By Felicity Flesher
Coinciding with the celebration of InFocus Film School’s 10th anniversary, the Vancouver school is launching a brand-new Advanced Documentary Program for experienced filmmakers. Beginning in Fall 2021, the diploma program will nurture creative professionals through three terms from story incubation to finalized product.
In January 2010, InFocus opened its doors to the public with only one program offering: documentary. When InFocus Executive Director Steven Rosenberg founded the school, he thought, “There has never been an easier time to make documentaries, all you need is a camera and editing software. And of course, you need mentorship to know how to tease a story out of the ideas that you have.”
For the first few years, the school was a small albeit burgeoning non-profit, but over time, students emerged with great talent supported by committed instructors dedicated to helping their students get their foot in the industry door. Alumni have gone on to pursue prosperous careers in the entertainment industry garnering awards for their independent features at prestigious film festivals across the globe and joining the teams of big budget productions in Vancouver, one of the top film centres across the world.
As the school expanded to become Vancouver’s top cinematic arts training institution, its original documentary program was absorbed into its film production program. What started as one part-time program is now seven full-time programs with an ever-increasing reach. Now Rosenberg is hoping to cultivate that talent with even greater ideas and productions.
In line with InFocus’s emphasis on superior hands-on learning, the new Advanced Documentary Program will focus on documentary filmmaking and career skills beyond theory and basics.
“You might not come to learn how to turn on a camera because, at the end of the day, we have a lot of amazing technicians and we can put a budget behind those people. If you come to our program with a feature idea and access to a really great story and archival footage, you can incubate that story in the first six months,” Rosenberg says. “You start with a story treatment, then a sizzle reel, and then you go in front of a pitch panel. We bring in television and feature documentary filmmakers to evaluate: does this story have legs to make it? Then, in the last six months, we pair you up with a shooter from our production program and a budget and you shoot and edit a pilot or long-form documentary that will eventually become a feature.”
The pitch panel will be an essential part of the program. Students will pitch their projects to a select group of high-level producers and studio representatives who will help steer their ideas in the right direction and tailor their projects for the right distribution channels. With students emerging from the program with a fully realized project, multiple pitches, and a wealth of industry connections, they will be ready to approach studios’ growing demand for new content.
“With all the products out there, you would think the market would be saturated, but good stories hook the audience.”
Other aspects of the program will focus on short documentaries, cinema verité, biographical films, lifestyle series, and more, showcasing the range of artistic and commercial possibilities that documentary offers and providing students with a variety of marketable projects to take into the world.
The school is seeking experienced, dedicated students to act as a sort of cadre of artists in residence.
“You’ve got your skills down as a storyteller, you’ve been selected, now we want you to make something,” Rosenberg explains, “We need to have students that will give blood for their projects because to take a film from an idea to screen, it’s a lot of process. It’s thousands of decisions. And it’s a quite a journey unto itself.”
Applicants should be emerging or mid-career creative professionals with relevant post-secondary education or professional work as demonstrated by their application, personal statements, eligibility interview, and portfolio of their creative work. Rosenberg emphasizes that the ideal candidate for the program doesn’t necessarily have to have a documentary background but should have a “body of work in life with great samples they can put in writing or photography. We just want to see who that person is and that they’ve got a slate of doable ideas.”
Not only does the program offer a unique experience for the individual storyteller, Rosenberg says, “It’s a network experience. When you have a project, it’s in your head. And then you need someone to coach you through or cheer you on to finish it. There are a million reasons to give up, but when you have a very tight structure, that forces you to develop projects. It’s important for peer-to-peer support, so people in your group, they become your lifelong collaborators.”
Leading the new program is acclaimed award-winning documentary filmmaker Julia Ivanova. Her string of accomplishments include Best Canadian Feature at Hot Docs, the Colin Low Best Canadian Documentary Award at DOXA and being screened at Sundance, IDFA, and the Chicago and LA film festivals. In 2019, Ivanova was honoured with the Focus On Retrospective by Hot Docs.
“Julia has been part of the school since day one and students rave about her,” Rosenberg says.
In addition, InFocus prides itself on its nearly 40 accomplished part-time professors who divide their time between instruction and professional industry work. Similarly, the mentors involved in the new Advanced Documentary Program will be highly statured members of the Canadian film industry.
What does the future hold for Rosenberg and InFocus? “I would like to see the kind of project that comes out of Sundance. I’d love to see us be an established studio where we’re able to produce projects as well as mentor students and be able to hire them as well. It’s like picking a baseball team. But you get to see them play for a year and see everybody on their good days and on their bad days. Then you can pick those people and have them as part of your studio.”
InFocus seeks to represent a diverse student body and offer opportunities to traditionally underserved communities. All of InFocus Film School’s programs are open to international students and loan options and scholarship opportunities may be available for qualified individuals.
Learn more about InFocus’s Advanced Documentary Program: https://infocusfilmschool.com/documentary-program/