Member Spotlight: Robinder Uppal & Marc Serpa Francoeur

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ABOVE: Robinder Uppal (Left); Marc Serpa Francoeur (Right)
Photograped by Darren Calabrese

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Marc Serpa Francoeur & Robinder Uppal

Boardwalk Músico (2015)

Our February DOC Member Spotlight showcases DOC Toronto's Marc Serpa Francoeur and DOC Alberta's Robinder Uppal, the filmmaking duo behind Lost Time Media

 

Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal found a documentary idea, quite literally, on their doorstep. After moving to Toronto's Bloorcourt neighbourhood in 2011, they became curious about the stories underlying the many immigrant-owned restaurants and shops that characterize the area. Their interest evolved into The World in Ten Blocks, an interactive documentary that takes viewers into the kitchens and behind the counters of 10 storefront businesses. For Serpa Francoeur and Uppal, the project's appeal lay in the opportunity to explore both their subjects and a new documentary format. "And also just the fact that it was where we lived," Serpa Francoeur says, explaining that proximity offered deeper insight into their characters. They had the chance to get to know them. 

Although Serpa Francoeur and Uppal currently live in different cities—Uppal's personal life has seen him relocate to the United States—their collaboration is itself a homespun undertaking. They met as children while growing up in Calgary, and co-directed their first film for a high-school class. While working towards undergraduate degrees in Vancouver, the friends travelled together to India, where they spontaneously shot a short doc. They had both been studying screenwriting, but were quick converts to nonfiction. A few years later, they enrolled in the Documentary Media MFA program at Ryerson University, and continued their creative relationship: The World in Ten Blocks was initially conceived for their joint thesis. 

The filmmakers say their partnership benefits from complementary individual strengths. Uppal tends to tackle the technical considerations—shooting, and in the case of Ten Blocks, learning to code "from the ground up"—while Serpa Francoeur is more narratively driven. Like any artistic alliance, there are arguments—but Uppal maintains their disagreements are usually productive. "In a sense we're like family much more than we are just best friends. We're stuck together, whether we want to be or not," he says. 

The World in Ten Blocks (2016)

When Uppal and Serpa Francoeur direct alone, the other team member serves as producer. Recent solo projects have also had a close-to-home connection. For The Royal Women Association (2015), Uppal turned his camera on his own mother, tracing her backstory and divorce, as well as her participation in a creative social league for Punjabi women living in Calgary. Serpa Francoeur is now directing The Head and the Hand, a short documentary set in Portugal's Azores Islands, his mother's home region. The film profiles two women with a powerful relationship that spans half a century. One is quadriplegic and the other has an intellectual disability—together, they form a supportive unit. 

The World in Ten Blocks (2016)

Fuelling a transition to interactive.

"We're both the children of immigrants, and I think that colours a lot of our approach," says Uppal. "I can only imagine how hard it is for people who do this for future generations who aren't even born yet—to make these sacrifices."

This focus on immigration also fuelled their transition to interactive. While they are excited about the novelty and potential of the new form, their enthusiasm is rooted in a practical motivation to find the best structural fit for their stories. The World in Ten Blocks was initially released as a short linear film, but its many narrative threads suited an online platform. "It wouldn't have made a compelling feature film," Serpa Francoeur says, "Believe us, we tried. There's an appropriate way to tell these stories, even if it's just in very digestible, bite-sized pieces. But also by communicating the geography of the area." 

Uppal and Serpa Francoeur are now creating a digital media component to accompany The League of Exotic Dancers, director Rama Rau's forthcoming documentary about the legends of burlesque. Produced by Storyline Entertainment, the film's online elements include "scrapbooks" that incorporate materials from the dancers' personal archives. Designed to complement the Rau's feature, these pieces will evoke the experience of sitting down with one of the dancers and going through her photo album. "The film and interactive will both be distinct documentary experiences that will engage audiences independently, as well as cross-pollinate from one to the other," says Uppal.

The World in Ten Blocks and the interactive component for The League of Exotic Dancers are both slated to go live this spring. To learn more about Serpa Francoeur and Uppal's work, visit www.losttimemedia.com.