity and duration of the program ensure that only the most committed and passionate apply for entry. Only eight of NUTV's 100 members applied this year, down slightly from last year's turn-out due to the event occurring during the summer rather than the fall. Four filmmakers--Richard Walker, Melissa Saic, Arthur McComish and NUTV closed circuit coordinator Sheryl Orr--emerged from the pack and entered Doc School.

"I judged them based on the basis of their personal vision and unique approach to documentary," reveals Sinha. "They're basically based on the artistic vision that somebody has and the more clear they are about that, the better their chances. The application form asks, for instance, to submit three photographs of your visual concept. It forces them to go out there and think 'What images tell this story?'"

The selected applicants then developed their proposals into longer outlines and participated in intensive workshops run by industry professionals such as Jamie Francey, Shaun Henning and the National Film Board's Anne Marie Nakagawa. Once the workshops were complete, it was time to shoot rough cuts of their films.

"During the rough cut-stage, the students received advice from the National Film Board's Bonnie Thompson before completing their final edit," says Acharyya. "It's a terrific opportunity as it not only helps the students to improve their short documentaries but it also allows them to build a relationship with the Film Board."

After the rough-cuts were complete, the filmmakers each faced the challenge of trimming their pieces down to a lean eight minute final product. Sinha notes that challenge prepares the students for future work in television.

"That's part of the task for them," muses Sinha. "The task of 'I have to get it exactly 8 minutes,' because that's what TV is all about. The major intent behind the documentary school was that they would see what it's like creating content for television in an actual production environment, because that's what NUTV is all about."

Sinha credits part of the success of Doc School to a continuing relationship between NUTV, NFB and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The CBC provides NUTV with added resources, such as the involvement of NFB filmmakers, which eventually provides the NFB and the CBC with new blood.

"I was joking around with the students that if I wasn't coordinating I would have actually taken [part], because it's your first film and you get so much in return," says Acharyya. "The standards that have been set from the last pieces have been awesome, and this year I just know they're going to do just as well because they're really good pieces."

One film that has set those standards was Colleen Sharpe's Wake of the War Bride, which received additional government funding and expanded into a 23 minute version which will be part of this year's Calgary International Film Festival. Only time will tell if this year's crop of mini-docs will enjoy the same success.

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