NSI Aboriginal Documentary - Apply

Application deadline

Applications are closed.

Our most recent course information is listed below for reference only. Please note this information is subject to change.


Call Elise Swerhone or Ursula Lawson on (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.


There are no tuition costs for students. The NSI Aboriginal Documentary Tuition Sponsor is NBCUniversal.

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; and
  • have your documentary air as part of a one-hour special of NSI Aboriginal Documentary shorts on APTN and aptn.ca.

What is the course format?

NSI Aboriginal Documentary is comprised of two phases.

Phase one – an intensive 12 day training session – February 7 to 19, 2016

Phase one is an intensive two-week boot camp training session from February 7 to 19, 2016 (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 in to 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 2016) 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 12, 2016 to specifications outlined in your contract with NSI and APTN.

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 7 to 19, 2016). 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 Aboriginal) 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 Aboriginal 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 changes 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?

2015 marks the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report.

This year, NSI Aboriginal Documentary applicants must submit ideas that will tell stories that reflect an aspect(s) of what the report covers – painful past, hopeful future and all the challenges and triumphs in between.

These themes can be found in unlimited story ideas. If you have questions about whether your story idea qualifies, please contact program managers Ursula Lawson or Elise Swerhone at 1-800-952-9307 or 204-956-7800 to discuss your idea.

  • 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 12, 2016.
  • 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, 2015.

Who is the Aboriginal training programs advisor?

Lisa Meeches 

As one of the most dynamic and respected Aboriginal producers in Canada, Lisa Meeches is an executive producer and the president of Eagle Vision Inc. and Meeches Video Productions, two Winnipeg-based production companies.

She is also the co-president of Century Street Distribution. She was the executive producer, producer and host of The Sharing Circle and she is also executive producer of the Parent’s Choice award-winning children’s series Tipi Tales.

Eagle Vision also co-produces movies for television and theatrical release.

Recent projects include CBC biopic Jack, the movie; We Were Children (2012) – which played at several national and international film festivals and had its world premiere on APTN; Walk All Over Me (2007) – which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival; Blue State (2006); the Academy Award®-winning feature film Capote (2006); and the CTV movie of the week Elijah – based on the story of Elijah Harper – which was nominated for four 2009 Gemini Awards, among them the award for Best TV Movie.

Lisa has executive produced a series of one-off documentaries, television specials and corporate videos.

Among her numerous awards and nominations, Lisa received 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; the Women in Film and Television 2009 Crystal Award for Mentorship; and the 2013 YMCA-YWCA Circle of Inspiration Award along with Ursula Lawson and Melissa Kajpust for their work on NSI New Voices. 

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 Shaw Media 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 and Reservation Soldiers for CTV, Lisa expanded into fiction with Savage which won a 2010 Genie award for best short film.

Named one of Playback Magazine’s 10 to watch in 2012, Lisa’s genre-blending films include current affairs, animation and a musical.

Her work has played at festivals internationally including SXSW, Berlinale, London BFI and Margaret Mead, and aired on CBC, CTV, APTN, TMN, Knowledge and SCN. In 2012 the ReelWorld Festival named her a trailblazer.

She is currently directing the drama sequences for the APTN/ZDF eight-part docudrama series 1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus based on the best-selling book by Charles C. Mann.

She is Anishinaabe, has completed the Canadian Film Centre’s Directors’ Lab and has a BFA in film production from SFU.

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 7 to 19, 2016 in Winnipeg. Teams who successfully move on to phase two will be notified in late March, 2016. Exact dates will be determined once the final teams are chosen. The Hot Docs film festival takes place in April/May, 2016.

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? 

Email us at aboriginal@nsi-canada.ca or call (204) 956-7800 or toll free (800) 952-9307.

• • •

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 Entertainment; Tuition Sponsor NBCUniversal; 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.