By Alanna Hendren
DDA’s first film, “Doing the Impossible: The Story of the Developmental Disabilities Association” was nominated for 2 Golden Sheaf Awards at the Yorkton Film Festival – for Best Documentary, History and Biography and Best Research. The town of Yorkton launched this film festival in 1947 with the support of the National Film Board of Canada. This was 76 years ago, making Yorkton the site of the oldest Film Festival in North America, rewarding the best screen-based media content in Canada.
As a major documentary and film buff, being nominated as the Executive Producer of a film about DDA was not what I had in mind when I set things in motion a couple of years earlier. During COVID, DDA needed more online recruitment, training and promotional videos, so we advertised for a videographer.
One candidate seemed overqualified but DDA does deserve the best, so we took a chance on David Ozier, who started with our Communications department shooting videos for recruitment and staff training.
Our staff General Orientation (GO) training includes the history of DDA, so David’s assignment was to produce a video outlining DDA’s developments in community living within the broader history of people with intellectual disabilities, showing how DDA impacted services throughout the province. I gave him a list of people who were there that he could speak to and off he went, but the more David explored our history, the better he thought he could make the film. He wanted to produce a history that would engage staff rather than just ‘train’ them so the documentary grew and grew in sophistication.
We had our first viewing of “Doing the Impossible” with an audience of self-advocates, families, staff and community friends on May 6, 2022, as we launched ourselves out of the pandemic, and the reception was so encouraging that we released it on YouTube on August 11, 2022. The reception was again so positive that “Doing the Impossible” was nominated for 2 Golden Sheaf Awards and 4 Leo Awards from the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Association of BC.
So there I was in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, a town of 16,000 souls two hours east of Regina. The weather was cool and rainy in contrast to Vancouver’s bright sunshine but the welcome given to Festival attendees reminded me of what can happen when communities pull together. Volunteers shuttled us to and from the airport in vehicles loaned out for the 3-day celebration by the local car dealership. When we needed rides from the conference center to the local 1950’s-era Tower Theater downtown, antique car club members drove us there and back in 1970’s station wagons, a 1961 flamingo pink Studebaker, muscle cars and other vehicles restored to mint condition. Volunteers registered guests, chaired screening sessions, got us rides, judged the films, took photos, lined up networking events, fed us farm-fresh food and more. Community businesses sponsored awards. The local rifle shooting club hosted a famous lobster (flown in for the occasion) dinner and gave skeet shooting lessons. People from town joined us for dinner. Enthusiastic down home prairie hospitality.
The Festival opened at the theater in the local Painted Hand Casino ballroom with “Carry it On”, a documentary about Buffy St. Marie, an indigenous artist born in Saskatchewan but raised in the U.S., popular from the 1960’s to the present (she’s 82 and still touring). Buffy is a songwriter, singer, musician, actress, teacher, mother and a fierce indigenous and women’s rights activist. She tells her own story with lots of laughs and giggles in a spirit of joy, although her life was not without some serious challenges. Buffy was also the first woman to breast feed on TV – on Sesame Street – without backlash, although she said there probably would be today and then giggled.
The Yorkton Film Festival celebrates diversity and included several indigenous and other minority community productions. One award-winner in the fiction category was “Paco” a film about Filipino immigrants in Canada. Another was about young women deciding not to have children due to their concerns about climate change. The Best of Saskatchewan Award winner was “Fable Deaf”, an amazing film created completely by people with major hearing impairments and when they won, everyone clapped by waving their fingers in the air so the room was silent but the audience was full of smiles. The film-making community is now truly accessible to more Canadians with different perspectives and stories. Some short films had no dialogue, just music. The films and Festival were demonstrations of Inclusion in Action and it was exciting to see people doing inclusion instead of just talking about it.
The Festival culminated in the Awards Gala, held in the community center where the bulk of the activity took place, with a red carpet, photographers and live streaming to YouTube, so I got to promote our film to the small audience. “Can you do the impossible?” they asked. “Yes,” I replied, but it takes a long time.” Many lifetimes in the case of DDA.
We did not win a coveted Golden Sheaf Award but those who did were very excited and proud of their achievements. Although the setting is most humble, “The Flying Sailor”, the big winner of the evening had already been nominated for an Oscar in 2023 – the third time for its creators, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby. This 8-minute-long animation took two film makers, a composer, a small orchestra and others three years to produce. These 8 minutes are intense though – within that short time we witness the historic 1917 ship explosion in Halifax harbour, chaos, death and a resurrection. This kind of art could not be created without the support of the National Film Board of Canada.
Many of the film makers I met without such support were heroically navigating the stormy seas of film finance and tax credits to bring the rest of us important stories that point us to the truth so we can make decisions for ourselves. The trick is telling the story in a way that engages an audience.
Just being nominated was a victory. “Doing the Impossible” was judged amongst the best in Canada and viewed by story-tellers from across the country. Who knows where it will go from here?
To view Doing the Impossible – The Story of the Developmental Disabilities Association, go here.