It was love that brought Rosvita Dransfeld from Germany to Canada 18 years ago. “I fell in love with a Canadian, and he lured us to Edmonton.” Leaving behind a career as a print and TV journalist, Dransfeld experienced a professional shift in Canada. Uprooting gave her the freedom to experiment with different forms of storytelling.
“Seeing the entrepreneurial spirit of Canadian filmmakers gave me … the opportunity to take ownership of my stories,” said Dransfeld.
With her company ID: Productions, Dransfeld has spent the past two decades producing and directing documentaries that explore her adoptive home. Whether examining the realities of addiction and sex work on Edmonton’s streets (Who Cares, 2012) or offering a unique glimpse into the life of a downtown pawnshop owner (the Donald Brittain Award-winning Broke, 2009) Dransfeld’s films are gritty and touching, unflinching in the harshness they illuminate but also full of empathy for her subjects. Her vérité style contributed to her being selected as the 2016 subject of Hot Doc’s Focus On retrospective.
Dransfeld’s one-hour documentary for CBC Television, The Ward (2014), about life on dialysis, laid the groundwork for her current two projects, known together as the Transplant Project. “Filming in that environment made me realize the potential for a fully fledged feature, a ‘real life drama’ in véritéstyle,” said Dransfeld. It took time and commitment to get such unfettered access for a documentary. “I spent the next year gaining the trust and respect of the stakeholders within the healthcare system convincing them to give us unlimited access.”
TWO DISTINCT DOCUMENTARIES
Vital Bonds, a collaboration with fellow DOC Alberta director Niobe Thompson, was produced for CBC’s The Nature of Things and premières on November 17th. Presented in a fast-pace television format, Vital Bonds is a call to action that “clearly supports organ and tissue donation,” said Dransfeld.
Thompson, who had previously produced successful documentaries for The Nature of Things, was the “perfect match,” according to Dransfeld. “He knew this format well,” she said, “and he was also keen to try new ways of storytelling for the feature.”
Memento mori, from death comes life, is a “stunningly beautiful elegy, celebrating life in the shadow of death,” said Dransfeld. “It’s a reminder of our mortality and how in today’s world we can give meaning to death.” Co-produced with the NFB, the feature-length Memento mori premièred at the Atlantic Film Festival in September and will go on the festival circuit in 2017.
Dransfeld worries there is not enough opportunity for documentaries on Canadian television. “Documentary is in a real crisis because there are less and less places for work to be commissioned for television. And without a broadcast license in place, you can’t get funding.”
This is why she has been an active DOC member. “DOC does such important work advocating for filmmakers. We nurture emerging filmmakers, push broadcasters and online services to support our work, and provide all these great services that help create an independent voice in Canada.”
To see more of how Dransfeld is keeping Canadian documentary alive, accessible, and critically-minded, visit www.idproductions.ca.