Shazia Javed and Aïcha Diop Named 2020 DOC Institute Breakthrough Development Award Winners

Shazia Javed

By Pat Mullen

Shazia Javed and Aïcha Diop are the winners of the 2020 DOC Institute Breakthrough Development Award. Both filmmakers won for projects emphasizing questions of identity and belonging. Javed’s winning project Sister, Don’t Go That Far questions faith and prescribed gender roles. Diop’s Gawlo is a familial quest that traces ancestral roots. A jury of peers from the documentary field selected both projects. Weekly leaders for the DOC Institute’s Breakthrough program were Nadia Tavazzani and Andrew Moir.

Javed’s previous credits include the feature documentary 3 Seconds Divorce, which focuses on the plight of Muslin women activists challenging the tradition of oral divorces in which men can abandon their wives with a mere utterance. The film won the audience award at Toronto’s ReelWorld Film Festival and landed distribution through Netflix. “This is just the kind of boost that I needed in my career at this point,” said Javed in a statement from the DOC Institute. “The entire program has been a great experience, and the pitch prize is an added incentive. I am now all set to continue work on my next film.”

Aïcha Diop
Both photos courtesy of the DOC Institute

Diop previously directed the short doc Nancy’s Workshop, which takes audiences inside a salon to see how young women of colour celebrate their natural hair, kinks and all. The film has drawn over two million views on YouTube since debuting last August through CBC Short Docs. “I’m overjoyed and humbled that Gawlo was selected as one of the winning projects of DOC Ontario’s Breakthrough Program,” said Diop in a statement. “This year has been a rollercoaster, but our weekly pitch workshops offered the inspiration and motivation that I needed to stay focused, and to remind myself that there will be a world to return to after this, and that this story, which has captured my whole heart, still deserves to be told.”

“On behalf of myself and the board of directors at DOC Institute, we are impressed by the calibre of the work presented by the filmmakers, and extend huge congratulations to Aïcha and Shazia on their successful pitches,” added Christine Kleckner, director at DOC Institute via a statement. “Thank you to our funders at Rogers Group of Funds and CBC for their ongoing support of documentary filmmakers, and for their recognition of these exceptional projects.”

The award carries a $20,000 cash prize from the Rogers Group of Funds for both filmmakers. Javed and Diop also received a development deal from the CBC along with mentorship and professional development support from the DOC Institute.

Robin Mirsky, executive director at Rogers Group of Funds, added, “I’m pleased to see such strong work coming out of the Breakthrough Lab; this year’s projects were all very strong. Rogers Group of Funds is proud to support this program for a second year, which reliably showcases some of the brightest talent in the province.”

Filmmakers who previously boosted their careers through the DOC Institute Breakthrough Program include Hugh Gibson, whose feature The Stairs won the Rogers Award for Best Canadian Feature from the Toronto Film Critics Association in 2016, and Shasha Nakhai, who produced the Oscar-shortlisted film Frame 394 and directed the 2018 Hot Docs selection Take Light.