DOC Institute Announces Breakthrough Winners; DOC Offers Free Memberships for Indigenous Talents

L-R: DOC Institute Breakthrough Development Award winners Polina Teif and Qais Pasha, and filmmaker Lulu Wei

By Pat Mullen

Polina Teif and Qais Pasha are the winners of this year’s Breakthrough Development Awards. Presented by the DOC Institute in Toronto on Friday, the awards honour candidates selected from the participants in this year’s DOC Breakthrough Program. The program supports emerging filmmakers by preparing them for the field via intensive workshops, pitch sessions, and networking opportunities.

“We are immensely proud of the Breakthrough Program and the many talented filmmakers it has shepherded in its 15-year history,” said Sonia Sakamoto-Jog, Interim Director of the DOC Institute, in a statement. “We’re grateful to Rogers Group of Funds and CBC for their ongoing support of documentary filmmakers, and for their recognition of these exceptional projects.” As winners of the DOC Breakthrough Development Awards, Teif and Pasha receive a $20,000 cash prize from the Rogers Group of Funds, a development deal from the CBC, and additional mentorship and professional development opportunities supported by the DOC Institute.

Teif is a Toronto-based multi-disciplinary artist, director and cinematographer who was born in Belarus and raised in Israel. Her winning project, Eulogy for the Dead Sea, is a meditation on conflicts that cross borders, particularly as events in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine’s West Bank have consequences that bleed into the Dead Sea. “Eulogy for the Dead Sea captivated us with its visual and poetic imagery,” noted the jury in a release from the DOC Institute. “This universal story addresses the ecological impact of border wars.”

Pasha, a Toronto-based artist and media specialist, was selected for his film The Horror in Quebec City. The film revisits horror/sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft’s 1933 trip to Quebec City. The jury praised The Horror in Quebec City for its “distinct and creative storytelling style, and personal yet powerful examination of artistic legacy in a modern context.” Pasha also works as a Senior Ad Operations Specialist for Corus Entertainment and was selected for diverse voices workshops supported by CBC and Hot Docs.

Also selected from the DOC Breakthroughs Program was Lulu Wei, whose film There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace was commissioned by CBC Docs POV. Wei, also based in Toronto, looks at the history of the city’s once iconic department store/kitsch factory Honest Ed’s and the greater community that is effected when the building is sold to developers and torn down.

This week, the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) recognized director Tiffany Hsiung with the Allan King Memorial Award. The award, presented to mark ten years since the death of the great Canadian documentarian, honours a filmmaker who continues King’s spirit in their work. Hsiung previously directed the award-winning feature documentary The Apology, which earned her a Directors Guild of Canada nomination for the Allan King Award for Excellence in Documentary, and co-created the interactive work The Space We Hold, which explores the stories of survivors featured in The Apology and won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Original Digital Production.

“Allan King’s groundbreaking approach to storytelling has always inspired me to capture the human condition through cinéma verité,” said Hsiung in a statement. “When I first met these resilient women who survived military sexual slavery during WWII for our film The Apology, it was their everyday life that captured my heart and made me better understand the impact of the atrocities that took place. It is a tremendous honour to receive the Allan King Memorial Award, as it symbolizes the power of the human story and how it ultimately connects us all.”

In other news, DOC announced additional support for filmmakers by offering free two-year memberships for Indigenous talents. This opportunity extends to Indigenous filmmakers the full availability of services and benefits of a DOC memberships and is made in alignment with the initiatives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which identified the arts as having an essential role in reflecting the lives, experiences, and truths of Indigenous people through self-representation.

“Through this initiative, our goal is to remove any barriers to access that may previously have limited inclusion and accessibility to the value of participating in our organization,” said Mathieu Pierre Dagonas, Executive Director of DOC. “We champion the production and distribution of documentaries across all platforms – and advocate on behalf of creators and producers – to strengthen the Canadian documentary community. Our goal is to ensure that all creators are given equal opportunity to succeed in sharing their work and stories.”