Getting connected on the Doc Bus

Open Cinema's founder, filmmaker Mandy Leith, launched Get on the Doc Bus! a cross-country road trip for the future of documentary film.

Mandy Leith

Mandy Leith

When Mandy Leith got on the Doc Bus last week, the Open Cinema founder and filmmaker didn’t just reunite with the 1991 Westfalia camper van she drove on a cross-country networking adventure in the name of documentary film. She came face to face with a physical embodiment of her community-building aspirations – the mechanic who fixed her transmission pro bono in Halifax and returned the van to her in Vancouver.

“The Westfalia community is an amazing pay-it-forward community that provides an interesting model for the kind of network we could be developing in the documentary industry,” said Leith, who finished the trip down a vehicle and up a sense of hope adn inspiration for the future of community engagement through documentary.

Last May Leith set out on Get on the Doc Bus!, a 120-day cross-country adventure, where she met with 165 documentary filmmakers, festival and industry organizations to identify an underrepresented sector in the screen trade, the non-Hollywood exhibition sector, or community cinema where filmmakers and audiences meet. Her research mission: to explore the future of documentary and discover the level need for Cross Canada Community Cinema Network. With the future of documentary uncertain, and a decade of investigation on the topic within Victoria, the time was ripe for Leith to hop aboard the bus and start connecting with her cohorts.

For the past 10 years, Open Cinema has been screening documentaries in café-style venues, followed by an open forum discussion with a panel of invited guests. Within the past year the series has evolved into a hybrid event using live video streaming, Twitter and Facebook to scale-up the engagement. Selected films are publicly available using iTunes or another online streaming platform, and the following Tweetchat is tracked. The Twitter reach for their last Open Cinema discussion was 123,000 users, up from an initial reach of 20,000 – numbers on a par with docs on TV.

“It seemed like the right time to head across the country to connect with other filmmakers, with film festivals, with like-minded community screening initiatives and with industry organizations to find out who’s doing what in the live and virtual hybrid screening space and to find out if what we’ve been doing is of any use to the evolving hybrid audience experience,” Leith said. “There’s no connection between festivals or community screening organizations. That does not exist anywhere in the country.”

For Leith, that meant taking a hybrid approach.

“That’s why I got on the bus instead of making a lot of phone calls or sending emails: it feels really important in our online world,” Leith said. “Most people told me that after our conversation they were feeling really inspired about what’s actually a pretty dismal economic scenario. It inspired people to feel that there is something we can build that will help the industry and support the work that we’re doing.”

The response to what Leith describes as “documentary outreach project on steroids” has been overwhelmingly positive and inspiring, and includes support from the major industry players. Leith is now in discussion with the Canada Media Fund, the Documentary Association of Canada and the National Film Board of Canada to see if the model Open Cinema built experimentally can be used to provide revenue for the filmmakers through streaming in conjunction with live events.

“It’s really about focusing on the live events but using these tools to develop both a culture of documentary-watching and helping to develop revenue models, much in the way that iTunes helped develop the music scene’s online revenue model 10 or 15 years ago.”

“This Doc Bus journey really helped everyone realize that this is a shadow economy in the film industry that is becoming more and more vital as broadcast strands for documentaries dwindle and festivals and community screenings become one of the very main ways of getting documentaries out there.”

The filmmaker, while still recovering from all the driving, meetings, doc bus maintenance, and camping, will share insight into the experience and cinema as a tool for community building during Open Cinema’s Season 11 premiere Oct. 30 at 7pm (doors at 5:30), at Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad.

Connected, Webby Award founder Tiffany Schlain’s documentary about what it means to be connected in the 21st century will screen, followed by a discussion with Leith, and fellow community-builders Jason Guille, director of the Victoria Public Market at the Hudson, and climate action analyst Heather Bauer. Join the conversation via #opencinema Tweetchat and learn more about Open Cinema or Get on the Doc Bus! at opencinema.ca.

“It’s been a bit of a risk for us to promote the streaming option because we do depend on people coming to the door and paying a donation to us,” Leith said. “We took the risk in the name of the bigger picture where we are innovating. … As it turns out Open Cinema is a couple of steps ahead of the game. Everybody’s thinking about it, but nobody’s doing it to the extent that we have.”

 

Just Posted

The City of Victoria hopes to improve its cultural spaces this year and it wants non-profits to help. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Grants up to $125,000 open to Victoria non-profit arts and cultural organizations

Victoria Cultural Infrastructure Grant applications close at the end of May

(Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich health and safety manager named one of Canada’s top 40 women in safety

Canadian Occupational Safety magazine celebrates women leading safety sector in 2021

Colwood city council did a last minute adjustment to this year’s budget, dropping the planned property increase to five per cent. Last year they didn’t increase taxes at all. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood agrees to 5% tax increase for 2021, deferring some expenses to next year

Last-minute changes will save the typical Colwood homeowner $56

Pacific sand dollars are a local species which belong to the same group as sea urchins. While alive, they are covered entirely by thousands of densely packed, short and slender spikes. (Photo courtesy of Louise Page)
The peculiar life of a Pacific sand dollar

UVic biology professor Louise Page offers a glace into sand dollars’ world under the water

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
Queen presents Vancouver Island doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup at virtual ceremony

Most Read