Skip to content

BLANK CANVAS: Filmmaker Amy Bohigian on growing up with a camera in hand

Amy Bohigian owns Nelson-based Watershed Productions
Amy Bohigian is a Nelson-based filmmaker.

Hello arts lovers!

I had the chance to chat with filmmaker Amy Bohigian about her practice as a professional artist in the community. Read on to gain some perspective around how she’s made it work while being situated outside of a larger centre.

What’s your background/training/story?

Growing up, I always had my dad’s camera hanging around and thought it was cool how you could explore and create entire worlds with it in your hand. My friends and I loved imitating horror movies, SNL sketches and everything in between.

In high school I asked to do a documentary instead of a term paper. It was just after the first invasion of Iraq, and I was living in the Midwest. I went into small town Missouri and asked the butcher, the barber and the kids on the street what they thought of the war. I was always curious about people from all walks of life. I remember recording only audio for one of the interviews because the older woman didn’t feel like putting her false teeth in to be on camera. I played the best part of that conversation out loud on a tape recorder as I shot b-roll of the cornfields from the passenger seat. From that point on, I was hooked on filmmaking and telling stories.

Then, I went off to college and earned my certificate to teach high school English and dove into alternative education. I worked at AmeriCorps, Outward Bound, Citizen Schools – places that were committed to creating opportunities through experience-based education with historically disenfranchised youth. Eventually, I earned my masters in education and then went on to direct an outdoor education centre and summer camp in Ontario. I loved that setting but it wasn’t a sustainable work/life balance for me.

When my wife Jane and I moved to Nelson in 2006, Selkirk College was starting the Independent Digital Film Program. I had just left my job at the camp and knew my next step was in a more obvious creative direction. The amazing instructors at that program sparked the creative side in me and I locked into filmmaking from that point forward as a career.

My previous experience in non-profit and education sectors integrated with the work I was doing to tell stories. Creating social impact is at the core of my company, Watershed Productions. From documentary to comedy – it has to have a point of view, create dialogue and build empathy.

Why did you end up in Nelson?

We had been living in Toronto and we were ready to move from the city to somewhere smaller. Same sex marriage was illegal in the United States or else it’s quite likely my wife and I would have gone to live there for a while. Before we visited for the first time, she had to show me where Nelson was on the map. She had lived here for a summer, loved it and hoped I would consider moving here.

On our visit here we hiked up to Silver Spray cabin in the fall. Up there, I stood on the helicopter pad and looked out over the mountains. It was a moment. We moved the following year.

What keeps you here?

Most people end up here because they made a choice to be here – to find silver, to resist, to ski, to grow, to heal or what have you. This region has a rich history of people who were seeking a more authentic way of being. We can take it for granted, but when I travel outside of here, I am always reminded that Nelson is like no other place and even amidst our community rifts, we will pull together in times of need. This place has become a creative muse as there’s always new layers to explore.

Any hot tips for people who want to live rurally but be a professional filmmaker?

Even though you can do remote work from here, I wanted to do the majority of my work that was in my backyard and for my backyard. So, given the small market for video work, it worked to keep my doors open to all manner of projects that came my way and make sure each project aligned with my values. Wherever you set up camp, just follow your own voice and stay connected to why you fell in love with the medium in the first place. I still feel 11 years old with my Dad’s camera. Lucky me.

Any information that you want me to put out about any upcoming projects?

I wanted to stop making people cry and learn how to make them laugh. I’ve spent the last couple years developing a show based in Nelson called Southern Interior. It’s a sketch comedy series that satirizes and celebrates our eclectic community. I’ve got an amazing crew and cast ready to light up the screen. We go into production this summer and are planning to release six episodes by the end of this year on Shaftesbury’s digital platform. Stay tuned!

Sydney Black is executive director of the Nelson and District Arts Council. Blank Canvas appears monthly.