When Myanmar held general elections on November 8, 2015, it was the country’s first openly contested election in 25 years. The last time open elections were held, in 1990, it resulted in a landslide victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD), a socialist and liberal democratic party led by future Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, yet the results were ignored by a military dictatorship unwilling to yield power.

In the days leading up to last year’s elections, two Canadian filmmakers were teaching a documentary workshop in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Mila Aung-Thwin, producer (Up the Yangtze) and co-founder of Montreal’s EyeSteelFilm, along with cinematographer Van Royko (Monsoon), worked with students, most of whom had little experience, on capturing the mood of the country as politicians and ordinary citizens prepared for the historic day. Moments after The Vote premiered at the New York Film Festival, Aung-Thwin and Royko sat near the reflecting pool of the Film Society of Lincoln Center to discuss how they wound up in Myanmar, their approach to collaborating with students on a collective film project, and the challenge of whittling down hours of disparate, differently purposed footage, into a potent ten-minute film.

How do you know each other, and how did you both wind up in Myanmar?

Mila Aung-Thwin: I’ve known Van since he was a film student at Concordia. He was taught by Dan Cross who started EyeSteelFilm with me. Van has been an interesting all-around cinematographer for quite a while. The Montreal filmmaking community is small enough that we’ve teamed up a lot over the years. So I’d been going to this film festival, the Human Rights film festival in Yangon, since its second year—it’s now in its fourth year. They invited me to put together a team to teach directing, cinematography and editing—sort of the overall producing of documentaries. It’s an 8-week course. And I’d go in and teach everything but directing.

Van Royko: Mila called me up and said he needed someone to teach cinematography. When we made this film, it was the second year we went to Myanmar.

Aung-Thwin: Van comes in and teaches cinematography and then I come back after they shoot for a couple of months and edit with them. It’s very intensive because you teach all day long for two weeks straight. It’s so intensive. I’d never really taught before, and Van had only taught a little bit. You’re using a translator and teaching people who, in most cases, never held cameras before. They’re in their mid-twenties. They’re very eager because there’s been no open filming in Myanmar for decades. They know visual language but documentary is brand new to them.

Royko: They’re more earnest and more serious than any student I’d seen in North America. It’s just so new. They don’t get the chance to make media, they don’t get the chance to hold cameras, so it’s just a novel experience, a very privileged experience. Many of them are chosen from the far reaches of Myanmar where there is no urban infrastructure. They come together to form a cool group.

Aung-Thwin: There’s a very high respect for teaching in general. After the uprisings and the first vote fell apart in the 90s, universities were shut down because they had fostered changed. Elementary schools and primary schools were left underfunded. Teachers weren’t paid enough. We got there and the students were so polite and attentive to everything you say. They’d bring up something you said on day one, like, “But I thought you couldn’t do jump cuts in cinema.” And you’re like, “You listened to that? That was sort of a ‘for instance.’” It was quite a privilege to teach people who wanted to learn.

Royko: But the fundamental mandate, the reason the program came into existence was because the people who started the Human Rights FF, these really seasoned filmmakers, realized the documentaries they were getting from Myanmar were not that good. The quality was really low. The question they wanted to address was: how do we have more homemade filmmaking. How do we tell our own stories? Which is basically the theme you hear all over the world right now. So they said we’re going to have to teach them ourselves. Through some connections and through Mila’s aunt who has been working there, they go a hold of Mila, which was great because Eyesteel has been a leader in integrated filmmaking and in bringing young people and marginalized people to the filmmaking process.

And so your second your session of teaching coincided with this huge national election?

Aung-Thwin: Right. They asked if we wanted to do the course again, which was scheduled for mid-November last year. And I asked, “Isn’t that when the big election that you haven’t had for years is happening?” They said yes, and that it would be really busy. No kidding. All of the students wanted to make films about the election but the teachers wanted to steer them to other things. We always push real-life filmmaking in our workshops and events. The first year we went to parking lots and shops and stuff, but this time it was election rallies. We did workshops in the midst of all of it, and it was fantastic.

Royko: When Mila originally asked me to do the workshop again, I was really busy—as was he. But when he said the elections were happening at that time, I was like, that’s pretty cool. I called him a couple of weeks before and asked him if we were going to make a film about it.

Aung-Thwin: Yet we still had to teach the hardest course in the world.

Royko: Eight hours a day. It’s insane. In this hot classroom, super humid. But we knew we wanted to tell a story about the election. We were going into it pretty quickly and you could have done it any number of ways. Every morning I would get up early, get on the train, and shoot the whole train ride. Sometimes I’d bring one of my students with me to do sound. And then we’d film in the classroom a bit. And then after the class was done, we’d go to rallies. It was two weeks of 16-hour days. We were trying to make the film but also give the kids a really good educational experience.

It’s one thing to be teaching eight hours a day, working with them on their own separate projects. It’s another thing to have them collaborate with you, to be working on a film that you’re making. That’s a different dynamic.

Aung-Thwin: We did treat it differently. We hired them after their hours and paid them. And they really dug that. For those roles we often used our year one students—especially ones we felt were being underutilized [in the industry]. We had this one girl Thu Thu who was so shy, but so talented and she wasn’t getting encouraged by the people who could give her money for her next film.

Royko: When we went back I asked about her. The film that she had shot was by far the strongest technically, and she was just so engaged. They told me she had gone back to her village. That she’s helping her dad rent apartments. I got them to call and say I had a job for her. And she was invaluable. She became kind of our second unit director. Since then it’s provided the boost she needed to just do film. In that context it might never happen again—it’s not something that seems possible without that push.

I’m glad you don’t inform the audience about the cooperation of the students until the very end, because there’s nothing “in training” about the film at all. Van, you’re such an experienced shooter, and the footage is clearly filmed at a very high level. Was there nervousness about being able to incorporate different textures of other filmmakers, at different levels of experience?

Aung-Thwin: We didn’t really have a plan…

That works too.

Aung-Thwin: Van did a fantastic job in choosing the locations and guiding the students to emulate his style to shoot scenes he wasn’t there for. At the end of it we were totally selfish: what was beautiful, what do we like. What works?

You also wound up using footage the students shot for their own projects?

Aung-Thwin: They were all doing their own films. But the storyline of the NLD, in The Vote, where you go into their headquarters—that came from our students from the year before who were already trying to make their own film on that candidate. So we helped out, piggybacked and brought students along. Another student was working on the disenfranchised students who couldn’t vote. So we sort of just looked at the mixture of our year one students and year two students as ways of us to get into already developing stories. A large part of the process was them just showing us everything, showing us the food, showing us the streets. I was showing them what I knew about shooting and they were bringing me into the city. That was a fundamental part of how we integrated them into the film. Those films they made were partially influenced by us but the whole thing was just an entire give and take process.

Royko: We had a lot of really great stories going on, but at the end of the day, we were making a ten-minute film, so that dictated a lot of what had to go. It was a difficult process.

But you weren’t always aiming for ten minutes. Can you talk about earlier versions of the film, and how it wound up at the length and shape it now has?

Aung-Thwin: The first version was quite long and was all about the students and their process. It was more in an interview style and then we’d cut to what was happening. You’d see the kids shooting. It was a different style of movie. I showed that version to the kids and they loved it, but in some ways it’s its own portrait of the school. And it was four times as long. One thing we realized is how little people knew of the political situation in Burma. We were immersed and felt saturated by the news, but you realize it’s only your friends in Burma who are talking about all of this. People who saw the film here didn’t even know there was a dictatorship! What I experienced was a film made in their context, but not in the context of the world. People were like, wow—there was a woman put under house arrest, and then she won the Nobel Prize, and then she won (the election)? So we had to get back to that.

Royko: As much as I liked that film, that more didactic film we’d made, I’ve always prized the mode that is more ephemeral, more experiential. Most of the cutting went on when I wasn’t around. When I first saw the cut, I felt like it didn’t make any sense. I was kind of depressed.

Aung-Thwin: You should hear Van talk about the films that he wants to make. They are so abstract. The notes we got from Field of Vision were pretty cool in helping us sculpt this version. They were like Kung-Fu masters who’d just say: “Try this.” And you’d try it and change something and it sort of developed into a different film.

Royko: It brought us to the film we wanted to make.

Aung-Thwin: People give so many notes on editing but they don’t have a frame of reference with all the footage. If you can just give a subtle note, without the solution, then you [the filmmaker] have to go back and examine your assumptions.

And only you can do that work.

Aung-Thwin: Just tell me what’s not working and give me a little hint.

Royko: It sounds so good in retrospect, but when you get that note, you’re like, “What the fuck?”

Aung-Thwin: Another nice element is that our editor Ryan Mullins did the workshops [in Myanmar] with us too. Then he spent months editing this ten-minute film. When Van suggested we shoot the election, I wrote to AJ that day and he said that sounds amazing—go for it. So we came back with all this footage a year ago. I thought there would be this quick turnaround, right after the election. And that did not happen.

Royko: I think it serves the piece better. It’s not really about the news. It’s not about the results. It’s a political mood piece, if there’s such a thing. It’s a portal. You get to go into a space in time during this monumental moment. It’s a privileged place to be.

IF/Then Shorts, in partnership with Hulu Documentary Films calls short-documentary filmmakers based in North America to take part in the Inaugural IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab. This lab will channel Hulu and IF/Then’s shared vision of creating a new pipeline of diverse talent and incubating strong voices who will be the next class of non-fiction storytellers.

Program Details:

Four filmmaking teams will be chosen to participate in a one-year lab focused on short-documentary production and career training. For the first six months, filmmakers will be individually mentored through production by IF/Then staff and take part in monthly virtual cohort trainings, consisting of keynotes from industry heavy-hitters and edit consultations. Upon rough cut of their projects, filmmakers will be invited to debut their works-in-progress to an invitation-only audience and receive feedback. For the remainder of the program, filmmakers will finalize their cuts and receive high-level festival and distribution strategy consultations, along with guidance creating their publicity materials, and pro-bono legal support. Hulu will have the right to review the projects for potential acquisition or further development.

Each team will receive a $25,000 grant to use for the production of their film.

This opportunity will be open to individuals living in/from North America, with an emphasis on Black and/or Indigenous filmmakers, people of color, women, LGBTQ+, recent immigrants, and individuals who identify as having a disability. We will welcome any and all stories from underrepresented voices, with a strong preference around subjects related to gender, the LGTBQ community or issues unique to the BIPOC community.

Project Eligibility:

  • In addition to the identity eligibility of the maker and the theme, eligible IF/Then Shorts projects must meet the following criteria:
  • Be an original short documentary with a final duration of 10-20 minutes
  • Be completed within six to nine months of receiving the IF/Then Shorts grant
  • Be factually accurate, follow best practices in documentary ethics, and be designed for a U.S. audience
  • Be driven by (a) compelling character(s), with access to the character(s) secured
  • Be presented in English or subtitled in English
  • Have no prior distribution attached and be able to participate in the IF/Then Shorts distribution initiative
  • All stories and storytellers coming from countries and territories in North America. This includes the United States and its territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa,) Canada, Greenland, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela, and countries in the Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Clipperton Island, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba, St. Andres and Providencia, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.


The application portal will open on January 15, 2021 and close at 11:59pm EST on Feb 15th.

  • January 15, 2021: Open call for IF/Then x Hulu Short Documentary Lab
  • March 31, 2021: Finalists announced
  • April 5, 2021: Virtual Program Kickoff


Submissions are now closed.

Please direct any questions regarding this application to ifthenshorts@fieldofvision.org

Starting July 22, IF/Then Shorts has a new home at Field of Vision. Joining Field of Vision will be IF/Then Shorts Program Director Chloe Gbai and Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke. Founded in 2017 with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, IF/Then Shorts is a fund and mentorship program that supports storytellers in breaking barriers to access, exposure, and sustainability in the media landscape. IF/Then works with creators who experience inequity based on factors such as race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, age, citizenship, and/or geography.

IF/Then Shorts taps into the need for broader geographical representation in the stories that get told through its regional pitch events. It holistically supports short documentary storytellers in their creation of compelling, character-led, community-inspired stories that embody the breadth and diversity of the people and places they represent.

The program addresses the imbalance of representation, perspective, power, compensation, and career longevity among independent filmmakers and media artists. IF/Then Shorts leverages access, expertise, network, and brand to address these challenges. Through grants, mentorship, industry connections, and professional development, IF/Then Shorts helps to ensure that storytellers from a multitude of backgrounds have access to the resources and tools they need to tell their stories, connect with audiences, and thrive in their careers. IF/Then Shorts was previously part of the Tribeca Film Institute, which is planning to pause operations indefinitely in September. "IF/Then Shorts is an incredible program, and one that’s vital to the field," said Charlotte Cook, Field of Vision's Co-Founder and Executive Producer. "We’re so glad that they can find their new home with Field of Vision. The program’s values align perfectly with Field of Vision, and further our overall commitment to shorts and advocating for filmmakers. Chloe and Caitlin are phenomenal, and I feel so lucky that they’ll be joining our team."

IF/Then Program Director Chloe Gbai said of the move: "We’re so excited that thanks to the MacArthur Foundation and Field of Vision we can keep this funding and development pipeline open to diverse, creative nonfiction talent past TFI’s pause this September. This program will have a new life and is ready to uplift the voices that we need to champion during these interesting times."

Supervising Producer Caitlin Mae Burke added: "As a former Field of Vision filmmaker myself, I know how beneficial it is to work with these trailblazers in the short documentary space. I'm overjoyed that all of our active projects and future supported filmmakers will benefit so immensely from this move, and we look forward to the tremendous growth potential for IF/Then possible under the Field of Vision umbrella." IF/Then is currently holding an open call for the North Shorts Grant and Fellowship, in partnership with Points North Institute, The Screening Room, Jigsaw Productions, and the LEF Foundation, for regional filmmakers in the American Northeast. About Chloe Gbai Chloe Gbai is the Director of IF/Then Shorts. Previously, as the POV Shorts and Streaming Producer, she launched POV Shorts, which earned POV its third documentary short Oscar® nomination, two News & Doc Emmy nominations and an IDA Awards nomination for Best Short Form Series.  She has previously worked at Teen Vogue and Viacom, as well as served on review panels and juries for the National Endowment for the Arts, Sheffield Doc/Fest, ITVS, IDA Awards, Black Public Media, Creative Capital, and various other film organizations. She is a member of Brown Girls Doc Mafia and a member-in-residence of the Meerkat Media Collective.

About Caitlin Mae Burke Caitlin Mae Burke is an Emmy-winning producer. Her films have screened and won awards at top tier festivals including Sundance, Berlinale, and Tribeca Film Festival and have been broadcast across the US and around the world. Her work has screened at MoMA, The Museum of the Moving Image, and in movie theaters internationally. She is an inaugural inductee to DOC NYC's "40 Under 40" and alumna of Berlinale Talents. IF/Then currently has funding opportunities available for filmmakers. Please find more information here.

Field of Vision has partnered with Doc Society and Sundance Institute to launch Independent Documentary: Filming in the Time of Corona, a new Risk Assessment Guide for independent documentary filmmakers who are considering starting or resuming production during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Many filmmakers are asking themselves — and others in the documentary field — the big question: Should I be filming at all?

As our field discusses and debates this particular question — and its ethical and and public health implications — Field of Vision, Doc Society, Sundance Institute, and our co-signatories are offering a “living document” that provides guidelines, a checklist, and questions for independent documentary film teams to ask themselves, each other and their partners. It is our hope that this guide will help filmmakers make informed decisions and help keep everyone safe.

We’d like to acknowledge our gratitude to all of the the co-signatories of the Risk Assessment Guide, who helped consult on, and improve the guide: Asian American Documentary Network (ADoc), Asociación de Documentalistas de Puerto Rico (ADocPR), ACOS (A Culture Of Safety) Alliance, Ambulante, American Documentary/POV, Black Public Media, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Chicken & Egg, DOCUBOX, Impact Partners, Indian Documentary Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting, National Association of Latino Producers (NALIP), Pacific Islanders in Communications, Perspective Fund, Scottish Documentary Institute, Topic, Vision Maker Media: Native Stories for Public Broadcasting, and others.

This is a rapidly changing situation as well as a long-term reality. Those of us in the documentary field will need to be mindful, flexible, and diligent as our risk assessment continues to evolve in order to keep not only our community safe but also the communities we collaborate with in the stories we tell. This new normal is unprecedented, but our documentary community is nothing if not committed to responding to this profoundly unique situation.

The guide will be updated as the situation develops and as we receive additional feedback from filmmakers and support organizations.

The final round of funding is now closed.

For this final round of funding, we will continue prioritizing providing support to filmmakers of color and filmmakers from other marginalized communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Field of Vision and Topic Studios have created a $250,000 fund to provide grants for freelancers working in the Documentary field. The fund will distribute unrestricted grants of up to $2000 to support personal financial needs during the COVID19 pandemic to freelancers who have experienced hardship from loss of income or opportunity as a result of the pandemic

Dates and Deadlines


The fund will be open for applications from Wed April 8th from 9am ET until Friday April 10th at 6pm ET or until we reach 1,000 applications. You can find the link to the application at the bottom of this page.


The fund will be open for applications from May 6th from 9am ET until May 8th at 6pm ET or until we reach 750 applications.

Notification of grant approval will be within 20 days of the fund closing, and payments will be processed within 30 days of notification of a grant. June The fund will be open for a final round of applications from June 10th from 9am ET until June 12th at 6pm ET or until we reach 500 applications.


Be able to demonstrate work as a freelancer within the documentary field in roles such as:

- Directors - Producers (This includes Associate Producers) - DPs - Editors - Sound Recordists/Designers - Researchers - Assistants - Critics & Writers who have covered documentaries - Publicists

Other freelance roles will be accepted if they meet the rest of the criteria

Provide a link (examples - IMDB page, Film Review, Direct link to project) that shows professional work in the field.

The fund is eligible for artists internationally, however you must be able to receive funding electronically (we are not able to issue checks), and priority will be given to countries and regions of which there isn’t government freelance assistance that you are eligible for. If you have not been eligible for government assistance, please state that in your application.

Students who are currently enrolled are not eligible.

People who are currently in employment are not eligible.

Please note: We have made every effort to reduce the amount of information, paperwork and requirements for funding and have tried to make the fund as open and accessible as possible. We are largely operating on a trust-based system and really urge you to work with us on being able to maintain this. It’s extremely important to us to be able to get funding to the freelancers that need it the most. Please answer all questions thoroughly and accurately so that we can ensure the funds are allocated to help as many people in need as possible.

Information Needed:

- Demonstrated professional work within the field - Usual income source - Description of situation - Maximum amount requested - Minimum amount requested - What the funding would be used for - Location

Please note: It’s important to include a maximum and minimum amount requested. Also, please note that grants may be taxable as income under the law that applies to you. We will issue Form 1099s for grants of more than $600.

The Process

As always, it is important to us that filmmakers lead how we operate and respond, and so the process will begin with a blind review of applications by a panel of filmmakers and producers, with a simultaneous review by the Field of Vision and Topic Studios teams. Those recommendations will then provide the recommended list for funding, which will then be reviewed once more before contacting the fund recipients.

We will only be contacting those who have been allocated funding.

On receipt of the grant acceptance please expect up to 30 days to receive payment. In order to issue the grants we will need a W-9 or W8-BEN tax form and an invoice which includes wire transfer details.

UPDATE: Our first 200 meeting slots have been booked. However, you can still sign up for the waitlist at the links below as we work to add additional appointment times. Coming this spring, the Field of Vision team will again offer a virtual "office hours" service for the documentary community. As we’re in a moment of uncertainty, we want to make ourselves available to filmmakers in any way we can. We understand that the industry is experiencing a lot of upheaval, and that this is a particularly difficult time for freelancers and people working independently.

We will be allocating time every weekday to have video meetings and calls. We’ll be prioritizing filmmakers who’ve been affected by festival postponements and production changes, but will also be available to offer a range of mentorship and consultation around a variety of areas.

At Field of Vision we like filmmakers to lead and improve how we work. We were inspired by Jeanie Finlay, who has opened her time to mentoring after an upcoming film shoot had to be cancelled. Jeanie is working on a new film that we’re extremely honoured to be supporting. 

We are a small team and will try our best to make ourselves available to as many filmmakers and producers as possible. If any other members of our community would also like to donate their time, we are happy to facilitate this as well, so please feel free to reach out to us.

The areas which we would like to offer consultation on are below: 

  • General mentorship
  • Feedback on proposals and grant applications
  • Project Development
  • Online Distribution
  • Digital Engagement
  • Partnerships
  • Pitch Training
  • Editing
  • Technology & Digital Security
  • Distribution
  • Editorial Feedback
  • Festival Strategy
  • Career Guidance

This is not just open to filmmakers wanting to submit work for us to review, or filmmakers we have worked with before. If you feel you would benefit from time with our team on any project you’re working on please feel free to reach out. There are more details on how to take part below.



If you would like to have a virtual meeting about any of the above, please follow this link to book a time: https://bit.ly/waitlist-fov-virtual-consult

(We will also be adapting to demand, and will create a waitlist, and/or increase availability if needed.)

Submissions & Pitches

While we are still managing and prioritizing our regular submissions system, we would also like to make time for project and pitch meetings.

To sign up for a pitch meeting with us, please make sure you have submitted through our system prior to the meeting, using the link below:  fieldofvision.org/submit

Once you have submitted through our submissions form, please sign up for a meeting slot here. NB: We won’t be able to take any meetings around potential projects until you’ve submitted through the system. If you’re not ready to discuss a specific project, or are looking for more general advice, please use the first form.

Please bear with us as we begin rolling out our virtual office hours service. This initiative came together very quickly, so there may be hiccups. We just wanted to offer something to start. 

As we navigate these uncertain times, what is certain is that we are a strong community of creatives and storytellers. We have shown time and again how resourceful we are, how dedicated we are to our craft, art form and field, and how supportive we can be of each other. 

Please stay safe everyone, The Field of Vision Team


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