Digital Compass: Navigating Video Production with the JumpStart Mentorship Program

By Ramin Khanjani

The advent of digital technology may seem like a promise of fulfillment for people aspiring to try their hand at filmmaking. However, the expenses involved in making a well-rounded, professionally-produced video project are often still an impediment. Offered annually by SAW Video, the JumpStart grant provides not only encouragement but vital equipment access and training for fledgling artists who are seeking support to take their initial step. The benefits of this programme - inaugurated in the 1980s - are not confined to financial backing, but also include free workshops as well as guidance and professional support from more experienced artists who serve as their mentors. In 2011, the recipients of the grant were five filmmakers whose diverse backgrounds, as well as the disparity of their projects, are illustrative of the flexibility of the JumpStart Mentorship program in catering to the varied ambitions of emerging artists.

Corinne Baumgarten is hopeful that being part of this program will help her pursue her ambition to become a filmmaker. A teacher by profession, she believes that making film through this program can go a long way in building up her portfolio. Her project, I’ll Take Four Menus Please, is conceived as a cinema verité-style documentary that focuses on her stand-up comedian and playwright friend Alan Shain, who has cerebral palsy. While she had already shot some footage of Shain’s performance with the initial intention of promoting him, she felt the need to refine and develop her project, which led her to apply for a JumpStart grant. Now Baumgarten hopes that her film will shed light on the more challenging, less discussed aspects of the life of disabled people, without falling into the trap of repeating stereotyped images.

Dina Salha is finishing the last stages of her doctorate dissertation for a PHD in communication from Carleton University and is a professor of Communication, Gender and Media at the University of Ottawa. She has long had a desire to make films, and her project, Seeking Wadad R. is mediation between her concerns as an individual and her field of interest as an academic. Her film is structured around Wadad Rawdah El Balah, a reclusive Lebanese painter who, aside from her significance in the personal life of the director, stands as an example for questioning the situation of the artist in the face of forces that demand her silence. Woven together from a mixture of interviews, re-enactments and images from the painter’s artworks, the film attempts to retrieve and expose the true experience she was put through. Salha’s ultimate intention is to expand El Balah’s story into a feature-length film, and her JumpStart project will hopefully serve as an early step towards that goal.

In a similar vein, Imara Ajani Rolston’s project originates from his personal experience as a black Caribbean-Canadian but aims toward a larger-scale critical look at society. For his film An/Other Antilles, he employs the documentary format to look back into a specific historical incident at Sir George Williams University in 1969, where a peaceful act of protest by black students resulted in the intervention of the police and ended with several arrests. He believes that this event could best illustrate a trend of prejudice against an ethnic group that sustained the official policy of multiculturalism. By asking three of the people involved in this incident to share their recollections with the camera, Rolston hopes to bring a new retrospective insight into an unpleasant experience that still reverberates in his community.

Adam Meisner’s use of documentary is unorthodox and experimental in comparison, and he is inspired by the tradition of Verbatim Theatre. His video Our Wedding tries to bring into the spotlight the way young gay people perceive the social achievements of the generation that preceded them. His enquiry is focused in particular on marriage rights for gay couples. In the video, he reiterates his mother’s words about her own wedding day. By joining a heterosexual voice to a queer body, Meisner examines and questions marriage as an accorded right in light of its consistency with the soul of queer activism.

Ranajit Sinha is an established artist who received his two Masters in Fine Arts from Viva Bharati University in India and Washington University, respectively, and his artworks have been displayed in exhibitions both in Canada and abroad, in the U.S.A. and the U.A.E. In his experimental project Third Space, he expands the scope of his creativity by adapting his vision as a visual artist to the video medium. Third Space features his habitual hybrid treatment of material via a combination of photography, digital manipulation and animation in order to visually evoke the emotional experiences of new immigrants. Sinha’s inspiration comes from the mythical character of Trishanku from the great Indian epic Ramayana. Trishanku defied the divine rules with his desire for entering paradise in his mortal body and ends up building his own paradise instead. Sinha uses the troubling duality between body and soul to represent the local and global forces that can pull immigrants asunder, and eventually leads him to construct the eponymous “third space.” This piece has been developed as an installation, and will be played on a loop on a monitor mounted in a crafted frame.

Video is often thought of as a medium that can permit more personal and experimental types of expression. Although all of the 2011 JumpStart projects are highly diverse in their topics and concerns, they are unified in that they are all underwritten with a pronounced personal commitment. Simultaneously, these video projects are part of a collective effort to widen our social awareness. The variety in tone and style exhibited in these videos, which in turn hearkens back to the particular background of each artist, exemplifies the contribution of the JumpStart Mentorship program to a freewheeling artistic expression by identifying local talents and pushing them forwards on the road of creativity.

The next deadline to apply for the JumpStart Mentorship program will be May 1st 2012. Look for an announcement soon about the premiere of the 2011 JumpStart videos, to be screened in June at Club SAW. The artists will be in attendance to introduce and discuss their work.


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