Comox Valley filmmaker Jennifer Pickford knows everyone has a story worth telling.
She’s turned her passion for finding those stories into a film career which has spanned two decades and continues to grow, with her next project taking her halfway around the world.
Pickford began her film career in Victoria following a Bachelor of Arts from Emily Carr University in Vancouver, working under the mentorship of producers at May Street Production.
Realizing that she wasn’t able to retain copyright of her work, Pickford made the decision to move to the Comox Valley and start her production company – Pickford Productions.
“I’m wearing a bunch of hats … but I’m experienced enough to know that I wanted to work in documentary (films). I wanted to find a way to tell important stories to make a change in the world – dramas seemed superfluous.”
She admitted her favourite hat to wear is that of a director, as it allows her to dig deep to find a story.
“You can bring the best out of people – the truth of who they are. Often times, it’s a cathartic thing.
“They never would have had the opportunity to tell their story or reveal what’s needed to be said. That’s still my favourite part.”
While the documentary genre may offer flashbacks to high school National Film Board shorts, Pickford said documentary films are increasing in popularity, something she credited to pop culture.
“They’re becoming much more trendy because of their ‘reality’ aspect, and reality TV is very trendy and there’s many similarities. If you can make it topical, make it cutting edge, people will watch.”
She also credits controversial documentarian Michael Moore for making the genre more popular, but added their approaches are different.
“He’s all about getting to the cut and chase in this world. He gets to the bottom of things and opens doors that might not otherwise get open.”
Her past project, Eco Warriors, a feature documentary about the increasingly harsh treatment of people who speak out against what they see as crimes to the environment, takes a “no holds barred” approach and takes a side, she admitted.
Her newest project offers solutions, she said, to an issue she’s discovered while travelling to India.
“I was struck by (the country’s) contradictory nature; I was overwhelmed by its beauty and it was also a wake-up call on the effects around globalization in Third World countries.”
Sacred India: The Filth and the Divine hopes to draw attention to the fact that globalization is contributing to a widespread epidemic of pollution and environmental degradation.
Pickford explained India is often looked at through rose-coloured glasses, and the reality comes as a shock to Westerners.
“It’s an opportunity to show the real India – not just the beautiful promised land, but it’s a country in turmoil.”
She noted in the past, the country was very self-sufficient; now, with globalization, she said it’s very easy for corporations to come in and take advantage of situations and people.
Not only are plastics and Styrofoam replacing banana leaves, streets are littered with non-biodegradable materials without any recycling or garbage disposal programs in place.
“There’s a lack of awareness and education,” she added.
She explained there has also been an epidemic of cotton farmers’ suicides in the country since the late 1990s. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research admitted for the first time that farmer suicides could be linked to a decline in the performance of BT cotton, a genetically modified variety of cotton producing an insecticide, created by Monsanto Corporation.
“I’m blessed as an independent filmmaker, I’m not attached to any corporation. I can take a personal approach, and any biases come from my own perspective. You can’t tell the truth unless you honestly portray your experience.”
The feature-length film is set to be filmed in February/March, with the aim of having the documentary completed for distribution for both television and film festivals in the spring of 2017.
Pickford has a goal of raising nearly $7,500 towards the cost of production, travel, insurance and labour, and is currently in the midst of a crowdsourcing campaign.
For more information on the film or to donate to the project, visit igg.me/at/sacred-india