Entering a Documentary? Read tips from one of last year’s judges

We saw some great student documentaries last year, and we’re looking forward to seeing what our historians will screen for us during this year’s contest.

“One of my favourite moments from judging the Documentary category at last year’s National Capital History Day was hearing about the motivations the students had for selecting their topics,” says Logan Ouellette, who studied film at the University of Ottawa. “It’s great to see young people taking such an active interest in Canadian history as well as putting the time and energy into producing documentary films. I hope this experience encourages them to pursue film as future careers, whether it be as producers, directors, actors or technical craftspeople.”

Logan Ouellette, a graduate of St. Matthew High School in Ottawa, was one of last year's judges in the Documentary category.

Logan Ouellette, a graduate of St. Matthew High School in Ottawa, was one of last year’s judges in the Documentary category.

But Logan also has some dos and don’ts for students thinking about entering this category. One of the main things to think about, he says, is making your documentary come alive with lively narration and authoritative research that puts a subject in a new light.

“An important aspect of documentary filmmaking is portraying the subject or topic in an interesting and engaging narrative,” he explains. “Do ensure that you provide contextual narration to accompany the historical clips you might be showing, and avoid simply describing the visuals. You want to provide the audience with the confidence that you understand the historical perspective with your research. Find a unique spin or thesis on your topic so that your audience feels as though they are hearing something they haven’t already heard before.”

At the same time, he cautions that you can’t forget the importance of tech.

“On the technical side, pay attention to the sound mixing to ensure it is consistent throughout in relation to both the voice-over narration and the accompanying historical clips. For example, if the voices are too quiet and the clips are too loud, it can be jarring for the viewer and take away from the overall experience,” says Logan, who is pursuing a career in film. “Do find high-quality historical stock footage to incorporate into your documentary from such sources as the National Film Board, and avoid downloading grainy clips from sources like YouTube. Always ensure to properly cite your sources!”

Logan is now based in Germany, where he recently took part in the Berlin International Film Festival and shares his passion for film with the Berlin Film Society.

If you’re thinking about entering a Documentary, be sure to see how the judges evaluate this category by taking a look at an actual evaluation form. As well, make sure that your film relates to this year’s theme. And of course, you’ll want to download this year’s rulebook so that you can look at all the specific requirements of this category.

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