2-minute trailer for Horses for Orphans short film

1 01 2011

Posted it on YouTube early this morning to ring in the new year:

Hope you enjoy it!

This is the first film by Blue Cyrus Media, the production company started earlier this year by myself and Charlotte Gentis.

We shot on location in Brazil in March 2010 and have just completed a 20-minute version for the charity’s website. Although not a documentary in the strictest sense of the word – this version is meant to promote and explain what the ‘Horses for Orphans’ charity is doing on their website www.lostchildrenoftheearth.com – it will tell a story using documentary techniques. Hopefully it will be poetic and moving as well.

We do plan to go ahead and try to make a documentary about the main character, horsewoman Ingela Larsson Smith. We’ve invested enough to film throughout two trips to Brazil, but I will be looking for finishing funds to edit and produce it sometime later this year.

Happy New Year everyone!

– Tobi Elliott

New images of the horses for orphans project

7 12 2010

As we continue to put this story together, I’ve clipped some more images from the amazing footage we captured at last March.

— All images from footage shot by Charlotte Gentis

The Last Great Water Fight

22 09 2010

The Mackenzie headwaters, photo by Garth Lenz

Surprise surprise… or rather it shouldn’t be a surprise that The Walrus magazine’s biggest feature this month is about the tug-of-war between the environment and industry in Canada’s great north. Water, Site C dam on the Peace, the as-yet-unspoiled Mackenzie River, Albert’s water-guzzling oilsands, the watershed of the Great Bear Lake – it’s all there.

Environmental questions are becoming ever more crystallized through the lens of human survival, rather than seen as just another hippy pastime or an earthlover’s out-of-touch plea. It’s become about whether we will be able to survive the onslaught of natural disasters that are coming as a result of our cultural love of consumption.

I read the article and wept. It already feels too late.

Photos taken during this week’s internship at ‘The Eastern Door’

13 05 2010

I’ve been interning since Monday at the Eastern Door, a local newspaper serving the Kahnawake community across the river from Montreal. My friend and fellow Board member (at The Concordian) invited me over for a week while the head honchos (editors and publishers Steve Bonspiel and Tracey Deer) are in Europe accepting an award for one of Tracey’s films.

Long story short, I’ve been writing for this paper off and on for a few months and this is my chance to do a “regular” job like newspapering, as in come in every day and write stories about what goes on in the community, albeit without the money (which is what most would-be journalists are doing these days anyway…)

It’s been fun. The photo below will appear alongside a wee story about an artist’s endeavor to raise the creativity and self-esteem of Mohawk youth.

A volunteer at the Native Friendship Centre paints a mural in Concordia University's greenhouse, my absolutely favourite place in Montreal

Here are some of the guys from the Native Friendship Centre who really got into it: Luke on the left and Lava in the red shirt. They were fabulous painters.

This is a very cute little girl named Kyrie who helped paint. It didn’t make it into the paper.

The photo below was taken at a press conference I attended that same day for an announcement about the programming lineup for the First People’s festival in June and August. Lots of CBC and Radio-Can media there, which makes sense because they’re some of the bigger corporate sponsors.

André Dudemaine, founder and administrator of Land InSights, with Catherine Joncas, a member of Aboriginal dance troupe Oninndok.

That story won’t run until next week… No space.

The most interesting story I covered so far however, was a panel of speakers who participated in the events leading up to the Oka crisis of 1990. I think I did a decent job of summing up 20 years of history in a tiny (for me) 600-word piece. Of course I’m writing a longer version for the web… Naturally.

You can check out the stories at www.easterndoor.com

Hot Docs: processing… processing… and action!

10 05 2010

There is a lot of talk about “this year” being “the year of change”. This year, 2010, will be the year after which directors and distributors, editors and producers, new media drivers and old-schoolers will say the industry “was never the same.”

What shift? you ask. Oh just the biggest change in the past century. Just a fundamental shift in the way personal stories and information about society and the way we live are presented, processed, distributed, advertised and consumed.

This sea-change has been here for quite awhile of course, but no other media sector has been as slow to adapt or grasp how fundamentally different they are going to have to think, as directors and producers of documentary film. I mean it makes sense: a project takes on average four year to complete, they’re already the most difficult to finance and sell in the current market, and docs really haven’t changed that much in the past 50 years. It makes sense that this shift in thinking would take awhile to penetrate.

But it’s unarguably here, as those attending the panel discussion “The Poetics of Online Documentary” at Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada last week, heard and witnessed. We can no longer ignore it.

Hot Docs panel "The Poetics of Online Documentary": Florian Thalhofer is musing on the right.

During the panel, the interactive music app City Sonic was discussed as an example of how films about personal stories can be presented in different platforms – user’s phones, for example – and tied to a particular location. The company makes a game out of location-based films and having users access bonus content and compete for prizes, coupons, downloads, tickets, etc. The music lover can access rare audio of a favourite band, obscure bootleg archival material, or the history behind a band’s favourite venue – all on the phone while they’re actually in a location linked to the story. Corporate sponsors are obviously very interested because anytime you can track a consumer and get a read on their spending habits or interests, advertising to them gets a lot easier.  David Oppenheim, interactive producer for Kensington Inc., the program’s developper, made a compelling argument for how filmmakers can start thinking outside the traditional box of theatre rooms and festivals as the only places to show their work.

Another interesting presentation was by director-in-residence Kat Cizek of Highrise Canada, (NFB) talking about exploring and creating multimedia web docs.  She showed a part of the soon-to-be released doc called “Out My Window” that uses 360 degree cameras to take the viewer into people’s apartments in different cities around the world. The viewer/consumer sees on the site an apartment building with a bunch of windows, when you click on one you are suddenly in an apartment in Amsterdam, or Paris. The video camera is a spookily vertigo-inducing tool that puts the viewer seemingly inside a sphere. As you roll your mouse up the walls, to the ceiling, it seamlessly brings you up and over again (*feels like falling*) to the floor on the other side. The tool was developed by YellowBird and uses Google cameras shooting at 24 f/p/s,  stiching them together inside a virtual sphere. Anyway. (you can tell I have no idea how this works, but let me tell you, it looks cool.)

You can click on different objects in the room and get a short story about them, a mini film, and so the viewer dictates the order of scenes, the length of time they spend on any single topic or theme. It’s non-linear viewing, perfectly adapted to the digital native who wants control over how they view the story.

Florian Thalhofer talking about non-linear storytelling.

The most compelling arguments for interactive documentaries came from Florian Thalhofer, the Berlin-based inventor of the Korsakow system. He showed what he’s doing with his latest project The Bridge of Istanbul (find his videoblog of it here) and he says traditional storytelling will never come back: it’s officially dead. Long live non-linear.

You could tell it was a struggle for Annette Bradford, the CBC’s interactive producer, to sell the corporation’s latest cutting edge venture, One Ocean. First of all it didn’t load nearly as fast as the other demos did. We were waiting quite some time to find out what it was and when it was shown, it basically seemed to be a kiddie game of underwater exploration. Still, education and fun for those under 12s to learn about the world and what we’re doing to our oceans – is not a bad thing. It just didn’t seem that cutting edge after Highrise, Korsakow and City Sonic. But that’s the CBC. You can count on them to be there, but I doubt they’re developing anything new. They seem to be just cutting their teeth on what’s already happening online.

Will write more, this will have to satisfy for now.

Onwards and outwards, the digital revolution marches on… May the documentary sector swiftly catch up (without too many falling by the wayside.)

Squatting no longer Part IV

6 12 2009

(continued from previous post: Part III)

Simon* and Michael swap stories in the kitchen.

However, the picture isn’t all rosy: barely four days after moving in, Pinet finds out that Simon is not actually a recovering cocaine addict, but a practicing one.

Coming back to his new place one night, Pinet finds Simon snorting lines off the kitchen table. He apparently borrowed money from his sister and called his dealer minutes later. There are empty beer bottles everywhere, and according to Pinet, Simon is drunk and high all weekend.

Pinet finds out from the dealer that Simon owes him over $500. He worries that if he gives Simon cash for rent on Dec. 1, it will go immediately to drugs. Simon keeps offering him liquor and coke but Pinet doesn’t take him up on it. Now that he’s been given a second chance to get on his feet, he says he doesn’t want to blow it.

“I’m going to keep on looking for a job,” says Pinet. “Nothing has changed.”

Pinet isn’t planning to move out just yet and he’s still thankful for Simon’s kindness. “He gave me a roof over my head. We get along. He knows what I did before and he gave me a chance.”

Even if Simon’s choice of lifestyle makes things more difficult for Pinet, it’s still better than squatting in the CN building. He says, still smiling, “I know I’m not alone anymore.”

Squatting no longer Part III

5 12 2009

(continued from previous post: Part II)

Michael Pinet is ready to face the challenge of moving out of his CN tower squat and into a real apartment, so he can get a job and start a new life.

Pinet doesn’t regret spending seven months in this squat. “I regret a lot of things, but I don’t regret being on the street the second time. It made me open my eyes, it made me feel life for the first time. My life was shit, but I decided to make something out of it. It’s coming up good now.”

Pinet says his watershed moment came when he invited a 58-year-old homeless man, who has been on the street for almost 30 years, to move into the CN building with him. He asked himself if he still wanted to be homeless at that age. “Looking at him, I thought, ‘Do I want to be that? Collecting bottles in the street? Squatting when I’m 50?’ I have dreams… I want to be married, have kids around me, train for a job…”

Pinet’s last job was working as an industrial cleaner at a chicken farm, where he met his late girlfriend. He worked there about 10 months, staying on even as he moved into his squat, and only quitting mid-August. He managed to put off going on social assistance until three months ago. Now, he gets a cheque for $588.88 on the first of every month. “I know I can get more than that if I ask for it, because I was living on the street and could [claim to] have depression, but I don’t want to.”

Pinet says he’s interested in becoming a policeman, a social worker, or even a paramedic, as long as it’s a profession that helps others. “You know, even though I never had that encouragement in my life, no one gave me the tap on the back to push me forward and see what I can do… I know I have that in me to give to others. I want to give them that push forward that I never got.”

Looking for a job is hard when you’re homeless, says Pinet. “I tried lots of job service [agencies], but honestly they have a lot of work to improve the services. They just say, ‘get your CV together, ok go look for a job here.’ They leave you to yourself.”
He says they don’t really offer much help to the homeless. “Some say, ‘you need an apartment, you need clothes, you need a shower before you can get a job.”

Now that he’s moving into an actual apartment, with an address that he can put on job application forms, Pinet says he’s been given the leg up he needs. He plans to go back to school in January to finish his secondary education.

“I’m starting to really live now, I’m starting to have a life now.”


The ground-floor, one-bedroom apartment in Verdun where Pinet now lives is small and sparse but cozy. Playing on the TV in the corner is the latest James Bond film. Simon (not his real name), a smiley, obviously open-hearted man who welcomed Pinet into his place, jumps up to shake hands. He is a fortysomething year-old francophone truck driver, more out of work than in.

He met Pinet when the latter’s younger brother introduced them just three days earlier. He says he found him “sympathique” and wanted to give him a hand. Without knowing much about Pinet, Simon offered to let him move in immediately, giving up his own bed and sleeping on the couch in the living room.

The two get along well: seeing them together is like watching a French version of Abbott and Costello. Simon likes to cook – Pinet says he’s good at it– and Pinet does his share by cleaning the place. It seems Simon was a bit lonely and having the younger man around has brightened up his days. “It makes it fun, to have someone to talk to.”

“We both laugh, we both make jokes, we get along great. We are ‘un bon match’,” says the older man, beaming. “Even if the fridge is a little bare,” he laughs.

Simon’s own story shows he understands hardship: he takes pills for mild depression and because he has trouble finding work in the trucking industry, he lives off social assistance. He’s also a recovering crack addict who spent six months in the Maison Bonsecours program one year ago, and has since been clean of his crack addiction.

He says if he has the chance to help someone like Pinet, he’s going to “give him a hand.” He’s clearly got a big heart. “If I had the means, I’d open a home for young people like this to help them get a new start,” he says expansively.

Simon’s face is sober as he looks at photographs of Pinet’s squat, taken just four days earlier. “I couldn’t live in a place like that,” he says. He figures he would have taken “the easy way” and chosen to live in a shelter rather than a squat.

Michael shows his new roomie pictures of his old squat