Creating Participatory Documentaries

Laura Sky founded SkyWorks Charitable Foundation in 1983. For 31 years, she was the Executive Director of the Foundation as well as a documentary researcher, writer, producer and director. The philosophy, and working principles of that organization reflect her long time values and goals.

SkyWorks Charitable Foundation was established as a non-profit documentary organization dealing with contemporary social issues. The process of creating the films and the subsequent dissemination is a community development effort, working with local, regional, and national groups, to create strategies for social change.

Sky continues to work as a catalyst, advocate and participant in social change through community centred film making and public engagement.

The focus of her work centred on documentary and community development projects in four program areas:

  • Working with children and families as a force for social change
  • Promoting recovery by challenging stereotypes and systemic barriers with people experiencing mental health issues
  • Informing and supporting community engagement in health care policies and practices
  • Documenting barriers and exploring alternative approaches to accessing justice, preventing discrimination and ensuring fairness within the various legal systems (e.g. criminal, family, child welfare, welfare, housing, immigration, employment and labour) that structure the lives of persons belonging to particular marginalized communities.

It is crucial to emphasize that the projects were not simply filmmaking endeavours. Community development and capacity building activities have been integrated seamlessly into all phases of the project: research, production and the public engagement activities. From a project's inception she worked in close collaboration with the individuals and organizations dealing with the articulated issues so that the documentaries are not only about them--they are with them and by them. A sense of ownership has been s shared collectively.

We worked hard to encourage the participation of Canadians in response to issues and concerns that affect their lives. We believed that our own personal experiences, our collective, lived experience, is the source of the most innovative and effective strategies for dealing with those issues.

Communities linked by common concern are best able to express and represent their needs. The documentary and community development process that is the foundation of our work I has been built on alliances and partnerships with others who share similar goals.

In fact, we have been successful only because of these partnerships - partnerships with community organizations, working professionals, and with individual Canadians with stories to shared.

Participants in these films have driven the research, the production, editing, test screenings, and finally the long-term community use of the completed documentaries. We believed in the importance of peer leadership and we fostered its development. In preparation for our work in local communities, we trained documentary participants to function as peer facilitators and advocates.

We have supported networks, groups and individuals to take good ideas, grow those ideas, and share their knowledge, experiences and strategies.