Getting Wavy with Ric Esther Bienstock

Acclaimed Montreal documentarian visits Halifax for the annual Women Making Waves conference.

"On a day to day basis, making films is not a nine-to-five job," says Montreal's Ric Esther Bienstock, an Emmy Award-winning documentarian with dozens of credits to her name. "You need an adventurous spirit." 

This weekend, Bienstock will lead a masterclass in documentaries, moderated by Sylvia D. Hamilton, as part of Women Making Waves. Presented by Women in Film and Television Atlantic, the conference is designed to showcase cinematic skills and industry strategies with a series of workshops, screenings and presentations by females in the film industry.

"We wanted it to be interactive, and I'm hoping people will have questions and drive the direction of the masterclass," says Bienstock, who will screen her 2013 HBO doc Tales from the Organ Trade. "I'm also going to be showing clips from my other films to show ways of conveying different information and different things I have to tackle in the field. The idea is how I start with a story and concept through to production, and how every film has barriers and challenges." 

In her 30-year career, Bienstock has focused on investigative documentaries that take huge risks in content and presentation, which is different from scripted film: "There are a lot more unknowns with docs, you don't know how it's going to unfold, and there are positive surprises and negative surprises and you make those work in the context of your edits." 

Bienstock is just one of several experienced guests who will share tips on filmmaking with WIFT-AT's audience. The conference will focus on what women face in this high-stakes business. "There's so much talk about diversity and women now, and how few women are directing high-budget features," she says. "But I think docs are a field where I know a lot of women who are producing and directing, and there are barriers to access because budgets are lower but there's something about about documentary that's very people-oriented and interpersonal and I feel women are well-represented, but I might feel differently if I was trying to penetrate big budgets or episodic television."

Even still, she mentions Ingrid Veninger, director of He Hated Pigeons, which opens the festival on Thursday. Veninger, who has a "nothing is impossible" manifesto, will speak on a panel about micro-budget filmmaking.

Bienstock says filmmakers like Veninger are examples of making a film happen regardless of circumstance. "She's a very prolific filmmaker, she's writing the story, and that's her genre," she says. "For me, there's no shortage of doc ideas that will intrigue me, and that's what I do. And now more than ever, with Netflix and HBO, there's a real appetite for documentaries, and the public is interested."

WIFT-Atlantic's Women Making Waves
March 3-6

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