Canadian filmmaker to get safety training before making documentary on victims of Boko Haram

LONDON, ON, July 31, 2017 /CNW/ - A Toronto-based independent documentary producer/director has won the Portenier Human Rights Bursary for 2017. The $3,000 award provides hazardous environment safety training of the type generally given to news personnel covering armed conflict.

Brennan Leffler's documentary, to be filmed in Nigeria with Mellissa Fung, will focus on women and children abducted and raped by the militant Islamist organization Boko Haram. The independent production is to be broadcast by TVOntario. Mr. Leffler has also done investigative work for Global TV's 16x9 and CTV's W-5.

While working in Afghanistan as a CBC correspondent in 2008, Ms. Fung was kidnapped and held for 28 days, during which she was sexually assaulted. Her 2011 memoir was titled Under an Afghan Sky.

The Portenier bursary is offered annually by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma. It is sponsored by Giselle Portenier, a Forum board member and internationally-renowned producer of documentaries exposing human rights abuses. The competition is organized in cooperation with the UK-based Rory Peck Trust, which provides hostile environment training bursaries and other assistance to freelancers around the world.

When the bursary competition was established in 2015, Ms. Portenier said: "Human rights abuses continue unabated in the 21st  century, and human rights defenders worldwide need the support of journalists and documentarians to help them shine a light on these injustices. Some of the worst abuses are committed against women and children, sometimes as a result of war, but often systematically, in the name of culture and religion.

"The purpose of this bursary is to help ensure the safety of journalists and documentary filmmakers as they expose some of the most egregious abuses of human rights in the world today."  

Reacting to his win, Mr. Leffler said: "With traditional media outlets cutting back on foreign coverage, I believe it is more important than ever for freelance journalists to report from conflict zones. If we don't go to these areas, millions of vulnerable people will suffer and die, and their stories will never be told. Hostile environment training will allow me the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to minimize the risk to myself and my crew when we work in dangerous places. I'm extremely thankful for this support." 

The 2017 Portenier competition attracted 30 applications from all over the world. The year's five finalists were from Bolivia, Canada, Pakistan and Slovakia.

"They are a very talented and deserving group, and the jurors all said the final choice was difficult," Forum president Cliff Lonsdale said. "It shows how much need there still is that we cannot yet meet." 

Last year's Portenier winner was Eman Helal, an Egyptian photojournalist whose work documents sexual harassment and attacks against women in her country. In 2015 the Portenier was won by Jason O'Hara, a Toronto filmmaker working on a documentary about abuses in the clearance of favelas in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Portenier herself is currently making what she says may be her most important film yet. In The Name Of Your Daughter is a documentary that will give a voice to some of the most courageous girls in the world: Tanzanian children who risk their lives to stand up for their human rights and avoid female genital mutilation and child marriage. 

The Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma is a charity whose work is supported by The Globe and Mail, CBC News, Radio-Canada, CNW Group and by individual donors.

In addition to the Portenier Human Rights Bursary, the Forum runs annual safety training bursary contests for freelance journalists covering news stories in dangerous places, including combat zones. Four winners of those bursaries were announced in May.

Our thanks to CNW Group for sponsoring this announcement.

SOURCE Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma

For further information: See the Forum's website or contact Jane Hawkes, Executive Producer, Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, ‪1-519 852-4946,

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