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Valley Arts: Tobi Elliott The Gift of Storytelling
By Doreen Jung. Storytelling has always been an integral part of civilization with people engaging in conversation to connect with each other, address issues, and inspire action. [Click On Image For Full Story] From oral narration and the written word, today’s technology has empowered storytellers with the tools to create riveting films and blockbuster movies.
Tobi Elliott is a young producer and emerging filmmaker with a passion for storytelling. Growing up in Abbotsford, her first career choice was to work as a cook and caterer. She worked in Toronto for six years in catering, travelling extensively on her free time. On her trips she met many interesting people with fascinating stories. She began to feel a growing desire to tell some of these stories. Making a career change, she enrolled in the journalism program at Montreal’s Concordia University. While she was there, she became editor and chief of the school’s independent newspaper, the Concordian. She loved writing and editing, but did not like the negativity of news stories. It was in a documentary course that she discovered the method of storytelling that felt right for her. When making a documentary, “you need to spend a lot of time with a person, earn their trust, get the whole picture, and immerse yourself in their world,” described Elliott. “In January 2010, I decided this is the way that I want to tell stories.”
Elliott’s first experience in professional filmmaking was interning with filmmaker, Magnus Isacsson. She worked on several of his current projects and is a producer on his film “Granny Power”, a documentary about activist grannies. An international movement that started in Victoria, the Raging Grannies is a group of “passionate activist grandmothers and their “gaggles” who fight for peace, social justice, and the environment”. From Occupy Wall Street sites to nuclear arms demonstrations and protests at military recruitment centres, the film “Granny Power” follows several Grannies as they battle for their causes.
In the summer of 2010 Elliot set up Blue Cyrus Media with partner Charlotte Gentis. A professional videographer who has freelanced with CBC TV in Vancouver for over ten years, Gentis also loved documentary film. Together Elliott and Gentis plan to showcase non-profit groups and create documentaries of ordinary heroes with extraordinary stories.
One of their first projects took Elliott and Gentis to Brazil. Blue Cyrus Media produced a short film about the non-profit “Horses for Orphans” and its impact on children in Brazil. “Horses for Orphans” projects enable children who live in orphanages to experience joy and emotional healing through interacting with horses and building a relationship with them. While learning to care for horses, children grow in self esteem and develop a sense of responsibility. Gaining confidence and leadership skills enable the children to find hope for their future.
Currently directing and producing her first documentary, “The Trapper of Peace River”, Elliott is creating a POV (point of view) film about the impact of the gas and oil industry on the environment in northern BC. “I wondered how people felt and how they were affected by having a gas boom in their town”, said Elliott. “I thought the best way to tell the story was from the viewpoint of someone who lived there.” She met trapper Carl Gitscheff whose world straddles two controversial issues. Trapping animals for a living, he faces the disapproval of animal lovers. He is also a wildlife advocate whose livelihood is being challenged by a rapidly diminishing animal habitat due to heavy industrial interest in northeastern B.C.’s shale gas fields. “Seeing the world through Carl’s eyes and telling the story of one man,” is bringing Elliott closer to her goal of creating media that increases the awareness of how others live.
Telling stories through documentary filmmaking, Elliott is facing a steep learning curve. She loves the photography and learning the technical aspects of the job. Meeting people doing incredible projects inspires her to tell their stories and bring hope to others.
Editor’s Note: Doreen Jung is a member of the Abbotsford Arts Council and former Arts Administrator. Her columns appear here regularly.
Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared On Pitt Meadows Today 11/02/12