The year of the online film festival

Photo by Michael Barker

The 19th annual DOXA Documentary Film Festival will be held online this year from June 18–26 in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

The annual DOXA is organized by the Documentary Media Society, a non-profit organization established in 1998. The festival has a screening and a programming committee to select and showcase the best documentaries in the world.

Festival via streaming

“We try to bring around 100 films every year. The festival is usually held in May, but we had to postpone it because of COVID,” says Selina Crammond, DOXA’s director of programming. “This year’s program is smaller than normal, there are around 60 to 70 films, and all are going to be available to be streamed online.”

This year’s program, Crammond says, will have a strong focus on Canadian directors as well as a selection of stories from South Korea.

Peter Wintonick.

“We try to support films that show unique perspectives of the world, films that are crafted well and, in some cases, films that are trying to push the boundaries of cinema,” says Crammond.

A noteworthy mention by Crammond is the opening film Wintopia, about the legendary Canadian filmmaker Peter Wintonick who passed away in 2013.

“He made a lot of social justice documentaries,” says Crammond. “When he passed away, he left boxes of unfinished tapes; the tapes were about him traveling around the world talking to people about this idea of utopia. His daughter crafted a film from these tapes and made a tribute to him. It is a family story; it is about the art of filmmaking itself and it is also about imagining a new world.”

The film streaming will also be accompanied by a live online Q & A session with some festive music on June 20.

Organizing an online festival hasn’t been easy for the team.

“COVID-19 does have a trickle-down effect on arts organizations. From our perspective as a film festival, most live events depend heavily on ticket revenue – removing that will put a huge dent on our resources. But a lot of arts organizations have come together to support each other, so we encourage people to take a chance. We tried to keep the ticket price low and there are also really good stories from all over the world,” Crammond says.

A masterclass in cinematography

Despite being smaller in scope, this year’s festival will still feature programs outside of films, such as a cinematography masterclass by Iris Ng. Ng is a versatile Canadian cinematographer whose extensive body of work includes the award-winning documentary series Stories We Tell and Making A Murderer, among others.

Mira Burt, director of Wintopia. | Photo courtesy of DOXA Documentary Film Festival

With a background in visual arts and music, as well as an eye for photography, Ng says that for her all these elements come together in films, and cinematography is essentially the visual language of shaping what we are seeing and helping us to understand a story that isn’t written.

“Cinematography is really integral to contributing to our understanding of an idea. The cinematographer’s place in the room can embody different perspectives, particularly for documentaries,” she adds.

Ng got her first big career break taking on the project Stories We Tell in 2012 and that has influenced her overall approach to cinematography.

“The project required me to embody different character roles and think about what the camera’s relationship is to everyone. It really taught me a lot – it is about the questioning of perspectives and who the camera is for,” says Ng, recounting her experience.

The nature of the craft entails both a lot of technology and art according to Ng, and she believes technology provides the utilitarian tools for filmmakers to relate ideas in artistic ways.

“For example, in my work about the Indigenous communities, there are groups that traditionally don’t have the largest voice in media. I feel it is really important to think about how technology affects our perspective. Maybe there are more useful ways of representing a story,” says Ng. “Media has such a huge impact on how we perceive communities and I’m interested in unpacking the visual elements that allow us to see them more truthfully.”

She says it is also important to see what the subject is giving in front of the camera, rather than to impose what we think the story should be.

Iris Ng | Photo by Michael Barker

“I think if those things aren’t considered, you run the risk of objectifying people or the situations that might not be helpful to the story or the reason for making the film in the first place.”

With a contemplative and humble character, Ng says she learns to be a better cinematographer by being introspective and learning more about herself.

“If any improvement can be made in the process, I asked what my relationships to those processes were. I took those questions to myself, rather than looking at technology or other external factors.”

In a profession where she is a minority by both gender and ethnicity, Ng says she didn’t consciously think about the obstacles even when she encountered them, she just focused on improving herself.

“I really learned things from the inside out. I just felt I needed that to prove that I can be spoken to at a certain level, to show that I had capabilities. I made sure I had all the answers there to prove that I had stakes in my profession.”

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