Victoria Lean and Daniel Cross are the recipients of this year’s DOC Institute Honours. Lean was given the DOC Vanguard Award, which recognizes an up-and-coming filmmaker with an eye for innovation and for the social activist element of documentary, while Cross received the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award given to a devoted doc advocate. A jury of peers from the documentary community made both decisions unanimously.
Lean previously directed the acclaimed feature documentary After the Last River, which chronicles the struggles and resilience of the community of Attawapiskat when a diamond mine causes devastating environmental and socio-economic consequences. Lean spent five years making the film, which including considerable time in the community, and was on the ground filming prior to the Idle No More movement of which Attawapiskat was at the centre. [Read more about After the Last River in our cover story The Class of ’15 and our National Canadian Film Day interview with Lean.]
After the Last River received a healthy run on the festival circuit that included wins for Best Canadian Feature at Toronto’s Planet in Focus Film Festival and the Nigel Moore Youth Award at Vancouver’s DOXA Festival. After the Last River was also nominated for the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social/Political Documentary Program at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards, has screened in communities around the country, and has been added to school curricula. In addition to making After the Last River, Lean teaches filmmaking workshops in the North and is a producer of VICE’s popular series Nirvanna: The Band The Show.
“I am deeply honoured to be recognized by the DOC Institute with the 2017 Vanguard Award,” said Lean in a statement from the DOC Institute. “I could not have made my first feature without the guidance and support of so many mentors, colleagues and friends in the documentary community and in Attawapiskat. This award will certainly be an important source of encouragement for me as I embark on future filmmaking endeavours.”
Lean gave an appreciable nod of thanks to the people of Attawapiskat while accepting her award. “They taught me so much about community, resilience, and what it means to work together,” Lean said to the crowd. She added that the film and experience provided valuable lessons on the need to improve education, media coverage, and awareness of issues in Indigenous communities to highlight the impact of resource extraction and questions of access while encouraging de-colonial gazes. “Especially in the era of fake news,” Lean added, “documentaries have never been more important.”
Lean was presented her award by POV publisher Judy Wolfe, who remarked, “A few years ago, my partner Marc Glassman and I met an extraordinary young woman through our friend Ali Kazimi…Like Ali, she was working in the field of political documentaries and intended to make a film that would have a positive impact. She struck us as extraordinarily poised and dedicated to her project, which was about the devastating situation in Attawapiskat First Nation…It’s a wonderful film that deftly handles the complexities of the story while being a compassionate portrait of the Indigenous community of Attawapiskat.”
Cross received the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award in recognition of his work as the co-founder of EyeSteel Film. The Montreal-based production company has delivered some of the most acclaimed documentaries in contemporary Canadian cinema, such as Spit: Squeegee Punks in Traffic, Up the Yangtze, Last Train Home, and Angry Inuk, and has shown an ongoing commitment to telling international stories and developing co-production relationships to help open the borders for Canadian films and filmmakers. EyeSteel’s library includes a notably diverse portfolio of filmmakers using documentary as a tool for social change. [Read more about Daniel Cross and EyeSteelFilm in this POV cover story.]
Cross echoed Lean’s sentiment that documentary filmmakers have a greater responsibility than ever. While alluding to the circus south of the border, Cross said it was time to awaken funders and activate citizens. “Now, more than we have had in a long time, we have the opportunity to jump in and support real people and communities,” said Cross while noting it was on documentary filmmakers to help realign the axis of power.
Cross also mentors emerging filmmakers as part of his work with EyeSteel Films. Among the new talents whose voices have been fostered under EyeSteel are Kalina Bertin (Manic), Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze), and Mia Donovan (Deprogrammed). Cross also directed the feature documentary I am the Blues, which won two Canadian Screen Awards this year including Best Documentary. POV’s Marc Glassman called it, “a relaxed and beautifully observed film.” The Rogers-DOC Luminary Award adds to a good year for the filmmaker, who received the Don Haig Award from Hot Docs in May in recognition of his overall body of work. EyeSteel’s next project is the eco doc Atone’s Ark, which is one of the few films representing Canada at Sundance this year.
“Daniel Cross is a fearless visionary in the truest sense of the words,” said Adam Shamoon, DOC Institute Director, in a statement from the organization. “He has given outspoken young Canadian filmmakers a vital international platform.” Shamoon also noted the significance of the honours as the only peer-driven awards of their kind in the field, and the sentiment in the room echoed the sense of community and admiration for the recipients.
The awards were handed out tonight at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto at the annual fête hosted by the DOC Institute. The master of ceremonies again this year was actor and documentary filmmakerPeter Keleghan.
Previous recipients for the award include Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk) and Chelsea McMullan (My Prairie Home), while winners of the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award have included Hot Docs president Chris McDonald, visual researcher Elizabeth Klinck, and POV editor Marc Glassman.