Stories about real people have always captivated Vancouver-based filmmaker, Melanie Wood. Beginning with her degree in Communications Studies at Simon Fraser University and through her early work with CBC News and Current Affairs, Wood discovered how people are different in “intriguing ways” and sought to capture their deeply personal, often controversial stories.
A number of her award-winning documentaries have cast light on taboo topics: internet child sex predators in A Stranger In Our Home (2000); cybersex addiction in O.com (2003), student-teacher sexual relationships in School of Secrets (2007); and victims of stalkers in To Have and To Hold (1999).
“I don’t think anything is off-limits,” Wood concedes. “I’m most interested in the very personal grey areas. What stirs me up and why? What does it mean for my life, my neighbourhood and community?” she says. “It’s about navigating that line where you want people to engage, to not be turned off but go beyond their boundaries.”
Wood’s recent work continues to push boundaries. For Dear Life opens conversations about dying and death. Directed by Carmen Pollard, the feature documentary follows terminally ill theatre producer James Pollard over his three years, taking the audience along James’ intimate journey while confronting deep-seated social taboos around death. Produced by Wood in partnership with British Columbia’s Knowledge Network, For Dear Life premieres at Vancouver’s DOXA 2017 on May 7th.
Nearing completion Shut Up & Say Something follows the personal journey of world-renowned poet Shane Koyczan as he tries to understand why his father abandoned him. Shane’s friend and filmmaker Stuart Gillies stays close enough to Shane for us to witness the artistic struggle – a gripping poem about his dad, but for us all.
Wood is also currently four months into filming Living in HOpe, a documentary series and digital media project that captures the drama of daily life in North Vancouver’s HOpe Psychiatry and Education Centre. With a rigorous consent process in place, Wood has unprecedented access to HOpe’s patients, their families, friends and healthcare professionals.
“There is a belief held that the world shouldn’t be seeing people in psychosis,” but Wood maintains that “just because [people] have a psychotic condition doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.” She films patients during psychotic episodes, when they return home, those who support them and what their loved ones think. One person she’s following is a man who is “comfortable with himself at all those levels. He is not ashamed of who he is when he’s living well, or struggling with his illness.”
Living in Hope challenges pervasive stigmas about mental illness. “It’s a level of understanding another human being that I’ve never delved into before,” notes Wood. “It has really changed me.”
Wood believes that if you’ve got a message to get out and tell, broadcasting is the way to go. She calls herself a “matchmaker” – someone who knows how to frame a story to entice broadcasters and works to secure funding to produce documentaries.
For each film, Wood forms a team around her that’s appropriate to the project. “We all work together. It really is a team sport,” she muses. “With every film, I learn something new. I find I never know enough. That makes me excited to keep learning some new way of failing, some way of working, and understanding people.”
For more information about Melanie Wood and work visit: http://strangerproductions.ca/.
This membership spotlights was originally published in April 2017.