It was a borrowed camera and a passion for social justice that unwittingly launched Teresa MacInnes’ 30-year career as an award-winning documentary filmmaker.
She first reached for the camera during her honours thesis on methadone maintenance while studying at Simon Fraser University. At the time, she was working with Vancouver psychologist and professor emeritus Bruce Alexander with the goal of becoming a psychologist herself.
While helping with a letter writing campaign, MacInnes initiated a video project alongside a man in the methadone program who wanted to demonstrate to the B.C. government how it helps people break free of opioid addiction. In the process, she met and collaborated with Alexis Mackintosh on three more social justice videos and discovered the film industry. “I saw how, even in a small way, film could contribute to social change,” recalls MacInnes.
Embracing social work and filmmaking as a collaborative relationship, MacInnes continued working in both fields until 1993 when she formed the film company, Starry Night Productions, with Penny Wheelwright in Vancouver. Later on, she would form Sea to Sea Productions with her husband Kent Nason in Nova Scotia where they currently reside.
How does MacInnes choose her stories—or perhaps how do they choose her? “Sometimes it’s simple—someone has something to say, a story to be told,” MacInnes explains. “Often there’s a burning drive to bring that story forward because it’s something you feel is important to share. Stories build from one film to another and sometimes, if you’re around long enough, the new projects loop back to previous ones,” she muses.
Collaboration on both sides of the lens is key to MacInnes’ process—evident in her current film project, Conviction, with co-directors Nance Ackerman and Ariella Pahlke and MacInnes’ role as producer, which she shares with the NFB’s Annette Clarke. Co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada and produced in association with documentary Channel, Conviction envisions alternatives to prison with women who spent time there and individuals like Senator Kim Pate who are on the frontlines of the decarceration movement.
“It’s more than just showing these women and including their voice,” notes MacInnes. “Collaboration means allowing them to have a stronger influence in the piece by participating in the making of the film from start to finish.”
As filming and editing on Conviction continues over the next year, MacInnes also remains committed to supporting the documentary film industry in Canada. Currently she serves on the boards of DOC Atlantic, Screen Nova Scotia and Hot Docs Film Festival.
As a member of DOC and Women in Film early in her career, MacInnes acknowledges, “There’s a lot that people fought for which I have benefited from. I want to do the same for younger filmmakers.”
Teresa MacInnes spoke with Kim Morningstar for this DOC Member Spotlight in 2017.