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After Circus | Courtesy of Tortuga Films
After Circus | Courtesy of Tortuga Films
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Director Viveka Melki Dishes On Her Big Top Doc 'After Circus'

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Updated: 9 January 2017
While the traditional big top circus may seem archaic in the digital age, the passion and commitment of performers and devotees is undimmed. Here the Canadian director Vikeka Melki discusses her delightful new documentary After Circus.

Viveka, what made you decide to go into filmmaking, and documentary filmmaking specifically?

A strong capacity for empathy and resilience. I went into documentary because, as filmmakers, we have privileged access that comes from trust with the people in front of our camera and the stories they share.

Viveka Melki | Courtesy of Totuga Films
Viveka Melki | Courtesy of Totuga Films

Your new documentary After Circus is about the unique world of circus performers, including their rich history and close-knit sense of community. What inspired you to tell this story? How did you find out about it?

A performer and founder of the 7 Fingers of the Hand Circus in Montreal, Samuel Tétrault, was injured, and he told me that his career was therefore over. I found that unacceptable. Having been a dancer myself, I asked, “What happens after the spotlight?”

What was the most challenging part about making this film? What was the most rewarding?

Most challenging: winning the trust of the community to turn on the camera. Most rewarding: getting it right. Telling the truth about who they are.

After Circus | Courtesy of Tortuga Films
‘After Circus’ | Courtesy of Tortuga Films

Though the documentary was filmed over three years in Sarasota, Florida, it is a Canadian production with a Canadian director at the helm. What are both the best parts and the challenges of working in Canadian cinema?

Best part: the moment you say I am a Canadian filmmaker. Challenges: documentary is our national art form, so let us support that.

As a Canadian filmmaker, how has being from “Hollywood North” impacted your process and outlook as a filmmaker?

Firstly, I am a Brazilian-Lebanese-West African first generation immigrant, educated in the UK. I live as an anglophone minority in the middle of a francophone majority in Quebec. Most of the time my outlook is Bollywood-meets-Stratford. And my process involves sitting very still, in beautiful Quebec, and listening far more than I speak.

After Circus | Courtesy of Tortuga Films
‘After Circus’ | Courtesy of Tortuga Films

The film was featured a few months ago at the 2016 Hot Docs festival in Toronto. What did it mean to bring After Circus home and show it to a Canadian crowd, and at such a prestigious festival for documentary film?

I felt it was amazing that my film was even in my favourite festival but what surprised me was, I felt I was home — I recognized the same passion, drive, and resilience from everyone around me. As if all of us live our documentary solitude, and in one room we understand both that sacrifice and that honor.

After Circus is premiering on CBC’s Documentary Channel on June 12th. What do you think the status of documentary film is in respect to other film genres in terms of popularity and availability?

I think we want to watch documentary — we just don’t know how to access it. And too many films are falling through the cracks. After they are finished, the filmmaker is on to making the next project, with not enough support to promote, market, and distribute the finished product. A good percentage of the budgets should be dedicated to the promotions, marketing and distribution of our films.

After Circus | Courtesy of Tortuga Films
‘After Circus’ | Courtesy of Tortuga Films

Even if someone has never been to the circus before, why is it important that they see this film?

Because it’s not just about circus. It’s about anyone who struggles to get down from the tight rope – or get off the “stage” of life – to step back and say, “Who am I after? To the world and to myself?” This is a film about transitions.

What message, if any, do you want audiences to walk away with after watching it?

Live a life of passion. Stand up for who you are, even when society tells you that you don’t “fit”. Walk the line, and if that line is a tight rope…try and keep your balance. Always check your rigging.

What do you think the legacy of circuses will be in years, decades to come? Will there be a place for them?

The need for the ethical and moral codes that binds the circus community still lives on. But will the Big Top be only in posters and movies? Well, I think we need to ask the bigger question: will what circus brings to society still be what society wants? Will technology take over our experience…move so fast that nothing is enough anymore. Not even ourselves.

After Circus | Courtesy of Tortuga Films
‘After Circus’ | Courtesy of Tortuga Films

After Circus premieres on the Documentary Channel on June 12 at 9pm ET/10 PT.