Interview with Nomad Films Amanda Handy

Today on What On What’s Good with Jovin Tardif, I am here with TV Producer Amanda Handy from Nomad Films.  As a fan of the film television and entertainment industry, I’m into exploring multiple genres. I always found documentaries to be quite fascinating hence why I reached out to Nomad Films Amanda Handy.  Nomad Films projects include Giraffes: The Forgotten Giants, Political Blind Date, Much Too Young, Fight Xchange, Empire of the Word, The Al Qaeda Code, and much more.


1. Can you talk about your background in dramatic films, television, and documentaries before Nomad Films?

I started working in the industry in my early twenties. I worked with some of the best, and toughest, drama and documentary producers in Canada in various capacities. Firstly, I started from being the Executive Assistant to Jay Firestone. In addition, I moved up to the Head of Business affairs for producers like May Young Leckie and Heather Haldane. Those companies included big names like Fireworks Entertainment, Cinenova, Media Headquarters, and Screen Door. I never had any formal schooling or mentors, I just put my head down, paid attention and learned by seeing and doing.

There were a lot of hard lessons along the way. As a result, that process of starting from the bottom and working for various types of production companies gave me an understanding of the film and television business that was varied and complex. Most importantly, I think it made me into a stronger producer having been exposed to all different kinds of projects and companies. In addition, I learned what it takes to get a project made from beginning to completion. Consequently, I realized all the people that help make it a reality and success. In short, I know the kind of Producer I want to be and the types of projects that are important.

2. What are some of the documentaries made by Nomad Films?

For example, we produced the Hot Docs Award-Winning ‘In the Shadow of a Saint’, the story of journalist Ken Wiwa’s journey to bury his activist father, Ken Saro-Wiwa, in Nigeria (for BBC and CBC).

Other feature-length docs include ‘When We Were Boys’. An observational portrait of two years in the lives of students at a private boys’ school in Toronto (Official Hot Docs and True False Film Festival Selections).

‘Much Too Young’ that told the story about young caregivers of early-onset Alzheimer’s parents. (for TVO and Knowledge Network, CSA Nominee for the best documentary film)

The Al Qaeda Code with Directors: Asiem El Difraoui, Mark Johnston (BANFF Award Nominee).

As well as the ambitious 4 part documentary series ‘Empire of the Word’ The fascinating history of the written word from prehistory to the future. (Worldfest Houston Platinum Award Winner and Banff Award Nominee).

After that we completed ‘Giraffes – The Forgotten Giants’. A groundbreaking natural science documentary project that challenges perceptions of giraffes for the CBC.

PBS International and ‘I Married My Family’s Killer’. Childhood sweethearts Beatrice and Purudenci plan to wed until Beatrice becomes hunted by Purudenci’s family during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. which won the Student Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Meanwhile, we’ve been producing four seasons of the hit documentary format, ‘Political Blind Date’ (nominee for best Factual Series for the CSA’s) that sends two opposing politicians out for two days to try and change each other’s minds on an issue, and get to know each other as human beings).

3. I see Nomad Films also produces dramatic films. Does producing documentaries defer from dramatic films or is it the same? Please explain.

I believe that narratives have a natural home. Whether it’s a drama, a documentary, a magazine article, a radio program, or a book. Many of the skills you need in drama are the same as documentaries. It’s just that the scale is a lot bigger. The story is paramount. Keeping committed to the essence of the story serves you well in both environments. As a result, we tend to choose dramatic films that are inspired by real-life events. The process is also a lot slower than with docs.

4. Can you describe a little more about how closely you work with the creative team and the importance of teamwork?

Teamwork is everything. That is certainly the joy of making films. Unlike the solitary life of the writer, the filmmaking process draws on dozens, if not hundreds of collaborators to make a film. We tend to work with the same team members over many years. As a result, we are like family. I love the collaborative process of making films. Most importantly, I get to work closely with all of our team members from beginning to end. Above all, I ensure they have the support they need, but also try to stay out their way so that they can do what they do best.

5. What on What’s Good wants one word to describe each project below.

When We Were Boys. Coming-of-age.

The Al Qaeda Code. Recruitment.

Empire of the Word. Reading.

Act of Dishonour. Love.

The Jungle Prescription. Enlightenment.

The Fight Xchange. Commitment.

Political Blind Date. Conciliation.

Giraffes – The Forgotten Giants. Conservation.

I Married My Family’s Killer. Forgiveness.

6. Bonus: Is it difficult to handle the day-to-day production of each project?

Producing films is as tough as business as there is. I always say it is not for the faint of heart. Essentially you become responsible for everything, meaning anything that goes wrong. Since documentaries are made at the whim of the subjects and the events unfolding in their lives, anticipating and planning can be intense and chaotic. Being used to the pace, and the unpredictability, and open to the changes in the story, will serve you well in making a great documentary story for your audience. That being said, however, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I love it. In short, the reward of making a great film with people you admire and respect, well…there is no better gig.

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Tags: Amanda Handy, Political Blind Date, Nomad Films

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Jovin Tardif
Jovin Tardif is a freelance writer, storyteller, interviewer, reviewer and conversation starter.