NSI Aboriginal Documentary - Apply

Application deadline

Applications must be received by 4:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday, November 2, 2016.


Call Elise Swerhone or Ursula Lawson at (204) 956-7800 or (800) 952-9307 or email: aboriginal@nsi-canada.ca

Application fee

There is a $100 non-refundable fee per application. Payment is processed through PayPal.

How do I apply?

A link to the application form is available at the bottom of this page. You must read the full course guidelines below before applying.


There are no tuition costs for students.

What does NSI Aboriginal Documentary offer?

NSI Aboriginal Documentary is the development training launch pad for producer/director teams looking to produce a short documentary film. Each team is paired with industry mentors to help with the final development and production of a documentary film.

During the course you will:

  • work with experienced documentary producers and directors;
  • learn about concept development, research, writing and directing;
  • get firsthand experience of making a documentary film from development, to pitch, to production, to packaging and delivery;
  • explore the world of social media marketing, transmedia and multiplatform strategies and find out how they can extend your personal brand, generate buzz for your film, help you fundraise and expand your audience;
  • learn about financing, banks, agencies, tax credits, production planning, cash flow, etc;
  • receive a cash award of up to $16,000 to put towards production costs;
  • attend the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto;
  • receive travel, accommodation and post-production services from the NFB, which will take place at their Montreal facilities; and
  • have your documentary air as part of a one-hour special of NSI Aboriginal Documentary shorts on APTN and aptn.ca. Your film will also stream on nfb.ca.

What is the course format?

NSI Aboriginal Documentary is comprised of two phases.

Phase one – an intensive 12 day training session – February 5 to 17, 2017

Phase one is an intensive two-week boot camp training session from February 5 to 17, 2017 (dates subject to change) in Winnipeg. NSI will cover all air transportation to Winnipeg as well as accommodation while at the boot camp. NSI does not cover the cost of food, ground travel or incidentals.

It is mandatory for all team members to attend the full two-week boot camp. Classes are held at the NSI Aboriginal Training Centre, 141 Bannatyne Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba. Classes generally run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break.

Boot camp starts with a traditional sharing circle, pipe ceremony and feast followed by sessions given by industry experts on story development, research, rights clearances, pitching, legal matters, budgeting, financing – all aspects of directing and producing a documentary. Lisa Jackson is the director advisor and Brendon Sawatzky is the producer advisor.

After phase one, teams continue to work and incorporate story notes and feedback received during the boot camp training session.

In order to be considered for phase two, teams must demonstrate they have advanced creatively and understand how much their project will cost to produce; how they can manage budget and production realities.

Teams must also assure NSI that they have full access to their subject or subjects and to experts and locations they need to tell their story. 

Teams will sign a contract with NSI and APTN and must also be willing to incorporate before going into production

Phase two  production

If it is decided that you will continue on in the course, you will enter phase two.

Your team is expected to form a corporation before you begin the production of your film and before any moneys are given to you. The cost of incorporation will be covered by NSI to the amount of $1,000.

This phase focuses on producing your documentary with support from NSI Aboriginal Documentary course staff and a professional mentor of your choosing. NSI provides a small honorarium to the mentor.

A cash award of $16,000 is given to your team in accordance with your NSI contract. The award must go towards the cost of producing your film and not towards payment for your services.

You are also expected to attend the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (April/May 2017) in Toronto. Air travel and accommodations are covered by NSI and students do not have to pay for their Hot Docs passes.

Your film must be completed by December 10, 2017 to specifications outlined in your contract with NSI and APTN. Final delivery of films must take place by March 31, 2018.

What do I have to commit to the course?

You must make considerable time available for the course.

While project development and production plans will be created with maximum flexibility, phase one training takes place during the day and attendance is mandatory for the entire two weeks (February 5 to 17, 2017). Training takes place in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Throughout the rest of the year you will work in your own community to produce your documentary which will take a considerable amount of time and commitment.

Who can apply? 

This course is aimed at two-person teams (producer and director who must both be Indigenous) wishing to develop and produce a short documentary film. You cannot apply as both the producer and director. 

Preference will be given to strong creative teams who are passionate and invested in the creative development of the project and can demonstrate they have sufficient craft and technical experience to realistically be considered capable of producing a documentary film.

You may submit more than one application but you must complete a separate application form along with an additional $100 application fee.

In order to be eligible applicants must:

  • be an Indigenous person who is a North American Indian or a member of a First Nation, Métis or Inuit. North American Indians or members of a First Nation include status, treaty or registered Indians, as well as non-status and non-registered Indians;
  • demonstrate you are a strong producer and director team. Your project will be ineligible if any of the team members identified on the application form withdraws at any point after selection;
  • ensure you have full access to your subject or subjects with a written document granting you life rights to their story;
  • maintain creative and financial control over the project as well as technical ownership. This includes ownership of, or option on, all underlying rights (if any). NSI reserves the right to disqualify any team that does not fully own the rights in and to the project (except for such approvals as are customary in the industry from distributors, financiers, investors, etc.);
  • be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant over the age of 18;
  • not be a participant in any other training course that would conflict with your ability to commit to the NSI Aboriginal Documentary course;
  • not currently be enrolled in any full-time school or university program;
  • have production or craft experience, or business affairs/legal experience, or marketing/distribution experience, or some combination of these;
  • demonstrate technical competence and storytelling ability with past works (notwithstanding budgetary constraints).

If you feel you would benefit from the course despite your experience level (lack of, or wealth of), please include a letter explaining why the selection committee should consider you for the course. This letter is in addition to the deliverable “letter of expectation.” 

Can inter-provincial teams apply?

Yes, but you must explain how you plan to work together given the distance.

Can I apply with more than one proposal per year? Can I resubmit a proposal? 

Yes, provided you complete a separate application form along with an additional $100 application fee.

You may apply twice with the same project within a three-year period.

Which projects are eligible?

  • Projects must be up to 10 minutes long. 
  • Projects will be completed in HD format to meet sponsor broadcaster requirements.
  • NSI will not accept any project that contains gratuitous violence, sexual violence or sexual exploitation.
  • Completed projects must abide by the broadcast requirements of APTN.

How do I apply?

Only complete applications will be considered. This means you must fill out all required sections of the application form and must include all the documents listed below as one document (PDF or Word).

Your application will be disqualified if any of the sections are incomplete or missing. A check list has been provided for your use on the application form.

  • Synopsis: a one paragraph summary of the overall project.
  • Treatment: a detailed description of the story; characters who will be interviewed and why; shooting locations; the focus you will take; and how you will support your story.
  • Director’s notes: details about stylistic approach, overall tone and shooting style.
  • Preliminary production plan: a plan for research, pre-production and production with dates for each phase. Keep in mind your film must be completed by December 10, 2017.
  • Preliminary marketing plan: a clear idea of the film’s target audience and your understanding of its market potential.
  • Proposed production budget: a preliminary production budget (use template provided)
  • Proposed financing structure: your proposed sources of revenue for financing the project, including NSI award of up to $16,000, plus in-kind services valued at approx. $12,250.
  • Proof of access: please confirm that full access can be obtained to any individuals needed to tell the story.
  • Resume for each applicant clearly stating production experience: include your role on the production and the following information about each project: the writer/producer/director; genre; if it was a student film; final running time; any broadcasts/theatrical release/festivals played; is it in development, production, post or completed?
  • Letter of expectation from each team member: a paragraph from each team member describing what you hope to gain by participating in the NSI Aboriginal Documentary course.
  • Letter of reference for each team member: this letter should help identify why the writer feels you are ready to direct or produce a short documentary film.
  • Description of formal relationship between team members: outline who owns the project and your team’s decision-making process. How long have you known each other? Have you worked together before? How confident are you that you can work together on this short documentary? Are you working through an incorporated company? Are you willing to incorporate?
  • Online link (YouTube or Vimeo) of support material for both producer and director, if available.
  • Additional letters (if applicable): required for applicants who need to demonstrate their suitability to participate in the course because they don’t meet eligibility criteria.
  • $100 non-refundable entry fee: each team must submit a $100 application fee. Payment is processed through PayPal.

How are teams selected?

Teams are selected based on the strength of their creative ability and the audience appeal of their project. Both the project and team must be suitable for the course (it is possible to have a good project but a team which is not yet ready to complete a documentary film suitable for broadcast, or a great team with the wrong project.)

All applications will be assessed for eligibility and completeness. Incomplete applications will be rejected.

The NSI Aboriginal Documentary managers and faculty will read each application and create a shortlist. The shortlist will be distributed to a jury of representatives with senior level experience in the documentary film industry.

Based upon the strength of the outline, team members and support documentation, the jury will select up to four teams to participate in the course.

When will we know if we have been selected?

Final selection of teams will be complete by December 14, 2016.

Who is the Aboriginal training programs advisor?

Lisa Meeches

Lisa is one of the most dynamic and respected producers in the film industry, and a proud Ojibway from Long Plain First Nation.

One of her recent projects, four-time Canadian Screen Award nominee and two-time time winner, We Were Children is widely praised by residential school survivors for its power to heal, while general audiences have been moved by its accurate and truthful portrayal of the impacts of Canada’s colonial past.

Lisa has produced numerous projects to critical acclaim. Among them: more than 150 hours of The Sharing Circle, Canada’s longest-running Aboriginal television series; Ice Road Truckers, one of the most prolific television documentary series in US television history; Tipi Tales, a Parent’s Choice award-winning children’s series; Elijah, a Gemini Award-winning MOW; and the three-time nominated, two-time Canadian Screen Award-winner JACK.

As host of The Sharing Circle, Lisa is a recognizable presence across Canada. She conducts her film industry work through her three companies: Eagle Vision Inc, Meeches Video Productions and Century Street Distribution. Other Eagle Vision Inc. productions include: Lovesick starring Jay Baruchel and Jessica Pare, Walk All Over Me, which premiered at TIFF and sold to the Weinstein Company, the politically-charged romantic comedy Blue State and the Academy Award-winning feature film Capote.

After studying broadcasting in North Dakota, Lisa began her career in 1986 with the Winnipeg-based Native Media Network. She later began news reporting for Craig Broadcasting Systems in Manitoba and Alberta where she established a liaison team who connected the newsroom with surrounding First Nations communities.

Lisa also devotes considerable time to other causes. She has been critical to the success of the Manito Ahbee Festival since inception 11 years ago where she has acted in the capacity of board chair on a volunteer basis until recently stepping down to assume the role of executive director. Lisa also sits on the national board of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. True to her heritage, Lisa practices the customs of her faith and is a renowned champion fancy shawl dancer.

Lisa has been the recipient of many local, regional and national awards for her exemplary contributions in culture, media and entrepreneurship. Among her numerous awards and nominations are: the 2007 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communication, the 2009 YMCA-YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in the area of Creative Communications, the 2009 University of Manitoba’s Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award and the Women in Film and Television 2009 Crystal Award for Mentorship.

Currently, Lisa is working on Season II of Taken for APTN and CBC. Season I premiered in September 2016. Taken is a true crime documentary series focusing on solving the mysteries behind Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Lisa is married and has two wonderful sons and a beautiful daughter.

Who are the NSI Aboriginal Documentary program managers?

Elise Swerhone

Elise is an award-winning producer, director and writer.

In 2010, she directed TuTu Much, a theatrical feature documentary about aspiring ballerinas, which won awards in China and Chicago and was shown theatrically in Canada and around the world including the Cannes International Film Festival.

Elise’s more recent documentary Mysteries of the Deep was part of the award-winning series One Ocean shown on the CBC’s The Nature of Things, Discovery US and National Geographic in 2010. Surviving The Teenage Brain was shown on The Nature of Things in 2012 winning a Golden Sheaf in 2013.

Her body of work includes Ballet High, a feature-length documentary about the graduating class of the professional school at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet made for BRAVO!; and The Science of the Senses: Hearing and Drug Deals for the CBC’s The Nature of Things. She also directed Restitution (about the return of Nazi-looted art) and Me, My Brother and My Father’s Van Gogh for CBC’s Witness.

Elise has written, directed and edited episodes for the Gemini award-winning series Recreating Eden.

Her dramatic credits include episodes for the Adventures of Shirley Holmes, Miss Manitoba, Now & Then and The Mayor of Odessa. She directed the movie of the week My Mother’s Ghost from the novel of the same name and One of Them, a film about homophobia, for the National Film Board. 

Elise has been a manager of programs and development at NSI since 2011 and is currently managing the NSI Aboriginal Documentary program as well as the Corus Diverse TV Director course.

Ursula Lawson 

Ursula has been with NSI since 2004, is a manager of programs and development and has worked on many of NSI’s courses.

As NSI New Voices program manager, she is instrumental in helping NSI develop and deliver culturally sensitive film and television training to Aboriginal youth. In 2013 she won the YMCA-YWCA Circle of Inspiration Award along with Melissa Kajpust and Lisa Meeches for their work on NSI New Voices.

She previously managed the NSI Aboriginal Journalism pilot program; coordinated NSI Global Marketing, NSI Totally Television, the NSI Aboriginal Cultural Trade Initiative and NSI Pitch to Win! She is secretary of the NSI Board of Directors.

Prior to working at the National Screen Institute, Ursula held management positions in both the hospitality and healthcare industries. 

Who is the NSI Aboriginal Documentary director advisor?

Lisa Jackson

With a background in documentary, including acclaimed short Suckerfish, Reservation Soldiers for CTV, and the CBC-broadcast How A People Live, Lisa Jackson expanded into fiction with Savage which won a 2010 Genie award for best short film.

Her cross-genre work includes current affairs, animation, performance art film and a musical. Playback Magazine named her one of 10 to Watch in 2012 and her work has played at festivals internationally, including Berlinale, Hot Docs, SXSW, Margaret Mead and London BFI, as well as airing on many networks in Canada.

In 2015, she travelled the Americas to direct 21 drama segments for the eight-part APTN/ZDF docudrama series 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus, based on the best-selling book by Charles C. Mann.

She recently directed her first 360 degree film with Secret Location for CBC’s The Current, is co-directing a one-hour doc for CBC’s Firsthand and developing a large-scale immersive audio-visual installation on the power of indigenous languages.

She is the director of the Gladue Video Project with Osgoode Hall Law School, a pilot project that will profile Aboriginal offenders for use in the sentencing process; and the director mentor for the National Screen Institute’s Aboriginal Documentary training program.

She is Anishinaabe, has a BFA in film production from SFU, is completing her MFA at York University and is an alumna of the Canadian Film Centre’s Directors Lab. She works in both fiction and documentary.

Who is the NSI Aboriginal Documentary producer advisor?

Brendon Sawaktzy

As director of programming at NSI, Brendon directs the development of all new programs and is accountable for the delivery of all NSI courses.

Prior to his current position at NSI, Brendon focused on producing film and television. This resulted in producer credits on six feature films, a television sitcom, two television movies and a number of television specials, short films and music videos.

He previously worked for the National Screen Institute as a program manager and before that at the Winnipeg Film Group. A more recent role was as a producer for the National Film Board. He is also the chair of Film Training Manitoba.

What are the exact dates of the course?

NSI Aboriginal Documentary is a 12month training course. The two-week phase one training session takes place from February 5 to 17, 2017 in Winnipeg. Teams who successfully move on to phase two will be notified in late March, 2017. Exact dates will be determined once the final teams are chosen. The Hot Docs film festival takes place in April/May, 2017.

What rights does NSI have on the project? 

Subject to the rights to be licensed to APTN, the selected teams shall retain copyright in the documentaries produced as part of the course.

NSI and NSI Aboriginal Documentary investors require a head and/or tail credit on all copies of the film as well as a prominent credit on all publicity and promotional materials developed with respect to the project.

A contract will be signed with each team outlining the commitments and responsibilities of the team and NSI under the course.

A broadcast agreement will be signed with APTN, and any other online/broadcast organisations involved with the program.

What financial assistance will I receive?

NSI will cover travel to and accommodation while at the boot camp in Winnipeg.

Students are responsible for covering the costs of food and ground transportation. NSI does not cover these costs.

Phase two teams will receive up to $16,000 for production expenses.

As well as the $16,000, teams will receive the following value-in-kind services: incorporation fees (worth $1,000), legal services (worth $1,000), full production insurance costs (worth $2,500), closed captioning costs (worth $250) and post production costs for the online and mix (worth up to $7,500). This is subject to change but you can include these amounts in your budget.

Registration, transportation and accommodation will be covered for attendance at Hot Docs in Toronto. Students are responsible for the cost of food and ground transportation while at the festival.

What is the relationship between NSI and the successful applicant? 

The relationship between the applicant and NSI shall not be deemed to constitute a partnership or joint venture. The applicant shall not have the right to incur any debts nor make any commitment of or on behalf of NSI. 

Can I submit my application by fax or email?

No. All applications must be provided using the online form.  

I have more questions. Who do I contact? 

Call Elise Swerhone or Ursula Lawson at (204) 956-7800 or toll free (800) 952-9307 or email aboriginal@nsi-canada.ca.

Apply here

NSI Aboriginal Documentary application form

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NSI Aboriginal Documentary 2015-17 is supported by (and more to be confirmed): Presenting Sponsor NBCUniversal; Program Partners Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)Manitoba Culture, Heritage & Tourism and RBC Emerging Artists Project; NSI Aboriginal Training Programs Partner Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries; Boot Camp Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment OneSuper ChannelCorus EntertainmentTelefilm CanadaimagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, Breakthrough Entertainment and Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival; Tuition Sponsor NBCUniversal; Provincial Sponsors Manitoba Film & Music and Creative Saskatchewan; Industry Partners National Film Board of CanadaAcademy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) and Directors Guild of Canada; Service Sponsor Line 21 Media Services Ltd.; NSI Core Funders Manitoba Culture, Heritage & Tourism and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.

NSI Aboriginal Documentary 2014-16 is supported by: Presenting Sponsor NBCUniversal; Program Partners Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN)Manitoba Culture, Heritage & Tourism and Consumer Protection and RBC Emerging Artists Project; NSI Aboriginal Training Programs Partner Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries; Boot Camp Presenting Sponsor Manitoba Film & Music; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment OneSuper ChannelCorus Entertainment, Telefilm CanadaimagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival and Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival; Tuition Sponsor NBCUniversal; Industry Partners National Film Board of Canada, Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television (ACCT) and Directors Guild of Canada; and Service Sponsor Line 21 Media Services Ltd; NSI Core Funders Manitoba Culture, Heritage & Tourism and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.