There are many ways young documentarians hone their art during those early, hungry years. Some spend years in school, while others compete for covered internships. For Moncton, New Brunswick’s Craig Norris, it was a long stint spent living out of a car with his fiancée, crisscrossing the continent from the East Coast to Alaska to Costa Rica, armed with a few cameras and rolls of film. It’s a romantic image, but Norris says the learning curve was steep: “I found out I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I didn’t know how to pick the frame, do the lighting. Really, what I didn’t know was how to tell a story. I decided I had to learn how to take one picture at a time before I could try to do twenty-four frames per second.”
Norris did just that, studying photography and showing work in small exhibits while supporting himself as a wedding photographer. But a gig working as DOP on Ian Mauro’s Climate Change in Atlantic Canada(2013) reminded Norris of his passion for filmmaking and social change.
“I guess I felt that if you aren’t pursuing the things that are important to you full-time, you’re not going to find enough time during evenings or on weekends to really make an impact.”
In the three years since launching his production company VideoBand, Norris and his collaborators have certainly filled their time. They’ve focused on telling stories about our changing environment and the people who are dedicated to protecting it. Surviving the Fundy Footpath (2016) follows Ben Persaude, a first generation Canadian and novice hiker as he tackles one of Canada’s most beautiful (and challenging) trails, and Kokota: The Islet of Hope (2016) tells the story of a tiny, rural island off the coast of Tanzania as it struggles to adapt to the havoc wrought by global climate change.
FINDING FUNDING OFF THE BEATEN PATH
For each of his films, Norris has shied away from the beaten path to find support. “None of my projects are traditionally financed,” he says. “We’ve gotten funding from the European Union and from Mountain Equipment Co-op. And I think people think that we’re an ad agency, or that we’re making branded content, but in the end we’re just trying to tell a great story. I can’t think of a single time I was forced to tell a story a certain way, or that I was handcuffed. Honestly I think it might be harder in certain ways to work with some broadcasters than our clients”
Norris has come to trust his own vision, and that his clients will recognize the importance of the topics he explores. “We get to make the movies exactly the way we want to make then. We’re not surrounded by a bunch of people trying to tell us how to do our job. If I’m happy with it, they usually are too,” he says.
With three projects currently getting ready to tour and three more about to go into production, 2017 will be a busy year for VideoBand’s small, two-person crew. Norris looked to DOC for help with the aspects of promoting his films that he didn’t feel as at home in. DOC’s Festival Concierge helped him develop a festival strategy for Kokota. “I don’t have a lot experience with festivals and it was really good for finding national and international opportunities. We’ve been really lucky and have gotten the film into Planet in Focus, Hot Springs, and some other international festivals.”
This frees Norris up to focus on what his films are all about: changing the way we think about our place in the world. “Our aim has always been to try and change the culture. Whether it’s just the people who hike one trail in Atlantic Canada or an entire country, we’re always trying to make films that shape the culture. We’re still learning how to do it, but we’re getting better every day, and I like to think we’re just getting started.”
For more information about Craig Norris and his work, visit: www.videoband.ca.
This membership profile was published in 2016.