By Josie Mills
Two sold out documentary viewings at the Toronto Black Film Festival (TBFF) isn’t something most first-year students can put on their resume, but Samuel Lehner can.
The first-year Ryerson media production student had his documentary WES, which he produced and directed, featured in the festival on Feb. 13. The documentary was on Wesley Hall, Founder & CEO of Kingsdale Shareholder Services.
While reading an article on Hall during his gap year, Lehner was inspired enough to contact him with a proposition to produce a film. He met with him in person to present a detailed outline of his vision for the documentary. Hall declined at first due to not wanting to put his personal life in the public eye, but once his family showed support of the idea, he agreed.
“After all the work I put into the pitch, getting the final approval to go ahead with the project was amazing,” said Lehner.
Lehner’s plan was to chronologically profile Wes’ life from his past in Jamaica to where he is now, living with his family in Canada. Hall used to live in a shack and was burdened by poverty, but was driven to be a successful CEO.
The documentary tells the story of his immigration to Canada, the challenges of moving to an unfamiliar country and how he went from working in a mail delivery room to starting his own company. It is broken up with clips of Hall interacting with his family and interviews with colleagues and friends.
“Immediately after seeing him for five minutes, I didn’t see his youth anymore,” said Hall. “I just saw that this is something I knew he could do.”
Lehner travelled with Hall to Jamaica to see where he grew up and to talk to some of his family and business contacts that still live there. Among other places, Lehner conducted interviews in Calgary and New York, fully financed by his own savings. He also had a small production crew made up of mostly Ryerson students.
“It was all independently financed, when I first went to Wes I said ‘I just really want to get this made,’” said Lehner. “I’m willing to put all my money into it.”
Lehner later told Hall that if he didn’t like the film at the end of production, he would scrap it completely.
After nine months of shooting, editing and promotion, WES finally premiered at the TBFF.
“I’m really proud of what myself and my team were able to put together,” said Lehner.
Lehner also appeared on Business News Network where he was interviewed on the documentary.
At the film’s premiere, Hall received many positive reviews for Lehner’s work.
“I’m impressed and I think he is going to go far,” said Hall. “I’ve seen his work ethic. He is an incredibly driven young man.”
After working so closely with Hall during production, Lehner learned a lot about the importance of family.
“He’s a big family guy, they are very special to him,” he said. “I think that is something you don’t see often of someone in his position.”
During the production period, Lehner was not a student, but he had to find a way to balance school and work leading up to his important movie premiere. “Working on different projects while you’re in school is all about time management,” said Lehner.
Another project Lehner has been working on is his show The Hockey House, which he produces weekly for Rogers TV. He also has experience in making websites and filming music videos, which led him to working with a few celebrities, a fews being Rachel Feinstein, Theo Von, Candice Glover, Todd Shapiro and Daryn Jones.
For other students thinking about starting their own documentary, Lehner said “just do it, it is meaningless if you don’t actually execute it.”