By: Daniela Olariu, RSJ ’17
Shasha Nakhai (RSJ ‘09) has hit the big screen: her most recent documentary, Take Light, screened just a few blocks from Ryerson at Carlton Cinema from Nov. 2 until Nov. 8.
The film is about Nigeria’s energy crisis, inspired by her experiences of living there for 15 years.
According to Nakhai, it’s about “a crisis of electrical energy, but also about other kinds of power struggles – the tensions between people, between past and present, between governments and colonial powers-and about the transformation of it all into a seething, powerful force, and the release of that energy as lightning bolts raining down on the earth, raised voices, and even violence.”
The RSJ spoke to Nakhai to find out more about what j-school taught her and her advice for aspiring journalists today.
What did you originally see yourself doing when you first enrolled in journalism school?
I was really set on becoming an international correspondent and covering breaking news from the world’s hotspots.
How did that vision change as the years went by?
I began to take a liking to more long-form storytelling over the years. I was introduced to the idea of becoming a filmmaker in my class with David Nayman at Ryerson, and eventually got to make my very first short doc in Marsha Barber’s TV Documentary class. I was hooked from then on.
Thinking back to your first year self, how do you think they would react to where you are now?
I think what I ended up doing is still very much in line with what my first year self was passionate about. However, my first year self was absolutely terrified at the simple concept of being thrown into a live courtroom scenario and having to find my feet. I think I would have fainted if you told me I’d be on the ground making a documentary for three months in Nigeria.
What do you think the RSJ experience offers that you can’t get anywhere else?
The practical and technical foundation that I got at Ryerson is something that still benefits me to this day. I am surprised at how many people I meet in the field who don’t have simple copy editing or writing skills, and it drives me crazy when people can’t meet deadlines. I can also attribute my interviewing skills to all the high-pressure live TV scenarios we were subject to in school.
How has your journalism degree and what you learned in school prepared you for your current career?
It laid a great foundation. But at the same time, I had to do a lot of learning on my own to shift into the world of independent filmmaking. I’ve done countless workshops, mentorships, and classes after graduating that were just as important to me as my Journalism degree is.
Can you talk about one of your biggest accomplishments?
I’d say getting shortlisted for an Oscar (Frame 394, was shortlisted for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short) is one of my biggest accomplishments to date.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a filmmaker?
Making my most recent film, Take Light, was extremely challenging and dangerous.
What’s one of your favourite memories from j-school?
Oh my gosh! There are too many. I will always remember the fun we had on our shoots. One of my fondest memories is working on our final doc project for Marsha Barber’s class.
Any memorable RSJ professors during your time at Ryerson?
From time to time I hear the ghostly voice of Gary Gould in my head whenever I’m in the field shooting, haha. My most memorable profs were David Nayman, Marsha Barber, Jagg Carr-Locke, Mark Bulgutch, Angela Glover, and Ira Basen!
Now that Take Light is out, what will you be working on next?
I currently have 2 feature documentaries in development and am about to shoot my first feature drama called Scarborough.
What advice would you give to current journalism students?
Make the most of your time there! It was only after I had already graduated that I realized how expensive it is to get access to equipment and editing suites – so work on finessing your skills while you’re there as much as possible! Shoot, shoot, shoot, that’s the only way you’re going to get better at what you do, by doing.