Festival Filmmaker Changes Law in Canada


Kurt Kuenne on the set of his latest film Shuffle.

I first crossed paths with the Heartland Film Festival in 2007 when my short film Validation won a Crystal Heart Award as well as the Vision Award for Best Short Film and the Audience Choice Award, all in one whirlwind weekend. When I received the Vision Award, I was astounded that a film festival existed that gave a $10,000 cash prize for Best Short Film and even more astounded that I was the one receiving it.

And it came at a very important time for me. At the time I had been working around the clock without pay for a year, editing and completing a documentary that I wholeheartedly believed in. I had raised enough money to finish the film, but not enough to pay myself, and it would be another nine months before I saw any income for my efforts. That $10,000 cash prize made it possible for me to keep working on my documentary in a focused and efficient manner that allowed me to do my best work without worrying about looking for other paying projects.

That documentary, Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father, was released to great acclaim the following year, was picked up by MSNBC for television, Oscilloscope Laboratories for theatrical and DVD release, was named one of the top five documentaries of 2008 by the National Board of Review and was listed as “One of the Year’s 10 Best” by more than 40 film critics. Most importantly, though, when I screened it for Canada’s Parliament the following year, it inspired the creation of Bill C-464, which proposed amending Canada’s bail code to give courts the power to deny bail to someone accused of a serious crime who is deemed a potential danger to children under the age of 18. Bill C-464 finally became law on December 15, 2010.

During the past three years, I’ve received nine letters from people who claim that viewing the documentary made them discard suicide plans and vow to embrace life from that point on. Though they may not have been aware of it at the time, Heartland Truly Moving Pictures helped make all of this possible because their prize money helped me live during the final months of completing this film.

Heartland invited me back in 2008, where I received a Crystal Heart Award from my short film Slow.  The prize money helped me as I was about to dive into work on another year-long film production where I would again be working without pay until the film sold.

Kurt Kuenne on the set of his latest film Shuffle.

Filmmakers working with small budgets, like I’ve been doing for several years now, have to move forward on faith. They often have to make up their minds to dedicate an enormous amount of time to a project without any guarantee of financial compensation in order to will a film into being. If an independent filmmaker were to wait around for someone to pay them for their efforts, their project might never get made at all. Heartland’s support of filmmakers, with incredibly generous cash prizes, has a kind of lasting ripple effect that encourages this creation, and you may never know the full extent of the impact it is having in the world – but rest assured that it is making a powerful dent.

As Heartland Truly Moving Pictures celebrates 20 years, I extend my sincerest thanks to everyone at the Heartland Film Festival for everything they’ve done and I hope you will consider making a gift to this extraordinary and rare organization so they may continue to support filmmakers whose current work shows promise of great cultural contribution, and whose future work just might be of great significance to making people happier the world over…and you will have helped make that possible.


Kurt Kuenne
Validation (HFF 2007), Slow and The Phone Book (HFF 2008)

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